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FROM THE GROUND UP by Dr. Godfrey Vincent

posted 13 Nov 2012, 03:49 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 13 Nov 2012, 03:50 ]

FROM THE GROUND UP

HOW OBAMA WON A SECOND TERM

by Dr. Godfrey Vincent

 

 
Dr. Godfrey Vincent is Assistant Professor Tuskegee University Department of History and Political Science; former Part-time Assistant Professor of History at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
 
A former secondary school teacher, Dr. Vincent was a Community activist in Petit/Valley/ Diego Martin/Carenage/ St.James/Maraval area. He is a former member of the United Labour Front; Committee for Labour Solidarity (CLS) and Motion.
 
He is a former Vice-Chair Person of Youth Voice and former President of Simeon Road Superpan and Co-ordinator of CLS West. He is a former member of the Summit of Peoples' Organisations (SOPO).
 
He is a Rapso artiste (Brother Cymande) and a former Shop Steward of DC 37, Local 2054 and a delegate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
 

It is now history that in the recent US elections President Obama and the Democratic Party have won both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Obama’s victory was doubted by some political pundits, pollsters, the media, and the GOP (Republican Party) and their billionaire backers. How did Barack Obama and his coalition beat back the onslaught of the right?

 

The coalition supporting Obama won because of the power of community organizing, Occupy Wall Street, the fight back of Labor in Ohio and Wisconsin, the Nuns on the bus tour, the Latino Tsunami, the fight back of women, the African-American Tsunami, and the Youth Tsunami. Of these issues, community organizing will be examined first.

 

COMMUNITY ORGANIZING

 

In 2008 during the Presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and his surrogates ridiculed Barack Obama for his role as a community organizer. They told the nation that he never held a real job and that community organizing is not a job.

 

During the 2012 campaign, this refrain resurfaced when the House speaker John Boehner claimed, “the President has never created a job, and that Obama never even had a real job” (Harold Mandel, The Syracuse Politics Examiner, August 2, 2012).  The speaker’s notion was to pour scorn on Obama’s role as a community organizer in Chicago. Upon graduating from Harvard Law School, Obama had the opportunity to work for any top Law firm. Instead, he returned to Chicago and became an organizer in Altgeld Gardens housing project and the neighborhood of Roseland. There he honed his community organizing skills.

 

Community organizing is most identified with the left-wing Chicago activist Saul Alinsky (1909-72), who pretty much defined the profession. In his classic book, Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote that a successful organizer should be “an abrasive agent to rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; to fan latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expressions.” Once such hostilities were “whipped up to a fighting pitch,” Alinsky continued, the organizer steered his group toward confrontation, in the form of picketing, demonstrating, and general hell-raising.

 

At first, the organizer tackled small stuff, like demanding the repair of streetlights in a city park; later, when the group gained confidence, the organizer could take on bigger targets. But at all times, the organizer’s goal was not to lead his people anywhere, but to encourage them to take action on their own behalf (Byron York, The National Review Online, September 8, 2012).  By engaging in this activity, Obama empowered hundreds of people in Chicago and when he entered the 2008 Presidential campaign, he and his team were able to build on those experiences. In 2012, they were able to take community organizing to another level.

 

According to Professor Horace G. Campbell, “When Barack Obama emerged as the winner of the 2008 elections, it had been agreed by political scientists and campaign organisers that the Obama machine had deployed the most sophisticated organizing apparatus in the history of US elections. This had been the verdict of Wired Magazine but it was also acknowledged that many of the technical tools that had been unveiled in 2008 would become obsolete in 2012.

 

In 2008, the Obama organization had refined the use of text messaging, while signing up more that 13 million voters on e-mail lists, tapping into new forms of fundraising. The deployment of social media: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and the use of the Internet on platforms such as MyBO had set the 2008 campaign apart.

 

That campaign had been waged after the fateful collapse of the US financial system on September 2008 and the condition of economic retrogression where the Federal Government had to intervene in the economy to bail out large-scale operators in banking, insurance, automobile and the other sectors. The billions that were expended to save the top one per cent undermined the rhetoric of ‘free markets.’ The top capitalists had been on the defensive and Obama organized an election campaign that brought a new alliance into the political system” (Pambazuka News, November 8, 2012). 

 

The man who was ridiculed for engaging in community organizing showed the world that he knew what he was about and defeated the big, deep, “money bags” and their political tricksters. In addition to his campaign’s ability to organize in the community, Occupy Wall Street also played an important role.

OCCUPY WALL STREET

When the US economy went into a deep recession, all eyes were focused on the excesses of Wall Street. During the reign of President Bill Clinton, financial deregulation had begun with the removal of the Glass-Steagall Act. This legislation formed part of the New Deal following the Great Depression of 1929. The Glass-Steagall Act, also known as the Banking Act of 1933, was passed by Congress in 1933 and prohibited commercial banks from engaging in the investment business (New York Times, November 10, 2012).

Under President George W. Bush, financial deregulation (example sub-prime mortgages) continued and Wall Street engaged in all manner of insider trading, Ponzi schemes, and financial engineering that triggered the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Country Wide, etc. Coupled with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial meltdown led to the “Great Recession” that collapsed the global capitalist system. In the light of this collapse, activists began to mobilize and out of this mobilization came Occupy Wall Street Movement.

The movement’s website defines the movement as Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99 % that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

 Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is the name given to a protest movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park located in New York City's Wall Street financial district. The Canadian activist group Adbusters initiated the protest, which subsequently led to Occupy protests and movements around the world. The main issues are social and economic inequality greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government, particularly from the financial services sector.

The OWS slogan, We are the 99%, addresses the growing income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. To achieve their goals protesters act on consensus-based decisions made in general assemblies which emphasize direct action. Protesters were forced out of Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011.

After several unsuccessful attempts to re-occupy the original location, protesters turned their focus to occupying banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, college and university campuses (See Movement’s website for further information). This movement spread all over the US and became very instrumental in the workers’ struggles in Ohio and Wisconsin.

LABOR MOVEMENT

In the 2010 House and Senate elections, the GOP with the help of the Tea Party won control of the House, State legislatures and some State governorships. Emboldened by their victory in stopping the President’s Stimulus bill the new Tea Party legislators took the fight to the Trade Union Movement by attacking the right to Collective Bargaining in states like Ohio and Wisconsin. Led in the main  by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Governor John Kasich in Ohio, the extreme right legislators in these two states passed legislation that took away the right to collective bargaining.

However, the passing of these draconian pieces of legislation led thousands of workers and their allies to take to the streets in both states. In Ohio, they were victorious but in Wisconsin, the governor won a recall vote but is saddled with a Democratic Party controlled senate.

With Presidential elections looming, the labor movement poured in human and financial resources in both states which led to Obama’s victory at the polls. Additionally, the Labor Movement in Ohio voted for an amendment that would strike down the anti-worker bill (See Clay Barbour, “Ohio vote on collective bargaining may foreshadow Wisconsin recall efforts, Wisconsin State Journal, November 8, 2011). While the Labor movement struck a blow to the GOP and their backers, the Nuns on the bus tour was also instrumental in mobilizing people against the right-wing economic agenda.

When the GOP took control of the House in 2012, Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee drafted and promoted the GOP’s economic policy entitled The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint to American Renewal. 

“Over the next decade, Ryan plans to spend about 16 percent less than the White House on “income security” programs for the poor — that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. (Ryan’s budget would authorize $4.8 trillion between 2013 and 2022; the White House’s would spend $5.7 trillion.) Compared with Obama, Ryan would spend 25 percent less on transportation. He’d spend 6 percent less on “General science, space, and basic technology.” And, compared with the White House’s proposal, he’d shell out 33 percent less for “Education, training, employment, and social services” (See Washington Post, August 12, 2012).

NUNS ON THE BUS

Touted as the plan that would save America, Paul Ryan went on the Road to sell it to the American public. One of the places he visited was Georgetown University, a Catholic Institution of Higher Education. There he spoke about his policy and its relationship to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a defender of capitalism.

At that Town hall meeting, Ryan’s positions came under attack by the Bishops and nuns that were in attendance.  In opposition to Ryan’s extreme economic position and his attacks on the poor, Sister Simone Campbell organized a group of nuns who went on a bus tour that took them to several states, including key swing states like Ohio. According to the nuns, Ryan’s budget “rejects church teaching about solidarity, inequality, the choice for the poor, and the common good. That’s wrong,” said Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

Nuns on the Bus claims that the Ryan budget would raise taxes on low-income families while cutting taxes for millionaires and corporations, push families into poverty, and kick 8 million people off of food stamps (Chris Lisee, Washington Post, July 2, 2012). This tour helped mobilize the working poor in the key battle ground states and delivered some of the Catholic votes to the Democratic Party. While the nuns played a critical role in mobilizing the democratic base, the Latino Tsunami proved critical in Obama’s reelection.

LATINO TSUNAMI

The demographics of America have changed tremendously over time. Gone are the days when the US population was divided between African-Americans, Native Indians and Whites. In 2012, the new reality is that Latinos are very much a large population in America. Increasingly on the attack from anti-immigration laws in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, etc, Latinos took to the streets by the thousands in the months leading up to the 2012 election.

Undaunted by the attacks, they continued the fight until President Obama signed an Executive Order entitled the “Dream Act.” While the Act does not fully guarantee amnesty, it gave the Latinos hope. With the Romney ticket attacking Latinos by promising “Self-deportation,” Latinos rallied behind Obama. In their article, Latino Voters in the 2012 election, Mark Hugo Lopez and Paul Taylor noted that, “Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 71% to 27%, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center, a Project of the Pew Research Center.”

Moreover, they stated that Hispanics made up a growing share of voters in three of the key battleground states: Florida, Nevada and Colorado. Moreover, they observed that “Obama carried Florida’s Hispanic vote 60% to 39%, an improvement over his 57% to 42% showing in 2008. Also, Hispanics made up 17% of the Florida electorate this year, up from 14% in 2008.” Furthermore, “In Colorado, Obama carried the Latino vote by a wide margin - 75% to 23%. The president’s performance among Latino voters in Colorado was better than in 2008, when Obama won the Latino vote 61% to 38%. Hispanics made up 14% of Colorado voters this year, up from 13% in 2008.”

Moreover, the two journalists stressed that, “In Nevada, Obama won the Hispanic vote 70% to 25%. However, the president’s Hispanic vote was down from the 76% share he won in 2008. Among voters in Nevada, the Hispanic share was 18%, up from 15% in 2008.” Additionally, gleaning from the results, they concluded that, “In other states, the president also carried large shares of the Hispanic vote. Among other battlegrounds, Obama won 68% of the Hispanic vote in North Carolina, 65% in Wisconsin, 64% in Virginia and 53% in Ohio” (Washington Post, November 7, 2012).

This Tsunami was not seen by the Romney camp who felt that it would have had the support of Latinos who supported President Bush in 2004. By and large, the GOP lost this block because community activists organized against the immigration backlash. Not to be undone by the Latinos, women also organized on behalf of Obama.

WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

Just as they attacked the labor movement, the poor, and Latinos, the GOP led by Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Todd Akin,  ten other GOP senators, and GOP governors in Virginia and other states  waged a war on women on productive rights, equal pay for equal work, and outsourcing jobs. Armed with a war chest of millions of dollars, these GOP politicians campaigned relentlessly on these issues. On the radio and TV commentators like Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke for her stance against the attacks on women. Not to be out done, women fought back and fought on all fronts.

In her article, “Women in politics break records in 2012 election,” Laura Bassett stated that “Emily’s List, a progressive organization that works to recruit and elect Democratic women to Congress, raised a record-breaking $51.2 million this election cycle and quintupled its membership to 2 million. The group attributed its many victories to a backlash against Republican efforts to dismiss women's issues and limit women's reproductive rights” (Huffington Post, November 7, 2012).

With support from this group, Planned Parenthood and many other grassroot women’s organizations, President Obama’s share of the gender gap was 18 points more than the 12 points he obtained in 2008. While the women fought in the trenches, African-Americans mobilized in their communities.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN MOBILIZATION

When President Obama took office in 2008, Senator Mitch McConnell, GOP leader of the Senate, stated that his objective was to make President Obama a one term president. Between 2008 up to the campaign, he and his troops blocked the president’s agenda at every turn.

Additionally, in battle ground states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, GOP governors and State legislators initiated and pursued voter suppression legislation that sought to disenfranchise African-Americans by limiting early voting days and hours, implementing new voter I.D., purging the voter registration rolls, and placing mis-leading billboards in predominantly African-American communities.

However, organizations like the NAACP, the URBAN League, the Women League of Voters, numerous Black churches and other organizations, including the Labor Movement fought back against these Jim Crow laws and mobilized the African-American communities. Thinking that voter suppression would have frustrated African-American voters, the GOP was in for a rude awakening. The Obama campaign, led by Michelle Obama, went on the road and promoted early voting in all eleven battle ground states.

On Election Day, African-Americans were “fired up and ready to go” in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. They did not allow the GOP tactics to frustrate them. They held the lines, supported each other with food, water and other supplies and voted in large numbers. On Election Day President Obama received 93 percent of the African-American vote. These turn out was in large part due to the “Souls to the Polls” campaign. While African-Americans came out in large numbers, the youth tsunami also propelled President Obama to victory.

YOUTH TSUNAMI

Given the state of the economy with high unemployment among youth, growing cost of college tuition, credit card and college loan debts, some pundits forecasted that the young people would not vote in the 2012 election. Still others claimed that if, indeed, the youth vote, they would cast their vote for Governor Romney. How wrong they were.

The Obama team went to working using all the modern tools of communication that have been earlier described and targeted new youth voters. For example one of the strategies before the election was to target college campuses, hold meetings, register the young people and bus them to the polls. Moreover, using the Hip-hop and Pop communities, the Obama campaign used BET, MTV and other popular media outlets to engage young people.

In his article, “Youth vote 2012 turnout: Exit polls show greater share of electorate than in 2008,” Tyler Kingkade wrote, “Voters from ages 18 to 29 represented 19 percent of all those who voted on Tuesday, according to the early National Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research. That's an increase of one percentage point from 2008. Obama captured 60 percent youth vote, compared with Mitt Romney's 36 percent”

Moreover, he stated that, “Obama's 60 percent to 36 percent victory among young people this year is smaller than his 66 percent-31 percent win over John McCain in 2008. But it is still the highest any Democratic presidential candidate scored in 30 years among 18- to 29 year-olds. John Kerry, for instance, only won the youth vote by 9 percentage points in 2004. Young people made up 17 percent of the electorate in 2004, when Kerry was defeated by President George W. Bush” (Huffington Post, November 7, 2012). Despite the barriers placed in their path such as Voter I.D., and challenges against college students’ place of voting, the Youth tsunami boosted President Obama’s reelection and completely destroyed the claims of some of the pundits.

Against all the attacks that he is un-American, a Communist, lazy, a Muslim, a food stamp president, and a Kenyan, Obama and the Democratic Party defeated the “birthers,” the extreme-right, and the right-wing capitalists. This victory was enabled by the community campaigns waged by progressive peoples in various communities, working in tandem, with a purpose, a clear agenda, and a clear vision. These communities included the Progressive coalition that consisted of Occupy Wall Street, Organized labor, the Nuns on the bus tour, Latinos, Women, African-American, and the Youth.

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