Thursday, November 27, 2008

The attacks in India

These attacks of November 26, 2008 hit home, occurring in places I know well and visited in the recent past with my family. I can vividly imagine the horror, as with 9/11. Also, like 9/11, this bears all the marks of Al Qaeda. The skillful exploitation of holes in security, the focus on U.S. (and British, in this case) citizens as well as Jews, the choice of target for dramatic effect and to exploit media attention. The choice of the Taj Mahal hotel as the centerpiece of the attacks, rather than an American-owned hotel, indicates that the focus is on the Indian elite, and Indian collaboration with the United States as evidenced in the recent U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Although the killing is indiscriminate, the attack itself is a precisely condensed dramatic statement. These attacks also show the limits of Al Qaeda power at a particular moment. The attack was not on US or British soil, it did not involve weapons of mass destruction.

Barack Obama needs to go beyond expressions of outrage, horror, and sympathy for the victims to indicate quickly that he understands that this was an attack on the United States, on whomever else it may have also have been an attack. He needs to pre-empt a neo-conservative seizing on the attack to justify the fear mongering that has characterized the last eight years, and that the people of the United States so recently refused to be stampeded by.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What I'm still worrying about

I'm still worrying about poor people. Obama, like all politicians these days, talks about "working people", to signal he's concerned about people who aren't rich. But what about the unemployed, especially those who've been to prison, rightly or wrongly?
What about the backlash against gay and lesbian people? I'm troubled by the movement against gay marriage, and the outrageous proposition that passed in Arkansas to deny gay couples the right to adopt or take in foster children.
I'm sure there are other issues as well that we will need to keep on the front burner. There is a danger that Obama's election will lead to complacency among white, well off people, a feeling that race, especially as it intersects with poverty, is now no longer an issue. The successes of the Civil Rights movement, while real and valuable, had the same side effect of allowing some people to think that we no longer need to be vigilant or address racial discrimination and prejudice. I'm afraid that poverty as an issue in particular may suffer collateral damage from this election. I don't mean we shouldn't be celebrating, but that we must be realistic about the potential limitations of an Obama administration as well, and the need to keep advocating.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Now is this a post-racial society?

Well, yes and no. Did the election of Obama reflect an already-existing post-racial situation, or did the election itself create a new reality? I believe the reality is somewhere in the middle. The election of Obama, which we owe to some extent to non-racial factors like his intelligence and articulateness, the incompetence and arrogance of the Bush administration, and the timing of the economic meltdown, is one of those things that potentiates a situation that is latent and ready to crystallize given the right constellation of events. The election of Obama shows that in this country white people, at least a good number of them, are ready to be led by an upper middle class black person. It also shows that lower social class blacks will identify with, and have their hopes and aspirations stimulated by, an upper middle class black person. Finally, I think it shows that for younger white people, race may not be as salient in the choice of a leader as it is and has been for their elders.
I was in North Philadelphia over the weekend and on election day. This is almost entirely an impoverished African-American community. The volunteers were young white people from all over, and mostly local black people, including children and adolescents and whole families. I walked through the neighborhood canvassing, and here are some of the things I saw:
A group of three black men sitting on a stoop, all of them with the bloodshot eyes, I guessed, of alcoholism. one of them said "Its our turn now" with a big smile that revealed both pleasure and the fact that there were almost no teeth in his mouth.
Many people who said hello to me, wished me God's blessing, and so on. Numbers of people sitting on stoops or folding chairs on the sidewalk who volunteered that so and so was not home, had already voted, was too sick to answer the door, etc. Much more welcoming, and a much stronger feeling of community, than in the white or mixed suburban neighborhoods where I had done canvassing in the past.
Leaving North Philly last Friday, passing through Center City, where there were 2 million people, I'd say 99% white, who were celebrating the Philly's baseball championship. Drunk people were scattered around the sidewalks.
My first partner in canvassing said, when I noticed a beautiful mural on the wall of a school, that he had contributed to making the grid for the mural when he was in prison. Now he's an HIV counselor with Americorps.
Children answering the door. A parent responding from some back room to my shouted questions: "I'm from the Obama campaign. Have you voted?" One child, asked by his mother, "who is it?" said "Barack Obama"!