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A Reaction to Obama's 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington Speech

A Reaction to Obama's 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington Speech

By Dennis Loo (8/28/13)

As I listened to Obama speak today I could not help feeling that there was something unseemly about this speech. Martin Luther King, Jr., were he here now, would be acting more like Cornel West than Obama.

While King was no revolutionary like Malcolm X, he was nevertheless cut down by an assassin because of and after announcing that he was going to expand the civil rights movement into a poor people's movement. King also vocally opposed the Vietnam War.

What would King say, if he were here, about the multiple illegal and unjust wars and occupations that Obama is presiding over and prosecuting? What would he say about Obama's plans to launch yet another illegal and unjust war upon Syria? Would he not be joining with brother West and condemning Obama as a "global George Zimmerman" for acting as judge, jury, and executioner in murdering hundreds of children with drone attacks? Would he not have stood in defense of those unjustly harassed by Stop and Frisk? Would he not be condemning the persecution of Bradley/Chelsea Manning and whistleblowers more generally? Would he not speak out against torture and be demanding that torturers be prosecuted and the torture and murder of prisoners such as those at Guantanamo, Bagram, other unnamed CIA torture sites, and within the U.S. prisons, be ended? What would he say about Obama's signing the National Defense Authorization Act and expanding, defending and lying about the NSA's warrantless spying on the world?

As someone who has directly and personally benefited from the civil rights movement and the black power movement, to have him straddle the fence as Obama always does and laud the lunchroom protestors but condemn those who rose up in righteous anger and struggle against bombings and killings was disturbing to hear:

[S]ome of us claiming to push for change lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots. Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways, as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support — as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself. All of that history is how progress stalled. That's how hope was diverted. It's how our country remained divided.

What is this GOP-line about black parents not raising their kids and giving up and seeking government handouts? That's how "our country remained divided"? See how he smuggles in that rubbish about black people being dependent upon handouts and feeling entitled? No wonder Obama publicly admires Ronald Reagan more than anyone else of his predecessors.

The revolutionaries of the 1960s and the Gandhians like MLK, Jr. didn't talk as if the working class could somehow be eliminated and everyone, if they didn't "give up on" themselves, could all become "middle class" the way Obama did and does. It's a neat but cheap trick to tell people that we need to fight for equal opportunity but not tell people that equal opportunity, even if you could achieve this, still produces a class-stratified society. Equal opportunity, even if you could get it under capitalism which you can't, wouldn't eliminate class oppression and the related sets of oppression along gender, racial and other lines.

Obama described globalization in part this way in his speech today:

The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class — reduced the bargaining power of American workers.

Technology and global competition did this? They produced this extreme polarization of wealth and it caused deindustrialization/"downsizing"/massive unemployment? Technology and global competition are not forces of nature. They are shaped and determined overall by people acting out the logic of the economic systems that they live under. Better that he had said it the way it really is: imperialism dictates that the lowest wages will be pursued to the ends of the earth; capitalism dictates that profit will govern all matters, no matter what the price that means for people's lives and the planet.

This speech was a travesty.

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