Election 2008: I Need More

This story is also cross-posted at The Nation, WireTap Magazine and Kameelahwrites

Monologues are sometimes boring, so I write this in response to Adrienne Marie Brown’s “I Love Obama Like I Love NY” post on Wiretap about political cynicism and scripted candidates, and in response to the cynic in me who has yet to sport a candidate shirt, post an “I Support” badge on Facebook or join a campus campaign group.

i votedAs young people across the nation spend late nights and early morning campaigning for their chosen candidates and eagerly attending rallies, I anxiously wish I could be as excited about a candidate as my peers. I know that at times I carry my cynical and critical baggage to a fault, but during this election year it has been difficult for me to muster up some enthusiasm and genuine passion especially when it seems so easy for so many other 20-something folks. Maybe I have outgrown the assumption that elections can bring about structural transformation that makes homelessness a national priority, that condemns the collective punishment of Palestinians, that calls for a living wage not a minimum wage, or that recognizes the socio-economic crises on Native American reservations.

It is possible that I realize that an electoral process more controlled by capital than by my students who will vote for the first times, cannot effectively transform our society. Undoubtedly, I am upset with the careless manner with which the term radical and transformative has been thrown around, especially when none of the candidates have explicitly denounced the destructive elements of capitalism and materialism.

Whatever, the case, I spend a lot of time, maybe too much, hoping that I had a candidate to believe in this year. Where is my prince or princess charming of presidents? Does he or she exist?

As a high school instructor, I had my students create their own candidates. The results were imaginative syntheses in the likeness of Malcolm X with a slight Catholic disposition, gender change with underground training from the Zapatistas.

Of course, my students were curious whom I supported. After a presumptuous prediction about my stance on abortion, my students were ready to predict my chosen candidate. And because my brown skin is a proxy for my political alignment, my students assumed I was a closeted Obama supporter. I guess race trumped gender in this case, a displeasing assertion for Gloria Steinem’s (“[White] America’s Feminist Idol”) who argued that race is no longer a salient issue and being in possession of a vagina and bleeding once a month meant that I am obligated to support Hillary Clinton.

I am astutely aware that as a “good” Black person I am expected to support Obama. I am supposed to wave posters, sport his shirts, parrot his rhetoric, shriek in near orgasmic pleasure upon hearing his name, and assert that his election into office signals the global downfall of racism. I know that I commit all kinds of racial apostasy when I express ambivalence about Obama. This is not about Obama “being Black enough” because that discussion is tautological, reeks of narcissism, shamelessly encourages essentialism and engages in a racial authenticity Olympics I am not interested it. Simply put, like my feelings for the other Democratic candidates, I need more.

Obama just presents more of a paradox because I know I am asking for more from him because deep down I want the first Black person to run this country to be different from past presidents, not only in color but in politics, values and vision. I need more than what I am given at this point.

As Grace Lee Boggs writes, “But neither Obama’s ethnicity nor Hillary’s gender is enough to earn my support. Neither is calling on the American people to confront our materialism and militarism or challenging and proposing alternatives to corporate globalization. At this critical period in human history that is what we should be requiring of ourselves and of any presidential candidate, whatever their race, gender or religion. ”

When I say that I need more, this is the more I need. I need an alternative. I need more then the recycled script of hope. I cannot be hopeful when a candidate proclaims that the same free-market that binds me can also free me. I am not hopeful when candidates dance around and do everything but explicitly talk about racial politics. Hope requires not only the articulation of a one-syllable word, but the transformation of our values and structures so that this hope is grounded in some realistic possibility for change. I cannot hope for an end to poverty when that hope is confronted by the abruptness of continuing labor exploitation.

If you ask me to be hopeful, give me something to latch on to-something tangible like a real commitment to addressing poverty alleviation and the mushrooming prison population-something beyond “I support better wages” and “I will advocate for rehabilitation programs. “At this point in my life, I would support a candidate black or white, man or woman as long as they embodied the values and perseverance that would bridge the gap between a bleak reality and a sustainable future.

I cannot expect to see this candidate today. Possibly, I cannot expect to see this person embodied as a candidate at all. Maybe it is the job of localized leaders or community organizers, since a presidential post often translates into fruitless compromises. As Grace Lee Boggs notes, Martin Luther King Jr. warned us of such compromises:

“Between 1965 (the year Malcolm was killed) and 1968 (the year Martin was gunned down) Black leadership was taken to a new level by King. Agonizing over the twin crises of the Vietnam War and the urban rebellions, he called for a radical revolution in values, not only against racism but against materialism and militarism. Warning against integration into the “burning house” of U.S. capitalism, he emphasized the need for two-sided transformation by and of Americans, both of ourselves and our institutions, a transformation that would take us and the world beyond both traditional capitalism and communism. ”

After his death civil rights leaders, ignoring King’s warning, seized upon the opportunities that had been opened up by “the movement” to enter the “burning house” of U.S. capitalism. Instead of calling upon the American people to confront our consumerism and militarism, instead of challenging corporate globalism, these opportunists became a part of the system, evaluating Black progress by how much they and other Blacks were catching up with whites.

If anything, this summarizes my disillusionment with contemporary politics and this year’s elections. Where Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X advocated for a revolution not only our socio-economic structure but the values and spiritual dispositions that fuel them, we have regressed into an easy bake political culture that prioritizes token advocacy over transformative change. Instead of charting a new direction, we mated an unworkable past with commodified revolution-a bastardization resulting in some intangible but infectious championing of the “just good enough.” We chart our nation’s future using iPhones, settle on empty rhetoric and barter in broken dreams.

Am I am ignorantly waiting for my Prince or Princess Charming of presidents? Too eager for the revolution, with a deep desire to skip the protracted adjustment period, have I not given the presidential candidates a chance? I cast my vote on February 5 and I know for sure that I do not want to pass from this world a cheeky 4′ 11″ old woman clamoring on about capitalism’s foot on the necks of poor people, shuffling to community action meetings and holding my breath in wait for the “perfect” candidate.

I used to believe that my only job was to point out what’s wrong without providing viable solutions. However, cynicism and critique carry special responsibilities; I need to move beyond a crafted indictment to some form of action. In Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Robin D.G. Kelley writes, “We must tap the well of our collective imaginations, do what earlier generations have done: dream. Trying to envision “somewhere in advance of nowhere,” as poet Jayne Cortez puts it, is an extremely difficult task, yet “it is a matter of greater urgency. Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.”

Similarly, quoting the 1976 Chicago Surrealist Group, he says we must “resolve the contradiction between everyday life and our wildest dreams.”

While not especially excited by the candidates, I am excited about the process of building this year. I do not have a blueprint. If anything, I have many disjointed dreams that if pooled together with a touch of clever alchemy add up to something beautiful.

In the context of my work as a teacher, artist, writer, and nomad, I am trying hard to get my students to demand more and to think more. While I am ambivalent about the candidates, my students’ questioning and thinking makes me hopeful that the “two-sided transformation by and of Americans, both of ourselves and our institutions” that Grace Lee Boggs discusses is in fact possible.

18 Comments to ‘Election 2008: I Need More’:

  1. Pierce on 8 Feb 2008 at 3:32 pm: 1

    This is incredibly dope, Kameelah. I agree. at the end of the day, I’m not really teased about any of the candidates either, but I look at it like this:

    In order to get elected, these folk have to dumb down their platform in order to satisfy the broadest constituency. It’s like you’re favorite underground artist making a shitty pop album. That how I see these political campaigns: like shitty pop albums. Smoke an Mirrors. All of the real music is happening at the grassroots. I feel that way about politics too. All of the good work is the grassroots work. The changes, the DREAMS have to come from the grassroots.. then the Leaders will follow the movement of the people.

    ya dig?

  2. Ishmael on 8 Feb 2008 at 5:00 pm: 2

    Mr. Obama represents inexperience and lack of geopolitical realism. Ms. Clinton represents inexperience and the corruption of the past. Both of them have spent the last two years running for president and ignoring their duties as Senators.

  3. martin on 11 Feb 2008 at 1:22 pm: 3

    How do you define geopolitical realism Ishmael? Bush is the first post WWII president who doesn’t understand geopolitics. Every other president in that time period made their decisions based on geopolitical realities and we can certainly criticize their actions (see interactive map on historyisaweapon.com). “lack of geopolitical realism” is a cute phrase but what does it really mean?

  4. Ishmael on 12 Feb 2008 at 12:03 am: 4

    Martin – I support Mr. Obama but he has no experience with foreign policy(or with budget, management, or leadership).
    Remember that Bush#1 (ghwb) was going to make us “kinder and gentler” after the fall of the Soviet Empire and the warming relations with China. Next thing we knew, the USA was gathering a coalition to fight Iraq for possession of Kuwait and their oil fields. A geopolitical reality moment. Bush #2 was more interested in restoring the economy than going to war, but 9/11 happened and the USA was in a death fight with islamic terrorists.
    As president Mr Obama will have to deal with these kinds of problems. If he ignores them, hoping that they go away, then the next president will have to clean up his mess. Thus far he has not shown me that he has the ability make these kind of hard decisions as he usually talks in platitudes and pie in the sky. You will note that Kameelah is ambivalent about Mr Obama because he has not really presented any concrete solutions to problems.

  5. areaves, torino on 12 Feb 2008 at 10:38 am: 5

    love your blog, K, but I’m WAY on the other side of the table on this one. YES! demand more…YES!! think more…but don’t sit out the civic process just because your ideal candidate isn’t on the ballot.

    you ‘anxiously wish you could get as excited about the candidates as your peers????????????’ get excited about THE PROCESS!!! get excited about CIVIC INVOLVEMENT!!!!!

    too many folks put their lives on the line for us to have the right (let me rephrase….the PRIVILEGE AND RESPONSIBILITY) to vote for us to equate voting with a ‘take it or leave it option.’

    to the folks who can’t make it to the polls, go to

    http://www.fvap.gov

    for info on getting in your absentee ballots.

    266 days left….do your thing

  6. martin on 14 Feb 2008 at 9:40 am: 6

    Ishmael: I understand your caution concerning Obama. Yes, Bush 2 had to make tough decisions and more often than not he chose poorly, disastrously even. My point was that evoking “geopolitical realities” you fail to understand the term. The term geopolitical has to do with maintaining a proper balance of power amongst the worlds major powers. Going into Kuwait under Bush 1 has nothing to do with upsetting geopoliticl realities, in fact, every policy analyst (from around the world) knew exactly what would happen as a result of our intervention. The situation in Iraq is much different, as Iran will emerge from the situ. with an invigorated stance on the global scene. This is a geopolitical shift. Again, I completely understand your caution with Obama, but I honestly ask: Who is the alternative?

  7. Ishmael on 14 Feb 2008 at 11:53 am: 7

    “Looks like Hillary Clinton’s campaign machine is getting its superdelegates (aka. party insiders) to start softening up the public for a potential trampling of democracy that may mark the Democratic National Convention. This morning we have two superdelegates from different parts of the country landing headlines in their local papers saying they are fully prepared to ignore voters and trample democracy – as long as that lets them help Clinton potentially steal the Democratic nomination.” – from the Huffington Post.
    Look out Mr Obama, looks like dirty politics as usual from the Clinton camp.

  8. martin on 14 Feb 2008 at 4:08 pm: 8

    Ishmael, no response. why do we even make postings? whats up! at least an “ok martin.” jesus, we must love commenting for the fuck of it.

  9. Ishmael on 14 Feb 2008 at 7:45 pm: 9

    I made a new years resolution not to argue at blackademics.

  10. Ishmael on 16 Feb 2008 at 3:54 pm: 10

    Superdelegates in the (UN)democratic party remind us that the democrats are not really interested in what the PEOPLE want, but rather only interested in their own power positions. Boss Tweed and all the other corrupt big city bosses are the real roots of the democratic party.

  11. wedding-engagement-ring-jewelry on 18 Feb 2008 at 11:52 am: 11

    As you pointed out, what do we expect this election to influence on and change? For Native American Reservations, for Palestinians, for Africans, for Third World Countries, in terms of biases and understanding of current world situation. The race of brain and the gender of soul looks me more important than that of body.

  12. martin on 18 Feb 2008 at 2:26 pm: 12

    its not an argument Ishmael, you simply don’t understand geopolitics.

  13. Anonymous on 19 Feb 2008 at 12:23 am: 13

    that’s bs

  14. John on 19 Feb 2008 at 10:06 am: 14

    I would like to add that we as a people should first understand our body politic by first reading and understanding our contract with the government, by reading the contract called the Constitution. Study each part of it. Also, understand understand the difference between a Citizen and a citizen. Upper case and lower case. Over the years, I have heard many people talk about a lot of things, and it appeared they clearly was not aware of their position in this country. As people of color, we need to understand just how the government sees us. As a first class Citizen or as a second class citizen. There is a difference. We need know which one we are and why. Look at the Constitution. Read the first 10 amendments “Bill of Rights”, it is always the word “people”. After the first 10 amendments, it says “citizens” using the lower case “c”. However, there is a Citizen using the Upper Case “C”. Has anyone ask the question “Why”?

  15. John on 19 Feb 2008 at 10:18 am: 15

    We also has question the purpose of the 14th Amendment. Have examined the real purpose of the 14th Amendment, or have we just excepted the answer provided to us. I believe people of color are still slaves as wards of the State. Find out what the 14th Amendment did. Ask why your name is always placed on government documents in UPPER CASE. What is UPPER CASE anyway. People of color never to know what they are reduced too. We were never actually freed by the 13th Amendment. Read it again. There is meaning in each word printed. Ask yourself, What is meant by human rights and civil rights. Are you a human or are you a fiction created by government?

  16. John on 19 Feb 2008 at 10:34 am: 16

    Sorry for the mistakes in grammer. on the run for meetings. Sorry for changing the subject. But it is important to understand, that Obama runs the best campaign orginization in the race. Even better than the Clintons.

    We talk about experience, will look at what we have gotten in the past with experienced representatives at present. Maybe we need a little inexperience in office for a CHANGE.
    I would like for each of you to read the book, called, “Empire of Debt”.
    This book should answer a lot of questions and should get you thinking about a lot of new questions we should be asking besides all these little ones that have not bearing on our lives and the future of our children. There are things right in front of us that we need to get answers too. Example:
    Why is there two signs for the Dallor. $ and an S with two slashes? Yet on the every computer keyboard, you find $. What is the difference?. Before we can argue about different political positions, we need to really know about the whole body politic. Do we know what body politic is? Find out.

  17. kameelah on 22 Feb 2008 at 10:12 pm: 17

    i guess i should respond to my own article–i did in fact vote. the post was expressing my apprehension with the voting process and an assertion that while we may support these current candidates, we should always demand more.

  18. Ishmael on 23 Feb 2008 at 4:34 pm: 18

    I also voted, but since the Michigan primaries were so FUBAR, my vote may be wasted. Mr. Obama is a brilliant and charismatic speaker, his campaign message and organization have outclassed Ms. Clinton. While it is true that almost all presidents had to learn the job while doing it, I still have some reservations about his lack of experience. I think back to JFK and how he almost plunged the US into a nuclear war with the soviet union while at the same time ensnaring the USA into a war in Vietman.

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Published on February 8, 2008 at 3:16 pm. 18 Comments.
Filed under news/politics.