Whose Election Is This Anyway?
It’s not about Obama or Romney. It’s about us.
BY MARILYN KATZ
Without Occupy, without women, without the young, no progress would
have been made. And it is these forces that the Right is working to
Something strange is occurring in America. While right-wing
Republicans—oligarchs and dirt-poor fundamentalists alike—are
marshalling money and troops for the coming presidential elections,
progressives seem stuck in some kind of existential dilemma. Not only
does the latest Washington Post poll show Republican enthusiasm for
the election outpacing Democratic, at a recent dinner of long-time
progressive women activists, I heard it argued that the re-election of
Obama really wasn’t that important and perhaps it would be better if
Romney won—so that a target of Republican ire would be removed from
debate about the real issues. On Sunday, as usual, I listened on NPR
to the tirades of Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, who spend more time
fulminating about what Obama hasn’t done than focusing on an
intransigent and reactionary Republican congressional bloc. And when
fundraising among folks who contributed time and money in the last
election, I am too often met with, “I think I’ll sit this one out.”
These facts and comments are disturbing both because they portend poor
outcomes for Obama and because they indicate a fundamental
misunderstanding of what this election is about.
While on the surface the election—like all elections—is a contest
between Romney and Obama, in fact this election, as in 2008, is not
about “them” but about us—what we fought for, what we’ve gained and
what we stand to win or lose.
Obama ascended to the presidency on the aspirations, energy and
efforts of millions of women, minorities, peace advocates and labor
activists, who saw in an Obama victory the hope for a completion of
the unrealized promise of America. Coming from the anti-war movement,
environmental action groups, students, unions, churches, synagogues,
mosques and our homes, we coalesced around the Obama presidential
effort and built one of the most extraordinary grassroots electoral
campaigns in U.S. history.
And it is this movement, its agenda—as well as the man—that the Right
has worked to impede and disempower from the very first moment.
While the Right’s pundits distract the nation by bashing Obama and
belittling every one of his accomplishments, their financers and
strategists have worked feverishly—both in Congress and, as
importantly, in the states—to thwart the agenda and the movement.
In 2011 alone, more than 1,100 bills related to reproductive rights
were introduced in state legislatures, and 92 laws restricting
abortion access were passed in 24 states. Eighteen states enacted
legislation restricting the right of workers to unionize. Working
people are now not only faced with off-shoring but also with
“off-stating”: corporations moving jobs to states with more
And most tellingly, under the subterfuge of “preventing voter fraud,”
this year alone 38 states have introduced legislation to restrict
voting rights and 14 states have passed such laws—all aimed at
minorities, seniors and the young.
Progressives, on the other hand, have waited on the sidelines (with
the exception of the battle of Wisconsin), mostly watching to see what
the president did and how he fared—as if the issues, struggles and
victories were not ours.
Although our reticence is certainly the result of many things—high
unemployment, the disconnection of the Administration with the grass
roots movement that brought Obama to the White House—I believe that
the sense of disengagement and disappointment is an indication of the
success that Karl Rove and other Republican strategists have had in
infecting our thinking.
Each day the Right’s pundits, from Ann Coulter to Rush Limbaugh to the
entire Fox News lineup, spend countless hours not only pooh-poohing
Obama but also telling the nation that we were fools to believe in
“hope and change.” With an incessant drumbeat of negativity, they
insist that Obama is a fraud, that nothing has changed, nor can it,
nor should it ever.
And we have been lulled into complacency. When, for the first time
ever, a national healthcare law was passed that provided critical
benefits for young people, women and those with “pre-existing
conditions,” we let the pundits lament what we didn’t get rather than
celebrate what we did.
When investment in the auto industry actually worked and saved
millions of jobs, we said little to laud it. When the stimulus bill
yielded billions of dollars and jobs for our cities, we did little to
press for its continuation.
When the Republican attempt to impose a “balanced budget” was defeated
(in great part thanks to the Occupy movement), we greeted it with a
yawn, although the victory was one of the clearest indications of our
power and influence.
When the last troops left Iraq, we let the Right define the moment as
a loss for the United States rather than the culmination of the
anti-war movement’s eight-year campaign for withdrawal and the
president’s making good on his commitment.
These were not only serious mistakes, but indicators of how much we
have been affected by the narrative of those who would destroy both
the man and the movement.
History is made by those who claim it, and we have let the Right write
the history of these past four years—to our detriment and our peril.
Every victory that has been won these past years is a reflection of
the forces that were in play in 2008. Without Occupy, without women,
without the young, no progress would have been made. And it is these
forces that the Right is working—through their mantras, through the
media and through state laws—to defeat.
Our dissatisfaction with the slow pace of progress plays straight into
Republican hands. The message from a well-financed opposition echoes
in our ears: that hope is an illusion and change is not possible.
The truth is that hope is essential. The tension between what is and
what should be has always been the springboard for real change. What
we do matters. The choices are ours. We need to make the right ones.
Marilyn Katz is the founder and president of Chicago-based MK
Communications. An anti-war and civil rights organizer during the
Vietnam War, she served with Lee Weiner (one of the Chicago 7) as
co-head of security during the August 1968 protests at the Democratic