Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Victory to Obama

I woke up this morning with great trepidation - hardly daring to believe that we will have the first Black, "socialist", "communist" President of the United States of America. And it was true!

My life, which started in 1953 (believe it or not), spans virtually the whole period of the American Civil Rights movement and all the subsequent changes that have occurred in the political representation of Black people. These changes have been true dramatic - with representation now at all levels, from the local right up to the Presidency. The pioneers of the civil rights movement could never have believed that this was possible in a single life-time (although they always held on to the dream that it might be possible “someday”). US society has moved from a position of denying Black people fundamental human rights on a daily basis to one of electing a Black President. This morning I saw Rev. Jesse Jackson with tears running down his face - and no wonder.

The early 1950's also witnessed the scourge of the McCarthy witch-hunts that saw thousands of American citizens castigated and denied fundamental human rights for being "socialists", "communist" or "liberal": a poisoned atmosphere of intimidation and fear swept the nation. A half-century on, attempts to paint Barack Obama with the same brush was tried again - but this time it failed, and failed miserably. Indeed, it may well have spurred millions of poor people, people who have felt disenfranchised from the political process, to re-engage - and vote for Barak in their millions.

More Americans, I hope, may now see these words as less of an insult and more as words which might inspire a new crusade against inherited privilege and unearned wealth; as a democratic crusade against unelected vested interests; as a crusade against poverty and inequality; as a crusade to make the world more peaceful and less devastated by wars and conflicts. Whatever label is put on someone, these struggles remain at the heart of the human project and will never go away!

Martin Luther King had a dream of an America that would judge people by the strength of the character rather than the colour of their skin. America has proven that this is possible. But less well know was his “War on Poverty” which he launched just before is death in alliance with trade unions and the representatives of the “white working class” - bridging the racial divide in the desire to create a fairer and more just society for all.

These will now be the challenges facing Barack Obama. Can he deliver the radical social and economic changes for ordinary Americans of all colours and backgrounds (and for the poor and impoverished world-wide) to match the kind of radical changes that have occurred at the political level?

Today, alongside Jesse Jackson, I too wept. A truly magnificent victory – but so much more to do!

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