Friday, December 10, 2010

Stirrings on the Left

Today I listened in to a bit of independant socialist senator Bernie Sanders's symbolic filibuster attempt in the U.S. Senate. It may be that ugly compromises are the best we can hope for right now, but it sure was nice to hear an actual senator saying all the right things, even if it was a futile exercise.

So it's fitting that also today I ran across an interesting web statement. It's called "An Open Letter to the Left Establishment," and it's a letter from a number of mostly B-list and C-list (no disrespect intended) leftwing figures to the symbolic bigwigs of what passes for a left in this country, people like Michael Moore, Barbara Ehrenreich, Katrina van den Heuvel and the like. Among the better known signatories are people like Cornel West, Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, and included are leftists I read daily like Louis Proyect. Most of the signatories seem like people who have never really been in the Obama camp, while the addressees are all leftists who signed on to backing Obama.

(I must fess up to being a completely E-list leftist myself who, as is plain to see here at The Cahokian, has at times vigorously supported Obama. I've often argued that supporting Obama was a necessary tactic, and I reserve the right to do so again. I believe in pragmatism and realism, and almost as much as I hate the idiocy of the right-wing teabaggers I dislike what has often appeared to me as hyperbolic whinging outrage and the almost juvenile jilted-lover routine of many who have come to oppose Obama. But I am a socialist, I do believe in fundamental change, and, well, Obama is no longer the symbolic candidate of progressives yearning to breathe free, he's the head of the most powerful military machine and instrument of mass repression on the face of the earth. Time waits for no one.)

I don't know if I'm ready to add my name to this open letter, and its organizers are indeed seeking endorsement and support, but I'm ready to ponder its message. I'll leave off the lists of signatories -- you can go to to see them and more about this campaign -- but I'm copying and pasting with source code so you can follow links the organizers provide to back up their claims. Here's the statement:

This letter is a call for active support of protest to Michael Moore, Norman Solomon, Katrina van den Heuvel, Michael Eric Dyson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Thomas Frank, Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher Jr., Jesse Jackson Jr., and other high profile progressive supporters of the Obama electoral campaign.

With the Obama administration beginning its third year, it is by now painfully obvious that the predictions of even the most sober Obama supporters were overly optimistic. Rather than an ally, the administration has shown itself to be an implacable enemy of reform.

It has advanced repeated assaults on the New Deal safety net (including the previously sacrosanct Social Security trust fund), jettisoned any hope for substantive health care reform, attacked civil rights and environmental protections, and expanded a massive bailout further enriching an already bloated financial services and insurance industry. It has continued the occupation of Iraq and expanded the war in Afghanistan as well as our government’s covert and overt wars in South Asia and around the globe.

Along the way, the Obama administration, which referred to its left detractors as “f***ing retarded” individuals that required “drug testing,” stepped up the prosecution of federal war crime whistleblowers, and unleashed the FBI on those protesting the escalation of an insane war.

Obama’s recent announcement of a federal worker pay freeze is cynical, mean-spirited “deficit-reduction theater”. Slashing Bush’s plutocratic tax cuts would have made a much more significant contribution to deficit reduction but all signs are that the “progressive” president will cave to Republican demands for the preservation of George W. Bush’s tax breaks for the wealthy Few. Instead Obama’s tax cut plan would raise taxes for the poorest people in our country.

The election of Obama has not galvanized protest movements. To the contrary, it has depressed and undermined them, with the White House playing an active role in the discouragement and suppression of dissent – with disastrous consequences. The almost complete absence of protest from the left has emboldened the most right-wing elements inside and outside of the Obama administration to pursue and act on an ever more extreme agenda.

We are writing to you because you are well-known writers, bloggers and filmmakers with access to a range of old and new media, and you have in your power the capacity to help reignite the movement which brought millions onto the streets in February of 2003 but which has withered ever since. There are many thousands of progressives who follow your work closely and are waiting for a cue from you and others to act. We are asking you to commit yourself to actively supporting the protests of Obama administration policies which are now beginning to materialize.

In this connection we would like to mention a specific protest: the civil disobedience action being planned by Veterans for Peace involving Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Joel Kovel, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern, several armed service veterans and others to take place in front of the White House on Dec. 16th.

Should you commit yourselves to backing this action and others sure to materialize in weeks and months ahead, what would otherwise be regarded as an emotional outburst of the “fringe left” will have a better chance of being seen as expressing the will of a substantial majority not only of the left, but of the American public at large. We believe that your support will help create the climate for larger and increasingly disruptive expressions of dissent – a development that is sorely needed and long overdue.

We hope that we can count on you to exercise the leadership that is required of all of us in these desperate times.