This morning I read an opinion piece by Drew Westen that completely summed up the deep disappointment I feel in our president, Barack Obama. I urge you to read all of it, but these two paragraphs frame Obama's failure.
When Dr. King spoke of the great arc bending toward justice, he did not mean that we should wait for it to bend. He exhorted others to put their full weight behind it, and he gave his life speaking with a voice that cut through the blistering force of water cannons and the gnashing teeth of police dogs. He preached the gospel of nonviolence, but he knew that whether a bully hid behind a club or a poll tax, the only effective response was to face the bully down, and to make the bully show his true and repugnant face in public.
IN contrast, when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it. Had the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a century. He would have offered them a counternarrative of how to fix the problem other than the politics of appeasement, one that emphasized creating economic demand and consumer confidence by putting consumers back to work. He would have had to stare down those who had wrecked the economy, and he would have had to tolerate their hatred if not welcome it. But the arc of his temperament just didn’t bend that far.
Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West believe that Barack Obama is ignoring the plight of poor people. They have launched The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience, to help wake this country up to what poor people have to go through every day, how their lives and the lives of their children have been stunted and cast aside. Their inspiration also comes from Dr. Martin Luther King: "I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for the hungry, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. . .This is the way I’m going. If it means suffering a little bit, I’m going that way. If it means sacrificing, I’m going that way. If it means dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice saying “DO SOMETHING FOR OTHERS.”
Poor people are organizing on our own behalf, too-- not just in the small ways we do every day, but for major mobilizations. The Assembly to End Poverty, which was formed from the poverty resolution at the 2010 United States Social Forum, is calling for a march on Washington, D.C. on June 30, 2012. I don't know yet how we're going to do it, but Arise, and poor people from all over Western Massachusetts, will be there.
We are fighting for our lives.
Photo from Racole's photostream from Flickr.