Revolution #153, January 18, 2009
On the Eve of Obama’s Inauguration: Hitting the ground with Revolution in Washington, DC
We received the following correspondence from a team of Revolution distributors who are in Washington, D.C.
January 11, 2009. We hit the ground with the Revolution newspaper this past weekend. We landed right in the build-up to what is planned here as four days of non-stop celebration and parties for the inauguration of Barack Obama.
As some of us went to join the demonstration against the Gaza massacre in front of the White House—which was estimated at 10,000 people, and was virtually whited out of the major media including right here in DC itself—others went to the neighborhood some people told us was “Obama-central,” near Howard University. This is an area with a lot of young people, students and professionals of all ages and many nationalities as well as long-time impoverished pockets of people. Carl Dix was going to be leading a discussion the next day, Sunday, at a well-known cafe called “Busboys and Poets” in the neighborhood titled “Barack Obama: the Change We Need or a New Face on the Same Rotten Empire?” We wanted to get out Revolution newspaper and let people in the area know about the discussion. We were challenging people that the stand that is needed now, especially in the face of the US-supported Israeli massacre in Gaza, is to “Stop Thinking Like Americans and Start Thinking About Humanity!”
The conversations were getting going on the street and in the businesses along U street when somebody told us they had just seen Obama having lunch right down the street, at the famous “Chili Bowl” restaurant. Three of us got over there just after Obama left and found a crowd of people packed into the restaurant and spilled out onto the sidewalk. We jumped into the buzz with the bullhorn: “People! Don’t drink the Obama-laid! Stop thinking like an American, start thinking about humanity! People here are excited they got to see Obama. It is a big deal this system would put a Black man to head it up. But it’s still America! People are being slaughtered on behalf of this empire’s interests in Gaza right now. Obama promises you can be part of more of the same! This system is about brutal exploitation of people around the world, oppression of Black people here. Black Buffalo soldiers back in the day slaughtered Native Americans for this empire. Now Obama is giving you that same chance. We need to liberate humanity from all of this with revolution!”
Outside (the music was loud inside and most didn’t hear us yet), hot debate jumped off—a number of people first told us to shut up, one guy told us to “go to Adams Morgan with that!”—Adams Morgan is a more affluent, more white area than most of DC (two of our three-person team were white). Others wanted to know why we thought they shouldn’t have hope. Some out front stopped shouting at us and listened, taking the leaflet for the meeting the next day.
And then we went inside the restaurant, gave everyone a flyer for the Carl Dix event the next day, and got into a bunch of intense conversations. Most people still did not agree—clearly! But some people started to get curious, a few bought Revolution newspaper. One guy first said he agreed about America, but maybe Obama can change that, or inspire the youth to change that. We struggled over this, and he ended up buying the current issue of Revolution and Revolution #144: “The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need.” A number of people agreed we need revolution. One person told us outside that “I agree with you 100%” and bought the paper—but didn’t feel this could be said out loud. The Obama-mania, the desire for this election and inauguration of a Black president to mean something that it does not, is really thick here. But at the same time, a lot of people want a real change and they want to know how it will come.
On Sunday about 30 people gathered at the Busboys and Poets cafe to get into it. There were Vietnam veterans, university students and recent graduates, seasoned activists from the Black liberation movement, along with a small number of readers and distributors of Revolution newspaper from the neighborhoods of DC. Some Iraq war veterans and resisters, including some who had participated in the 100-day witness against torture which had begun earlier that day at DuPont Circle, stayed for the discussion after a book reading they had held at the cafe just before the Carl Dix event.
Carl laid down what is happening with the US empire’s support of the Gaza massacre right now and how this is what Obama will be heading up, what he supports, and what he is enlisting people in. Carl talked about how he refused to go to Vietnam and how we need to support those troops today who resist and refuse being part of wars for empire. Carl went through the history of Black people in this country—why and how Black people respond with deep emotion to a Black president, telling his own experience of witnessing the “whites” and “coloreds” segregated restrooms in the factory where he was hired, and growing up when a Black person couldn’t try on clothes in the store because no white person would want to wear them after they had touched a Black person’s skin. He brought it down to Oscar Grant who was recently murdered by the police, shot in the back as he was held down on the floor of a BART transit station in Oakland, California – which was all caught on cell phone videos now seen by millions all over the internet. And Carl laid down why all the hopes being put into Obama are a dangerous illusion, politically disarming people and enlisting them—politically and literally—in wars and massacres for the U.S. Empire.
The discussion was fast and deep, and spilled from the cafe to a nearby Salvadoran restaurant for several hours. Most people were deeply frustrated and distressed at the political paralysis and “wait-and-see” approach of much of the established political opposition movements. A big question on the minds of everyone—from the Iraq war resisters to some of the activists from the Black liberation struggle to young students—was that even knowing that Obama is a new face on the same empire, was there something positive to seize on with the hope that people are placing in him? Some people thought the revolutionaries and progressive people should seize on the hope people have now to organize against Guantánamo, against torture, against the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion of Gaza, against anti-gay marriage measures like Prop 8, and that community organizing could now have respect again. Some thought it was wrong to tell people that Obama is not “their” candidate, that “hope,” even if it’s false, helps people get through the day. There was debate over whether it was right to challenge people to “stop thinking like an American and start thinking about humanity” when Black people and immigrants feel that maybe for the first time they can be seen as human in America. Some thought we should leave these “big ideas” like organizing for the solution of revolution alone, and instead insist on Obama doing what should be done around specific needs and objectives like hunger, housing, jobs.
People raised and grappled with whether there were significant policy differences between Obama and Hillary Clinton that were reflected in him becoming the ruling class’s designated candidate. We brought out how this has more to do with his new face being able to draw in deeply alienated sections of people to prosecute the same fundamental agenda of empire. When some of the younger people who were new to political resistance asked about why the US is so invested in Israel, Carl Dix pointed out that Israel only exists because it serves the interests of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.
A long-time Black woman activist who described herself as a “communist and a Christian” gave appreciation to Carl and the RCP for posing the challenge and opening up the much-needed debate. She had participated in the large events held in NYC and Baltimore debating whether Obama is good for Black people [see "The Obama ’08 Phenomenon: What Have We Learned?" by Glen Ford]. She asked how the “left” that is not disabled and politically disarmed by the Obama-mania can make clear what is going on? She said her “Obama-nista” friends in the anti-death penalty movement draw a blank when she tells them that Obama supports the death penalty; her “Obama-nista” friends in the anti-war movement draw a blank when she tells them Obama will surge troops into Afghanistan and support Israel unconditionally.
Carl Dix sang a line from Stevie Wonder’s song “Superstition” for us, and he and others argued that “hope” is important IF it is founded on reality and not on superstition and belief in things that aren’t real! There is real hope in knowing that the world does not have to be this way and that there is a revolutionary solution that can meet everyone’s needs and involve the masses of people in liberating themselves and all of humanity—and what stands in the way is this imperialist system. He urged everyone to fight with serious determination for the changes that are needed on whatever level you see that. If you don’t want these brutal wars, if you want these police murders to end, if you want torture to end, go as far as you can in resisting and fighting this, and at the same time we need a lot more discussion and debate over what causes all this and how to get to the root of it. He talked about spreading the exposure and truth that’s in Revolution newspaper and bringing forward a revolutionary movement in this way that can be in position to fight for that fundamental change when the time is right.
People left out into the night challenged and working out how to make the political “intervention” in the political—and literal—inebriation that will be going on here in the next week. The whole world will be watching DC, and needs to know that a section of people here in the US are not drinking the Obama-laid! Many more volunteers and participants are needed. Get in touch! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.