Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vote every day

One of the reasons why I do not admire heads of state is that their job inevitably entails harming those groups which have the least amount of influence over them. In the case of an American president who happens to be black, this will mean harming the black community because it is weaker, comparatively, to the historically-favored groups which monopolize political and economic power.

While it is true that this class has changed "colors" over the years -- most recently by sponsoring an African-American for president -- their operational aims, as expressed by the policies they advance, have not. The gains that African-Americans have made throughout American history -- including their gradual admittance to elite institutions -- were never achieved from the top-down; they were accomplished through large-scale organized resistance around specific goals that created kind of pressure on government necessary to influence it.

The Obama presidency may spring from these accomplishments, but that does not mean it will advance or even sustain them. This will depend entirely on which groups wield the greatest domestic power. For example, this week another multi-billion dollar government give-away will be negotiated. Wall Street is at the table, having heavily bankrolled the Obama administration's electoral campaign and inaugural bonanza. They also staff his economic team. Where does the "African-American" community factor into this, given their obvious economic need, particularly when it comes to jobs, health-care and education? Are they even at the table? Do they register any input at the cabinet level? What about working people generally? It should not be difficult to see how those who are excluded from a process are less likely to benefit from its finished product.

Any group dedicated to change needs to vote everyday. Business groups and other influential lobbies understand this, which is why they have people working full-time on Capitol Hill and in the White House, while the rest of us are working full-time (usually for them, incidentally) just to live from week-to-week. It is the winning formula which makes the electoral process largely irrelevant: elect whoever you want; policy will remain a day-to-day affair from which the public is mostly excluded. This only changes when the public organizes around its concerns in ways that can compete with other organized lobbies.

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