Thursday, November 6, 2008

From Hope to Momentum: Why the Election is Just the Beginning

It was as if the air had been let out of a balloon. The networks announced at 11pm EST that the country had elected Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States. I could instantly hear people shouting outside of my home and within three minutes, someone near-by began shooting off fireworks. I watched the sea of people at Chicago's Grant Park explode on my television set as people hugged each other and jumped around, unable to control their excitement. Crowds began to gather from Washington D.C. to major cities across the globe driving home just how much of a global impact the U.S. elections have. We watched the world let out a collective sigh of relief on election night with images of a unified and hopeful people anxious to see what happens next.

There is no doubting the historical nature of Barack Obama's campaign and election to be the first African-American President of the United States. Watching Obama address tens of thousands of supporters as President-elect was even enough to move many Americans to tears. Seeing the hope in the eyes of so many people is an amazing moment in history to bear witness to and only provides us with evidence that we are standing at an important time in the history of this country. The end of this election should not mark the end of the involvement of those who were energized by this campaign, to the contrary, this is where the real work needs to begin.

There are two main narratives that have been circulating since the election. The first comes from those on the right who have seen the Republican Party unravel into a giant circular firing squad and are still trying to interject their ideology into the American discourse. This is the narrative that we are a "center-right country". Karl Rove spoke these words on Fox News on election night and it has moved through the conservative echo chamber ever since. These pundits argue that an Obama Administration will be forced to govern from the center because the majority of Americans have "center-right" values.

The other narrative has come out of the Democratic Party and from some progressive-minded individuals. This narrative is that progressives won the election, are now in control, and through Obama will have the sway to influence policy over the next four years. Both of these narratives miss the mark. The United States is not a "center-right country". Americans just demonstrated their rejection of the ideology that has been in control of the Executive Branch for the last eight years and most Americans are in against the war, for universal health care , and in favor of smart government regulation of the financial industry. These are progressive ideas that many Obama supporters hold and are even more progressive than positions that Obama himself holds. This is not the mark of a center-right country, but of a country desperate for a new direction.

In the same breath, the narrative that progressives are now in control of the government and that Obama will automatically enact progressive change is also misguided. It has been demonstrated by many and through Obama's own voting record that he is a moderate politician with centrist policies. Now is not the time for progressives to sit back and watch what Obama can do, but rather it is time to use this fantastic opportunity to unite and apply pressure to an Obama Administration to enact actual change. It is vital for progressives to stay engaged and turn this enthusiasm from the election into a movement for the people.

Barack Obama and his administration are going to be pressured by the big corporate campaign donors who have established ties to and invested funds in Obama's campaign. Just like any other business decision, they want to see a good return on their investment so they will be seeking access and looking to influence policy. Amy Goodman wrote an article earlier this week in which she echos this sentiment:

"There are two key camps that feel invested in the Obama presidency: the millions who each gave a little, and the few who gave millions. The big-money interests have means to gain access. They know how to get meetings in the White House, and they know what lobbyists to hire. But the millions who donated, who volunteered, who were inspired to vote for the first time actually have more power, when organized."

The key to that statement are the last two words...when organized. Progressives need to start building a network in order to counter the insider influence and use this network to create a powerful movement of accountability. This moment in which we live is too important for us to not take action. In order to begin to pressure our national leaders, we must get organized on a grassroots level. It is absolutely necessary for those who supported Obama, to join with those who supported Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, on down the line and unite around the issues that we all care about. We must seize this moment, turn it into momentum, and raise our voice to say that we demand real progressive change.

1 comment:

Taryn said...

I really appreciated your post on the outcome of the election - thought it was insightful. Let's hope people demonstrate as much interest in their country as they did on Election Day in the months and years that follow!