Grassroots Must Avoid Hibernation

“Hope” and “Change” have been the rallying cries of this election campaign. Now that the votes have been counted and the “Candidate for Change” Barack Obama is our president-elect, how much hope should we have that change is on its way?
There is little doubt that this presidential election was historic. For the first time in American history a black man will assume the presidency. Given the deep and lasting shadow that slavery and Jim Crow segregation have cast on this country, an African-American chief executive and commander-in-chief is no small achievement.
The pervasiveness of racism in America, however, has deep roots. Our prison system is composed of almost 70 percent blacks and Latinos, though they make up only 22 percent of the population. Unemployment rates are almost double for African-Americans, and income and wealth disparities persist between black and white workers. One only needs to look to the UC system to see racism’s continued effects due to a dismally low percentage in student admission and faculty hiring of African-Americans and Latinos.
A vote for Obama did little to undermine the very real structural inequities of racism, which remain inherent in the economic, social and political institutions that shape our lives. Yet, it does show that racist ideas and personal prejudices can be successfully challenged.
Unfortunately, the crucial issues that motivated many to vote and to celebrate on street corners tell a different story. When it comes to the most pressing concerns on voters’ minds – the Afghan and Iraq wars, the massive military budget, the economy and current financial crisis, the cutbacks in social services and education and the lack of universal health care – Obama’s policy stance differs little from the Washington consensus to which both George W. Bush and John McCain belong. Indeed, Obama’s closest advisors are a who’s who of hard-line Washington stalwarts. Despite the rhetoric for change, Obama’s foreign and domestic policies, for those who bothered to listen, offer little that we haven’t heard before.
Over the last few months, Obama has moved steadily away from his earlier call for a withdrawal from Iraq, and in fact, now says that it may be necessary to keep troops stationed in Iraq for some time, if not indefinitely. He supports escalating the war in Afghanistan, a redeployment of U.S. troops to Central Asia and insists that more military incursions into Pakistan are needed. Despite the “antiwar vote” in the 2006 elections that gave the Democrats a majority in Congress, Obama (along with fellow congressional Democrats) consistently supported funding for the Iraq and Afghan Wars, as well as for the U.S.’s astronomical military budget. And for Obama, “all options are on the table” with regard to Iran.
Even more troubling, Obama vows to increase the military by at least 92,000 soldiers and staunchly supports a “national service” program that would require recent high school graduates and college-age youths to complete a set number of years in a government position, including the armed forces.
In a recent Time magazine article entitled “A Call to Service,” Obama writes: “I’ll ask more young people to serve in uniform and expand the size of our military,” adding that the “call to service” will be “a central cause of my presidency.”
Obama and fellow Democrats backed the $700 billion bailout of banks and lending firms, a lifeline for Wall Street that does nothing to help the millions of working families drowning in foreclosures and bankruptcies. Senate Democrats, including Obama, also voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act, and Obama supported immunity for telecommunication companies complicit in Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.
Regarding immigration, Obama’s stance is no different than Bush’s, which likely means expanded Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and further militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Obama’s support for the dictatorial monarchy in Saudi Arabia and his position on Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will toe the line of every previous presidential administration. Is this the “change” the new administration promised us?
You voted for change. So now what? Is the answer to abandon the energy and determination witnessed during the election, and now put our future in the hands of politicians? In the coming months, we need to work hard and long, locally and beyond, to guarantee a future different from a past and present founded on inequality, injustice, wars for profit and conquest and exploitation. We must continue to organize for meaningful change beyond the ballot box — in our workplaces, on college and high school campuses, in our neighborhoods and among the military ranks. The electoral process offers us one day per year to be political; we need to decide what to make of the other 364.
To tackle some of these questions, a student-led panel discussion has been organized for this week entitled “You Voted, Now What? Where to Go from Here,” scheduled for Thursday Nov. 13, 6-8 p.m. in Humanities Hall 252 (sponsored by the Worker-Student Alliance, Muslim Student Union and Amnesty International). Discussing the significance of the election and what to do next is a first step to creating meaningful change. I urge all to attend and participate, and to continue to organize for real change.

Dennis Lopez is a graduate student in the department of English. He can be reached at dlopez1@uci.edu.