R. Rose
January 23, 2009
Obama- An inspiration

Prominent progressive Black leaders the world over have not had it easy. Discrimination, victimization, repression, arrests and beatings, jailing, even death, have been their lot. Thus was the fate of many who have stood up for the rights of their people. The list is lengthy, but among the martyrs, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King from the USA, Patrice Lumumba and Amilcar Cabral of Africa are but some of the names marked on the assassins’ bullets. Countless others, including some currently leading their countries, had to serve unjust prison sentences on the way to the top.{{more}} And by now the whole world is aware of perhaps the most famous political prisoner in history, Nelson Mandela.

In addition to all of this, the efforts, actions and achievements of black leaders have long been either deliberately hidden or distorted by the international news media. How heartening it was, therefore, this past Monday and Tuesday that two Black men, one dead, the other very much alive, dominated the news coverage of the major news networks. On January 19th and 20th, Martin Luther King and Barack Obama were the names most on the lips of Americans and Africans, Germans and Japanese, people from Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and the Americas.

Ever since MLK was assassinated in 1968, there had been a campaign to officially observe his birth date as a public holiday. The campaign finally reached the US Congress in 1979, but the motion was defeated by a coalition led by the late racist Senator Jesse Helms. It was not until 1983 that King’s supporters succeeded and President Ronald Reagan signed the proclamation leading to the first official observance of January 15th as a public holiday, Martin Luther King Day, in 1986. Dr. King’s holiday is one of only three in the USA observed nationally to commemorate an individual person, the other two being Founding Father George Washington and Christopher Columbus, still wrongly regarded as the discoverer of the Americas.

Yet even though there have been 23 years of MLK Day, the significance has been largely confined to the United States, primarily among black people. 2009 has changed all that. The main catalyst is the man who has been catapulted into the most powerful position on earth, the Presidency of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama. His spectacular victory in the November Presidential poll and glorious inauguration on January 20th set the perfect scenario for scaling up MLK Day, observed officially only one day before. What better backdrop to the ascendancy of the first Afro American president of the USA could one wish for?

Now that Obama has occupied the Oval office (how ironic that the man who succeeded George W. Bush should have a name of Hussein, the tyrant used by Bush as an excuse to invade Iraq!), all kinds of comments and analyses are being made as to the implications for the world. Speculation is rife as to his possibilities and limitations. That is to be expected in the circumstances. However, it would do well to note the following.

(1) Barack Obama is, first and foremost, the President of the whole of the United States of America. He may be Black in skin but he is not just President of Black America, or simply the representative of Black people the world over. He is the President of all Americans. As such, he will act consistent with America’s domestic and foreign policy objectives. These objectives may be reshaped or modified with Obama being a motivating factor, but whatever they turn out to be, he will act in conformity with the amended objectives.

(2) His ability to radically change US policy depends, as he so forcefully reminds us, on People Power, the support of the American people and people of the world, ourselves included, and their ability and willingness to pressure their representatives to act in the best interests of the world’s peoples. There are those who believe that Obama will only be allowed to do what the gods of capitalism permit, but to do so is to deny the dialectics of the struggles of the people and the dynamics of that struggle in bringing about change. Obama’s victory at the polls is the best example of this.

(3) Success in carrying forward the agenda for change calls for patience, understanding, co-operation, collective will, unity and persistence. There can be no quick solutions that are lasting.

(4) Obama is a human being, one with boundless capacity to inspire and lead, not no firebrand radical. In all the analysis we seem to miss his greatest value to us all, that ability to INSPIRE and to bring out the best in the rest of us. His timing, in a rapidly changing technological world, could not be better. Never before, in the history of US politics, has any leader been able to bring together such a wide cross-section, including the energized and technologically gifted young people. Never before has a US Presidential election had the world-wide impact as the last one. Even here in SVG, persons with little interest in international politics had Obama’s name on their lips. As for the inauguration itself, that reached Olympic proportions.

It is important then that we grasp the significance of what has been achieved and be able to utilize it as a tool for the advancement of all humanity. The view that Obama’s victory demonstrates that anything is possible in America, that a shoeshine boy can really be President, is limited in scope. It is not merely ascending to the top spot but demonstrating that major victories are possible, if we unite, adopt relevant strategies and are tactically shrewd. Above all, Obama’s victory and our unanimous support for it as a people exposes the triviality of our petty politics as it challenges us to raise the level of our game and seek new horizons.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.