AFRICANGLOBE – Next week will mark the third anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and the unveiling of his fourth budget. Already White House spokespeople admit that it will be bad news for black and poor Americans. In three years this president has investigated and prosecuted not a single Wall Street banker or institution, not held up the wave of foreclosures a single week, not addressed the issues of black unemployment or black mass incarceration. But Black America has silenced itself to protect the career of the First Black President.
Three years ago this week, more than 2 million souls, at least half of them African American, converged upon the nation’s capital. They came, in what my colleague Glen Ford called the Great Black Hajj of 2009, to witness and celebrate the swearing in of the nation’s first African American president. They wept and danced and sang and prophesied. They marveled at how far they had come. It was, their leaders assured them, the beginning of a new day.
Three years later, it’s clear that this is indeed a new day, a new era. But for most of black America, it’s not the one they hoped for. Nobody expected urban poverty would begin to vanish overnight, or that millions of acres of lost black farmland would be restored. But promises were made, and expectations were justifiably high, not because Barack Obama had promised to investigate Wall Street, prosecute banksters, or stop the imperial wars and illegal foreclosures, but because humans do have the right to expect justice at home and peace abroad, whether their leaders deliver these things or not.
The highly questionable political strategy of withholding back black demands for economic or social justice and peace, so as not to embarrass, pressure or visibly tie the black presidential candidate, and later the black president to his base was so widely accepted that by mid 2007 it was a staple of black stand-up comedy routines. Three years into the Obama era, the silencing of black demands lest they embarrass the president is no longer a tactic. It’s a religion, rigorously enforced by the black misleadership class and its wannabees, who fall over each other in their eagerness to mock and scorn heretics like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West for daring to highlight the fact that black poverty and joblessness are at levels not seen in seventy years.
So it is that black people, black demands, and black communities are impotent, voiceless and paralyzed. The creeping privatization of our schools, the continuing gentrification of our urban and suburban communities, and the mass incarceration of our youth all, and the diversion of resources from health care and good jobs to the war economy and corporate welfare all continue apace in the era of Obama, but without visible black protest. Black protest, and Black America used to be where the left lived. Black America used to be the visible, beating heart of the American left, in permanent opposition to wars of imperial conquest, to despoiling the environment, to gutting social security and Medicaid. Those days are over.
The priority of the black political class is to damp down protests unless they can be directed exclusively against Republicans, to protect their careers, contacts and contracts, to stifle any criticism of the president, and to pretend that Republicans are to blame for whatever the Obama administration should have done and didn’t. It’s time to circle the wagons and invoke the false god of “black unity” for the 2012 elections. But what is it we are supposed to unify around?
We can’t really say Barack Obama has stood up for poor and working people. Obama specifically promised to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour, to walk a picket line himself and to pass the Employee Free Choice Act during his first two years in office, while he still had an enormous Democratic majority in Congress. None of that happened.
The current economic depression — and that’s what it is, a depression —- came to a head just as Obama assumed office. In September of 2008, just before the election, George Bush was unable to get his $3 trillion bankster bailout bill through a Democratic dominated Congress. Bush summoned president-in-waiting Obama to DC, where Barack worked the phones for a week, convincing enough Democrats to change their votes and support the Bush bailoiut so banksters would indeed get paid for crashing the economy. After assuming office, Obama gave the Wall Street casinos an extra $15 trillion, quintupling down on the Bush bailout, the most massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in human history. The Obama administration hasn’t found a single big bankster or mortgage fraudster to prosecute in three years.
The BP Gulf disaster occurred while Obama still had a big majority in the House, but not one measure was introduced to hold oil companies to account. Obama’s own “jobs council,” the Hill reports, is about to recommend the Republican energy strategy of “drill, baby drill” with minimal or no regard to the environment or attempt to wean ourselves from dirty and destructive fossil fuels. This president can’t say the word “coal” without putting “clean” in front of it, or refer to “nuclear power” without declaring it “safe.”
Next week President Obama will unveil his new budget, with what his spokespeople admit will not be good news for black and poor Americans. But if our leaders have anything to say, we’ll keep a lid on any protest, any sign of dissatisfaction or disaffection.
If the Black misleadership class has its way, the only political role for Black America is to be the solid Black wall around the president, the wall that does not insulate him from Wall Street or the energy companies or the warmongers. They’re inside the wall. Our job once again will be to protect Barack Obama from any semblance of accountability to his supposed base. To us.
Afraid of weakening him before the Republicans, we weaken ourselves instead. Rather than rish shortening his career, or dimming his halo, we shorten and impoverish black lives and livelihoods. We have a new pharaoh. And we won’t let him go.
Bruce A. Dixon a member of the Georgia Green Party.