Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why I'm not celebrating an Obama victory

I'm pretty sure that I've never watched a Presidential candidate's concession speech, and definitely not from Canada where I deliberately scheduled my book tour to wander during this election time. Here I am sobbing while listening to John McCain, who knew?

I'm sobbing because so many people have such high hopes for an Obama presidency and I can see him shredding those hopes one by one until we're left with nothing but the shredder. It's tempting to say that an Obama presidency has to be dramatically better than a McCain presidency, but then I remember the last Democrat to replace a Bush, the charming saxophone player who succeeded in Reaganite dreams of dismantling welfare, expanding the security state, and grandiose "free trade" agreements like NAFTA that further trashed environmental standards, job security and standards of living.

We don't have to look far to see the ways in which Obama will betray us. After all, it's only been days since he shepherded the trillion-dollar Wall Street giveaway by actively campaigning for its passage and securing enough Democrats in favor to override free-market Republicans who were staunchly opposed. In fact, the only demographic more visibly against this hideous misdirection of resources to the millionaires and billionaires actually causing the financial crisis was the US public as a whole, who jammed Congressional phone lines to such an extent that the powers-that-be decided to briefly shut those lines of communication off. These callers, letter writers, bloggers, campaigners, and voters were overwhelmingly against this corporate-cozy charade.

So, in strict terms, then, this certainly wouldn't be a move that would pull Obama ahead -- why, then, go against what the US public wanted at a critical election moment? Because, of course, Obama is not beholden to the US public as much as he is to his corporate underwriters. Any rhetoric about change strikes me as a joke when juxtaposed against the Wall Street giveaway, which we will certainly feel for decades as social programs get axed and spending for basic needs dwindles.

This is only where Obama's hypocrisy starts. When he talks about keeping on some of George Bush's cronies, including Iran-Contra war criminal (and current Secretary of Defense) Robert Gates, we should ready ourselves for more covert and overt wars around the globe. Starting with a dramatic buildup in Afghanistan, which he has already outlined. And Obama even scandalized his Democratic cohort Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House representing one of the most antiwar districts in the country yet ensuring the continuation of the US war on Iraq, when he voted in favor of offshore oil drilling while at the same time talking about a change in energy policy. We can only expect more corporate-cozy shenanigans in the future.

On the flipside, at least Obama isn't talking about nuking Iran. Yet.


gina said...

i know you don't like voting for these charaders and you claim to be out of the country but i know i saw you and your pink pants sneak behind the curtain just to vote yes on proposition 8. it's all your fault!!!!

Michael Faris said...

Right on, Mattilda. While I'm reveling in the slight change from the election, it's important to keep in mind how similar Obama and Bill Clinton probably are, and how many other possibilities there are for living and being in the world.

kayti said...

I am not shocked that you are not celebrating an Obama victory.

Dr. Myron L. Fox said...

But Obama has already talked about nuking Iran. Not in those exact words, but he makes it clear that he is prepared to do so, and to do so unilaterally, if he decides it's in "our interests": In the 2nd debate between him and McCain, Obama said: "We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. ... And I will do everything that's required to prevent it. And we will never take military options off the table. And it is important that we don't provide veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests."

That's just the Bush Doctrine - not to mention a clear violation of the UN Charter, which is the supreme law of the land in the US (assuming anyone still cares about laws). If it weren't so tragic, it would be laughable that Obama in the same breath invited Iran "to re-join the community of nations" - the community of nations whose laws we unilaterally follow or violate whenever we see fit, while demanding strict compliance of everyone else, of course.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/07/presidential.debate.transcript/

Harris said...


It's really refreshing to read this. I'm torn. But while San Francisco was going wild last night (in exciting and obnoxious ways), I was also feeling something like a sense of loss. I'm glad I'm not the only one.


Hilary Goldberg said...

Is Grant Park '68 the New Woodstock? All these people claiming to have been there...

anyway, if only the spirit of that revolt was present than we would be celebrating in style or on fire or with molotov cocktails, yes toasting molotov cocktails

til then...dream better things like steamed veggies not covered in oil and excellent book readings with stage lights and booklights...

love, hil

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Gina, I will get married I will!!!

Michael, yes yes for more possibilities!

Kayti, I knew I wouldn't shock you :)

Dr. Myron, thanks for the clarity-- you're absolutely right!

Harris, yay for not the only one! And I'm so glad I'm in Canada right now...

Hilary you're right-- no more Woodstocks, and yes yes yes to:

"dream better things like steamed veggies not covered in oil and excellent book readings with stage lights and booklights..."

Okay, hopefully off to dream now...


Anonymous said...


Obama is a the personification of a major paradigm shift. A multi-racial President Barack Obama has wonderful implications for changing the dominant white/capitalist heteronormaive narrative, and while I don't agree with him on some very important issues (I do however think that his administration opens up the possibilities of dialogue and real change - he has already demonstrated himself to be a uniting, inspiring and revolutionary candidate!) - his Presidency opens the space for social, cultural and economic activism.

Yesterday was a revolution. Today is a revolution. Right now is the revolution.

I am very proud of President-Elect Obama. I never thought that I would ever, ever be proud of a US President.

But I am so very proud of my president, Barack Obama! I love him.

I have been having real conversations with people about coming together, about race, class, and what life means. These are revolutionary times and Obama personifies the massive shift.

Real change has happened. I am already hearing (and experiencing) the stories of multi-racial, multi-ethnic, Queer collective moments of transcending the past.

Let's transcend the past together. I have been crying tears of joy all day.

I love you dear, and I hope that you too will see the implications of the Obama Presidency... It is a part of the larger process of liberation!


Anonymous said...

I offer this article from the Socialist Worker! Obama's Presidency is about hope.

Election Day in Harlem

The warm embrace of solidarity and the infectious optimism of victory were all over the streets.

November 6, 2008

MY ELECTION day in Harlem began early in the morning, on a crosstown bus that takes me to work.

Columnist: Brian Jones

Brian Jones Brian Jones is a teacher, actor and activist in New York City, and a frequent contributor to the International Socialist Review. For years, he performed in Howard Zinn's play Marx in Soho, and he has lent his voice to readings and recordings of the book Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

I sat in the back next to a woman who (as she proudly announced to her fellow passengers) was calling everyone in her phone's memory to remind them to vote. If they didn't pick up, she sang a few bars of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" into their voicemail.

At work, we shared stories of long lines at our local voting booths. Many of us, afraid of being late to work, abandoned the lines and hoped to try again in the evening. There was a giddy, nervous vibe in the air, and you could still find plenty of people who were willing to bet against an Obama victory.

When the first networks called the election for Obama, I was at an election party on 122nd Street. I ran outside and started recording footage of the crowds gathering around a Jumbo-tron at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.

What else to read

You can watch footage of the celebration in Harlem and interviews with residents about their reactions to Obama's victory at YouTube.

I felt like a tiny ship, tossed back and forth on a frothy sea of human emotion and pride in the historic election of the first African American president of the U.S. Raw joy was dominant, but there was also relief, pride, shock and wonder.

A group of young women ran by me, screaming. Everyone looked everyone in the eye, cars honked incessantly, and Obama's name was shouted from countless apartment windows. A woman confronted people on the sidewalk individually, demanding over and over again the answer to the question, "Who's your president?"

As I crossed 125th Street and entered the dense crowd, I heard three words repeated, almost like a mantra, "WE did this! WE did this!"

When the song "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" came blaring out the speakers, the whole gathering became a giant outdoor dance party. But it wasn't just a good beat. The lyrics on everyone's lips gave a glimpse of the ideas invested in this moment:

There've been so many things that have held us down
But now it looks like things are finally comin' around, yeah
I know we've got a long long way to go, yeah
And where we'll end up, I don't know
But we won't let nothing hold us back
We gonna get ourselves together
We gonna polish up our act, yeah
And if you've ever been held down before
I know that you refuse to be held down any more, yeah yeah
Don't you let nothing, nothing
Nothing stand in your way

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I RAN back inside to hear Obama's acceptance speech. It was hard not to tear up hearing him channel Martin Luther King ("We, as a people, will get there") and even Sam Cooke ("It's been a long time coming...but change has come to America"). I held my tears, though, knowing that MLK would have been highly critical of the people who, according to the media, are supposed to get positions in an Obama administration--like Bush's Defense Secretary and the top House Democrat Rahm Emanuel.

Obama promised to move past the "same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long," which sounded to me like another way to pledge himself not to fight for progressive ideals.

My friends and I went back outside to interview people on our way to the train station. Some spoke to the feeling that racial barriers were being torn down that night. "After this, there's no way I can fail," one woman told me. A young man hoped that now there wouldn't be so much money spent on jailing people, and that he could go out and just "get good grades, go to school."

Still another didn't want to hold Obama to having to make too much progress, given how messed up the country is. "He can't do it in four years," the man warned. "He needs more than four years." But at the same time, the whole celebration spoke to the high expectations that people have for Obama.

A kind of euphoria fueled the excitement. Strangers were hugging and taking pictures with each other--like long-lost relatives--and often the strangers were of different races.

Folks went out of their way to greet white people on the street and share congratulations. "This isn't just for Black people, this is about everybody," I heard many say. Given the rampant gentrification of Harlem, and the current rate of unemployment for African Americans, this was a profoundly magnanimous reaction.

A shiny new subway car was being driven across 125th Street during the celebration, but the truck it rode on had to stop again and again, because people were climbing all over it. "That's a change already," one woman joked to me, "new subway cars!"

The police chased off the train-climbers, but the crowd moved in close and began yelling. When no one was arrested, an enormous cheer went up.

The warm embrace of solidarity and the infectious optimism of victory were all over the streets of Harlem. This was not only the fall of Bush and Cheney's brand of neoconservatism. Obama himself nailed it on the head: for millions, a deep-rooted cynicism was shattered on Election Night--and that will be important to the struggles ahead.

Huge numbers of people are energized by the fact that, yes, we can elect a Black president. What we get from this president depends mostly on what happens to this energy, and less on the president himself. The question we must ask now is: "With solidarity, hope, and organization...what else can we do?"

CaroleMcDonnell said...

ah, mattilda. soo true. This past 21 months has been hell on moi. IF I wasn't getting emails from my christian friends about dreams they had that obama was the anticrhist, i was getting emails from my black friends who were all agog with the joy of a black president. Amazingly good at being hypocritical for the sake of self-protection, both sides thought I was voting their way. (One has to hide one's self to keep one's self safe from the herd...especially when one is battling fibro. Hey, I'm not as emotionally strong as you are.) But at last I finally posted my choice to my blog. The Day After. Will see. -C

tpaperny said...

I dunno Mattilda, your post really kind of pissed me off. Here's my sort of coherent rant, please check it out: http://www.pushback.org/2008/11/06/why-cant-we-celebrate-for-now/


Dani said...

Thank you. I'm glad Obama won over McCain, but I wasn't feeling the excitement and emotion that most of my friends were. Part of me felt guilty--the kind of guilt one might feel for not crying at their father's funeral. My expectations just weren't/aren't all that high. I mean, "clean" coal??

But I guess to be *truly* extraordinary is to be unacceptable by the masses, which Obama, evidently, is not.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Tony, if this is revolution, then revolution looks an awful lot like the same old thing...

Carole, this is gorgeous and telling:

"Amazingly good at being hypocritical for the sake of self-protection, both sides thought I was voting their way."

tpaperny, I'll check out your rant once I'm not quite so exhausted :)

Dani, clean coal is definitely a great idea...

And "But I guess to be *truly* extraordinary is to be unacceptable by the masses, which Obama, evidently, is not."

True, Obama, evidently, is not.


Aspasia said...

"I remember the last Democrat to replace a Bush, the charming saxophone player who succeeded in Reaganite dreams of dismantling welfare, expanding the security state, and grandiose "free trade" agreements like NAFTA that further trashed environmental standards, job security and standards of living."

He [Clinton] also drafted the first "Defense Of Marriage" Act bs. Thank you for saying this! I feel like a little island in a sea of liberal praise for Obama. I'm not happy at all either, nor did I vote for him, despite the belief of some that I should vote for him due to a slight similarity in ethnic makeup.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Aspasia, "a little island in a sea of liberal praise for Obama," indeed -- thanks for writing!

Love --

james said...

I was working at the bookstore in Virginia Wednesday after the Election, People whom I had never seen buying a book or newspaper before wanted to buy a paper that day for the front page headline... That day ended up being a good day because a man came in and positively commented on the book 'How I Learned to Snap' that was displayed on the shelf. I said, "This is the book I am reading now, another writer who lives in San Francisco" and showed him 'So Many Ways to Sleep Badly'. We talked about short stories and novels all afternoon.

Mark said...

You anarchists are such fucking miserable downers. Walking, living breathing, writing arguments for liberalism if there ever was any.

The People are not interested in your trajectory. Here in Oakland it's the friday after the election and folks are still honking their horns and yelling out Obama's name. It's jubilation like I've never seen...and so was the proposition 8 protest in SF this evening. I have never seen anything so incredible in my life. I think the Obama win is directly responsible for how people now feel that they can take collective political control. That they can stand up to the dark side. It's really amazing what's happening here.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

James, I love that front window -- and sounds like a great day, indeed...

And Mark, people honk their horns a lot after Super Bowl win too...

Love --

kayti said...

Mattilida now I am really shocked by something you said. it took this many years for you to surprise me. I never thought you had any idea what the super bowl was. Next thing you know your going to tell me you even know what the world series is.

I hope you find yourself in Boston soon.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Well, I don't mind shocking... And Kayti, you're right -- people honk their horns a lot after a World Series victory as well...

Love --

Oli said...

I did not vote for Obama, but I live in Harlem and when the results came in and everyone was celebrating outside I was crying before I knew what was happening. I know that it's probably gonna be more of the same neoliberal corporatist shit, but for a brief moment I was hit with the more positive enormity of his win.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Oli, those moments make a lot of sense, and also why this "neoliberal corporatist shit" is so scary...

Love --

Scott LaForce said...

Kudos to your proclivity toward truth. Although I admittedly voted for Obama, I take inspiration from those, more grounded in a particularly inexorable sense of reality, while most of us so often remain caught up in the confusion.

I featured this entry in my blog. I hope you don't mind. My thought is that so few people search beyond their own blinded capacities when contemplating supposed political choice. The more exposure that your words get, the more likely they are to allow people just one more opportunity to think. Thanks for being.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Scott, you are too sweet -- feature away, my words are to read!

Love --

Anonymous said...

I too am dumbfounded by the delusional white "progressives" who have been so easily manipulated into projecting their political values onto the Rorschach inkblot that is Brand Obama. What depresses me is that these so-called "progressives" will now stop paying attention to the political process because they assume that Brand Obama will be out there fighting the good fight on their behalf. I suspect that if they pay even the slightest amount of attention to the substance of Brand Obama's policies of the next 4 years, they will have no choice but to recognize that Brand Obama was carefully crafted to be a deceptive tabula rasa. Hell, the guy supports the Columbian Free Trade Agreement for fuck's sake.

The truth is that the only "change" that took place on Nov 4th is that the new face of neoliberal economic imperialism is black and, unlike his predecessor, can speak in complete sentences. While I can understand why many in the African American community are overjoyed at his election, I am sickened by White Progressives who are dancing in the streets thinking that Obama represents change on any level. I once made the mistake of offering a relatively benign criticism of one of Obama's policies to a friend who identifies as a "radical", and I was shocked at the vitriol he directed at me.

So while I am relieved that McCain WON'T be president, I see no reason to be happy that Obama WILL be.

New boss, same as the old boss....

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Ohthehorror, you are exactly right -- scary scary scary -- I love this "Brand Obama," however -- not the brand, but your critical insight, that is...

Love --