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The Challenge of Change

Normon Solomon cites (former) Chicago activist Carl Davidson in arguing that the Obama administration presents opportunities and challenges for progressives, but this is not the time to rest on any laurels — or to blame the new president if he doesn’t meet every expectation.

“There’s little point in progressives’ faulting Obama [for his centrist appointments] because so much of their vital work remains undone at the grassroots. A longtime Chicago-based activist on the left, Carl Davidson, made the point well when he wrote after the November election that ‘one is not likely to win at the top what one has not consolidated and won at the base.’

“By the same token, we should recognize that Obama’s campaign victories (beginning with the Iowa caucuses) were possible only because of the painstaking work by antiwar activists and other progressive advocates in prior years. To make further progress possible, in electoral arenas and in national policies, the country must be moved anew — from the bottom up.

“As his administration gets underway, disappointed progressives shouldn’t blame Barack Obama for their own projection or naivete. He is a highly pragmatic leader who seeks and occupies the center of political gravity. Those who don’t like where he’s standing will need to move the center in their direction.

“Obama has often said that his presidential quest isn’t about him nearly as much as it is about us — the people yearning for real change and willing to work for it. If there’s ever a time to take Obama up on his word, this is it.

“Crucial issues must be reframed. The national healthcare reform debate, for instance, still lacks the clarity to distinguish between guaranteeing healthcare for all and mandating loophole-ridden insurance coverage for all…. As for foreign policy, the paradigm of a ‘war on terror,’ more than seven years on, remains nearly sacrosanct. Among its most stultifying effects is the widely held assumption that many more U.S. troops should go to Afghanistan.

“During his race for the White House, ironically, Obama was fond of quoting Martin Luther King Jr. about ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ But King uttered the phrase in the same speech (on April 4, 1967) that spoke of ‘a society gone mad on war,’ condemned ‘my own government’ as ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today’ and declared: ‘Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now.’

“Barack Obama never promised progressives a rose garden. His campaign inspired tens of millions of Americans, raised the level of public discourse and ousted the right wing from the White House. And he has pledged to encourage civic engagement and respectful debate. The rest is up to us.”

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Category: organizing, transition

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