Obama and the dream

I haven’t watched this much television since I was in grade school.  I became glued to the DNC coverage this week, both televised and on the net.  Of course, commentary about the proceedings abounded, from convention pundits and participants to bloggers on the scene and those watching from a distance.  I enjoyed the opportunity to hear and read what folks had to say.

The convention was filled with inspiring words and actions (both inside and outside the convention halls), and last night’s event, open to the public and held in the open air on the very anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, was exceptionally  moving and celebratory.

I appreciated hearing the concrete statements of concern and intent made by both Al Gore and Barack Obama in their cogent presentations.   Here are some reflections:

Last night and throughout the convention, great emphasis was placed on the issue of parenting, particularly on the role of the father in the family.   From Michelle Obama’s early reference to the strength of her own father’s influence on her life, to Barack Obama’s eagerness to be the kind of father that he didn’t have, to Joe Biden’s significant role as single dad to his sons when his wife and daughter were tragically killed … All these seemed to culminate in statements Barack Obama made last night, to great applause, when he stressed that the change Americans want will take more than money; change will require more  responsibility from each of us, especially in the areas of resource conservation and parenting.  “Individual and mutual responsibility,” he said.  “That’s the essence of America’s promise.”

After 8 years of the Bush Administration’s distinct lack of empathy in policy-making, I felt a huge sense of relief hearing a statesman stress that “I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper,” without contradicting the essence of the American ideal of self-determination and personal freedom of choice.  From his vantage point as a father and as a lawmaker and civil rights and women’s rights advocate, Obama repeated that “America’s promise” is the right for all children to become what they want to become, but not as isolated individuals, rather as valued parts of a whole that is interconnected and interdependent.

The bedrock amalgam of freedom and empathy is what underlies Obama’s platform planks –  equal rights to quality education and health care, shared efforts in becoming conservation-minded and energy independent, equal pay for equal work, the rights of workers to organize, and economic policies that support rather than undermine family life.

Precisely because of my agreement with these value-based policies, I disagree with several of Obama’s stated goals regarding national security and foreign relations.  My concerns are these:

·         Obama’s inclination to increase US troop levels in Afghanistan pursues a “more of the same” agenda that hasn’t succeeded in the “war on terror” either there or in Iraq.  Afghanistan is even more difficult in terms of terrain and cultural difference than Iraq, and so far, US military operations in Afghanistan have proven more harmful than helpful to the people there.  Regular reports of civilian casualties from US weapons, a burgeoning opium trade and the growing influence of warlords and religious extremism has occurred under US occupation, and it would seem to repeat the Bush Administration’s stubborn tendency to address a  problem by doing more of what isn’t working.  As an alternative approach, I think answers lie in exactly what Obama prescribes for our own country:  bolstering equal access to education and basic family necessities.  Along the lines of what Greg Mortenson (“Three Cups of Tea”) has been doing with school projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, assistance in the area of education would do much more than military force  to not only improve living conditions, but to heal relations and remove underlying motives for terrorism. 

·         No mention was made by Barack Obama last night or by any leading party statesperson during the entire convention, as far as I could tell, of the huge problem of the privatization of the US military.  Comprising approximately equal numbers as US military personnel in Iraq, privately contracted mercenary and military support workers have undermined US relations with Iraq, have proven nearly impossible to hold accountable, have been extremely costly and have only provoked, in my opinion, further terrorism.  What does an Obama/Biden administration plan to do about the rise of the outsourced army?

·         Last night, Barack Obama condoned the notion of “taking out” Osama bin Laden.  Assassination is incompatible with US Constitutional and thus international law.  This kind of “tough talk” is exactly the kind of Bush Administration rhetoric that we must move away from, not emulate.  It’s also exactly the kind of rhetoric that has escalated the “war on terror” and has led to the general demonization of whole groups of people – which is completely counter to the direction a new civil rights-minded administration would want to go.  Osama bin Laden can be apprehended – alive – and charged and tried in accordance with international law – something the Bush Administration could have pursued 7 years ago, but chose a path motivated  by opportunism instead.

·         Obama promised to go through the federal budget “line by line” to cut excess spending and free up money to bolster the education and health care insurance plans he supports.  But, the biggest black hole for federal funds has been war spending.  Stop funding war and money will be there for the programs we need.

·         War is not green.  This was a primary message of those who marched and demonstrated outside the convention in Denver (and who plan to do the same in Minnesota this week).  It’s a serious point that is not being made by Al Gore or others in the Obama/Biden campaign.  War and war preparation cause great environmental degradation, both in the US and abroad.  The US military, no matter how much one might support its missions, must be acknowledged as one of the top polluters in the world.  Every decision to use military force rather than diplomacy must take this environmental cost into consideration.

I am enthusiastic about Barack Obama’s general emphasis on reaching out to other government leaders (such as Iran’s) and his tendency to seek dialogue, compromise and common ground.  I’m also buoyed by his insistence on fundamental equality, both as a matter of belief and also as a function of his own background and heritage.  He could bring this same guiding principle of equality to decisions regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and other potential centers of conflict. 

That is, the principle of equality necessarily extends to all persons, everywhere in the world, not only Americans.  We may have an exceptional form of government, but we do not have an exceptional right to life.  Every human life is of equal value.  Every child in the world deserves the opportunity to live a meaningful life.  This truth, that Obama has expressed so eloquently, must guide US foreign policy as equally as it guides domestic policy.  As Bill Clinton said in his address to the convention, “The power of example is more important than the example of power.” 

I like the example we have seen so far in the ways Barack Obama and Joe Biden have led their own lives as integrated family men and committed public servants.  I wholeheartedly agree with the emphasis on the mix of individual and mutual responsibility that is being discussed in this campaign.  In fact, balancing our lives as individuals and also as members of communities is part of the global human condition.  We can take this opportunity to teach by example in the world, to be willing to admit our mistakes and to learn from our global neighbors whose earth, air, water and sun we share.  Equality is a truth we can choose to live.  Yes, we can.                       

Bayard Rustin's Masterpiece: August 28, 1963

by Susan Van Haitsma (cross-posted at her makingpeace blog at the Austin American-Statesman

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the greatest events in US history.  The anniversary, remembered mostly for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered to a quarter of a million people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, will surely be invoked by Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention today.

On this day, I like to remember the primary organizer of the historic March on Washington, Bayard Rustin.  Rustin was known for his calm, meticulous, professional handling of the myriad logistics involved in getting people to and from the march in an orderly way via bus, plane, car and train from points far and near.  He also engineered security for the march, including arranging nonviolence training for security personnel, a crucial aspect given the great apprehension among government officials that violence would erupt during the event.  

The march, the largest single-day event of its kind in US history to that date, was a huge success and a major factor toward passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year. 

Bayard Rustin was not only a highly skilled organizer, he was a skilled and experienced nonviolence trainer whose influence in the US civil rights movement at crucial times, such as the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott when MLK became involved in the movement, was pivotal.  He also was a gay man who was hounded by the FBI and segregationists like Strom Thurmond, who sought to discredit Rustin in order to thwart the March on Washington. Other organizers of the march, including A. Philip Randolph, stood by Rustin, helping to prevent Thurmond’s attacks from gaining purchase.

It was good to hear US Rep. John Lewis interviewed last night at the DNC after Barack Obama had been officially nominated.  Lewis was one of the “Big Ten” who spoke along with King on that important day in 1963, and his speech was considered one of the more fiery of the day.  He asked people to “get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.”

It is not complete, but there are still people working hard – both inside government and outside in the streets – for a nonviolent revolution of values declaring that freedom from injustice also means freedom from war. 

Photo from wikipedia

How Many Georgian Wars is Enough?

By Greg Moses

Somewhere down in their guts, and despite the bravado of Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric, the people who yearn for “change” in America are asking for leadership that will not turn its back on the wisdom of peace makers like Saul Alinsky. But last week’s killings in South Ossetia seemed to grin back at the young movement with the face of Randoph Bourne saying I told you so. “War is the health of the state.”

Out of the recent Caucasian (sic) war, a clear winner rises. Whether you look to Russia, Georgia, Poland, or the USA, the victor stands waving flags. His name is nationalism. And in the face of this victory, what are the chances that the people of the USA will be able to choose internationalism instead?

George Bush betrays USA commitments to internationalism, but he could not act alone. What he goes for is nationalism in alliance. What he calls coalition should be more properly termed cartel, because a coalition is something you put together to fight a cartel, if you want language that respects liberation.

The Georgian (was the pun intended?) assault on South Ossetia was a repudiation of internationalism, and in that sense, it worked perfectly well. Prior to the Georgian glare of rockets, there was an international arrangement in place for the peace of South Ossetia. It was a weak arrangement, as we see. And it was dominated by Russian influence. Nevertheless, the peace of South Ossetia was formally monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And compared to this week, we can see that it was working in important ways.

The war over South Ossetia makes official what George Bush has been telling us all along. The cold war cannot be over, so long as there is an unstoppable nationalism on the loose. The cleverness of last week’s gun show was how it (once again) transferred the reality of that nationalism over to one side. My god! Look at what the Russians are doing!

What Russia’s doing is criminal. It counts as collective punishment of the Georgian people. But the problem is finding any principle of wrongdoing that George Bush has not already shredded. What Georgia did on Aug. 7 was criminal also, in violation of tautly stretched peace agreements. And when Georgian troops were retrieved from Iraq, who could not be reminded of the criminal-in-chief?

In place of this never-ending spiral of gang violence, there is a real and present yearning for a global neighborhood that thugs don’t shove around. Which brings us back to the roots of Alinsky’s dream and the half-conscious attempt by the Obama movement to globalize it.

As Socrates once said to sweet Phaedrus, before you can persuade a person to do anything good for himself, you have to figure out how to speak to his particular kind of soul. In the language of the political battlefield last week, we learned something we might have thought we could ignore about the soul of America. Something, dare we say it, that Jeremiah Wright was on to.

The textbook answer to the cycle of national belligerence, of course, is to get back in the business of international power and peace. A textbook answer won’t work, you say? In fact, the American voters have for the past several elections desired something other than a Bush-whacking nation. Getting who you vote for is difficult enough these days. But then getting why you voted for them? That’s the ultimate challenge that the movement for “change” faces in the world today.

Listening to Putin's 'Real' Opposition

by Greg Moses


However we might assess recent anti-war statements by Russian human rights activists, Anna Arutunyan assures us that they are not to be confused with the “real” opposition in Russia. For the more popular alternative party, Arutunyan suggests that we look to the The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF).

“After all,” writes Arutnyan, “the Communist Party functioned more like an opposition party than the liberals ever did.” Today the CPRF “stands for nationalizing the country’s natural resources, making the country’s stabilization fund available for social betterment, guaranteeing free medicine, housing, and education, and reviving the country’s scientific and industrial standing.”

For Americans who know very well how such an agenda would get you branded and run out of town quick, Arutunyan reminds us that in Russia, “the CPRF’s program is an honest reflection of what independent polls show. According to an ongoing study by the Levada Center, a steady 34-48% of respondents support a Soviet model of government — nearly twice as many as those that support a Western-style democracy.”

Arutunyan points to these features of Russian politics in order to caution Western hardliners against pushing Putin into a corner, because in the larger view he is the leader who continues to prioritize “economic integration” over “democracy” and who therefore is the force most likely to deliver what the West most wants from Russia, all gradeschool language about freedom aside.

Although Peter Charles Choharis can denounce “Kremlin Capitalism” in the August 16 Wall Street Journal, his blue-faced impatience seems not to consider the living alternative within a Russian context. If you don’t like “Kremlin Capitalism,” then join the crowd in Russia. Opt for Communism instead.

Taking a tip from Arutunyan, and getting some help from Google translate, I’ve been reading the freshly updated web pages of the CPRF (kprf.ru). What they demand as a consequence of the Caucasus war is nothing like a return to status quo. Russia has established its power in Georgia, and the CPRF leadership would like to see that power translated into real changes on the ground.

First of all, Communist leadership demands immediate recognition of independence for the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“After the Georgia regime’s attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, the world should fully understand why Russia would recognize the independence of Ossetia and Abkhazia and enter into security alliances that would reliably guarantee the security of the long-suffering populations of these republics,” says Communist Party chief G. A. Zyuganov.

“The aggressor should be punished,” says Zyuganov. Yet, “We are encouraged to pretend that nothing happened.”

Yuri A. Kvitsinskim, first deputy chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the State Duma (KPRF faction) echoes Zyuganov’s denunciation of any return to “status quo.” He says the French President is acting like the Uncle you send over in your behalf, and once he gets the best deal he can, you say, oh but I wanted even more. My Uncle doesn’t speak for me.

“Now everything should be done to break the aggressor, punish the guilty in an act of aggression, war crimes and crimes of genocide, provide effective assistance to victims, begin to rebuild South Ossetia,” says Kvitsinskim. ” We must immediately recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia and take them under protection.”

As the Communist Party analysts see it, the Georgian incursion was based upon a gamble that the Geogian-led army could close the Roksky tunnel in time to prevent a Russian response.

“Not coincidentally Western media during the first night ‘didn’t notice’ the invasion of Georgian troops in South Ossetia and the UN Security Council refused to consider our appeal regarding aggression, ostensibly because it was too late and members of the Council very much like to sleep,” grumbles Kvitsinskim. “But the Council quickly awakened once Russian tanks went through the tunnel, and our aviation began to strike at Georgian aggressors.”

As for the threatening statements coming from the USA?

“They just need to make noise, otherwise the damage to U.S. prestige will be even more sensitive,” answers Kvitsinskim. “This is only an attempt to ‘save face’.”