Thursday, August 28, 2008

Our Ms. Brooks: A Dose Of Reality

Rosa Brooks' column in today's Los Angeles Times nicely expresses what a lot of us who've been around for more than 30 years have been thinking. No politician, no mere human being, is going to single-handedly turn this country around, and to expect Barack Obama to do so is a curious amalgam of magical thinking and sheer laziness.

He's not the messiah. Get over it, Democrats.

Get over it for the obvious, pragmatic reason: If you want a Democrat in the White House, you've got to stop fretting about your nominee's lack of magical powers and just work to get him elected. Because, as [Hillary] Clinton reminded Democrats on Tuesday night, this election is about more than any particular candidate: It's about "that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids ... that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage ... [and] all the people in this country who feel invisible." It's not about Clinton -- or Obama either.

But get over it for another reason too. Democrats, of all people, should remember that political transformation comes primarily from broad-based social movements, not from transcendent individuals. Neither King nor Lyndon Johnson magically brought civil rights to African Americans. Moving speeches and civil rights legislation were important -- but those speeches wouldn't have made much difference, and that legislation would never have been possible, had it not been for the thousands of people, black and white, who spoke out, organized, signed petitions and joined protest marches (sometimes risking their livelihoods and their lives to do so).

You want a transformative political leader? In Obama, you may have one, but don't expect him to do that transforming all by himself. Obama's good, but no one's that good. For Obama to shepherd in real change -- economic, social or in foreign policy, whatever "change" means to you -- he needs robust, supportive social and political movements to tap into.

So if Democrats want real "change," they need to get out there and organize, give Obama solid backing and not go all wishy-washy when he makes mistakes. And they need to stop griping that his speeches alone don't transform the political landscape. That's their job.
[Emphasis added]

So, it's time we get back to reality. It's time we work hard to get our nominee for the White House elected and to get the down-ticket candidates elected as well. And that's just the start of the process. We need to put real pressure on those we elect, reminding them of what they promised us when they asked for our money and our time in getting out the vote. We need to warm up the phone lines, the fax lines, and the email tubes, and on a regular basis.

But even that isn't enough. We have to find ways to concretely support those groups who are already in place fighting for the change we want, whether it's Code Pink fighting hard to end the war in Iraq, or immigrant groups demanding fair treatment of those whose only crime is that they came uninvited by anyone but Emma Lazarus to work hard for their family's future, or people like Candace Gorman who are attempting to end the nightmare that is Guantanamo Bay. Money always helps, but when any of those groups call for a "meeting" on Main Street or a "gathering" in Washington, DC, we have to find a way to be there in huge numbers, so huge that we who truly want change can no longer be ignored.

This isn't Exxon's country, or Halliburton's, or MBNA's. It's ours. We've let them trash it long enough. It's time we took it back.

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