Towards a Critical Hope

Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so our children could fly… predator drones?!

I came across this on Facebook.  The truth and cynicism both hit me. 

I knew elements of the radical Left would condemn Obama without mercy. They would do this despite our knowledge of limitations Obama faces and his centrist intentions.  But cynicism – like hope – is dangerous.  Unlike hope which can get you amped and active, cynicism is a downer and demobilizer.

Obama’s election does matter in small and wonderful ways. I attended an 1199 SEIU regional meeting were union organizers read an anonymous letter by a worker. The writer called upon her workers to stand up for the union. She reminded them nothing in life was free and without struggle there can be no progress. In the letter, the future Norma Rae cited the Obama election as an example of why it was time for a change. 

This positive influence goes beyond our borders. At my union hall, a representative from El Salvador’s FMLN presented on the recent elections. He reported that some El Salvadorians, who often expected reprisals from the US for exerting their independence, used America’s vote for change and a reason to justify supporting the FMLN. The presenter acknowledged that Obama might only be slightly better than McCain. Still, in an election decided by less than two percent, the hope Obama provides may have changed the victor.

I never thought Obama would be a progressive.I got flack in my own liberal family for merely stating that I thought Obama would only make lasting change if movements pushed him.

Everyone should hold Obama accountable and move him towards the Left. My more radical coworkers and I at 1199 were bothered by an email chain from a colleague encouraging us to give Obama an “A” on online survey. The reason for the missive: the right-wing folks were giving him an “F.” We should be giving him poor marks on a number of issues, not being his teacher’s pets.

But I encourage people to work with the language of change and hope. Today, nothing is further removed from mainstream activism and boring than cynicism. Meet people where they are at – not where you pretend they are. We don’t leave in ordinary times; you can be isolated and cynical or challenging and optimistic. As always, you can be the right-wing of the impossible or the left-wing of the possible. I’ll always choose the latter.


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