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How dare you criticize President-Elect Obama. He knows what he's doing. Just trust him. Quit with all the concern. Chill. No backseat driving. Stay in line. No Thursday morning quarterbacking. Shut up. Shut the fuck up.


As expected, the ferocious SYFPH stance of large numbers of Kossacks during the campaign has now spilled over into the post-election world. It was more than reasonable after the convention in Denver to keep the lid on internal dissent. We had a President and bunch of new Congresspeople to elect. It was not just sensible but crucial for us to keep both our petty and larger criticisms under wraps and stay focused on phone-banking, canvassing, emptying our own wallets, raising funds from others, keeping our compatriots morale up when the polls fluttered, and doing every other thing we could think of to turn out large numbers of registered Democrats and other citizens predisposed to vote for Democrats.

Now, with Obama chosen in an electoral vote landslide, and at least six new Senators and more than 20 new Representatives preparing to take their seats on Capitol Hill in just two months, we've entered a new era. Hurrah! Huzzah! Finally. Yet many people keep delivering the same old message: Shut up. Criticism is inappropriate now. Give it a rest. Wait until after he is in office.

Let me make a prediction. No, better yet, let me make a wager. I'll put up $500 that come January, we're going to continue to hear this theme. No criticizing, no giving of advice until after the first hundred days have passed. And then, no criticizing because we'll be approaching the kick-off for the 2010 congressional campaigns. And, after that, no criticizing, no second-guessing, no advising because we'll be at the beginning of campaigning for a second term in the White House.

It's more than troubling that "we can talk about this later" keeps becoming "we will talk about this never." We're not supposed to advise and critique? We're supposed to trust but not verify? We're supposed to shut our yaps because Obama is smarter than we are and knows what he is doing? That's utterly unacceptable, people. It's not going to work. And it goes against one of the key themes of our President-Elect: "Change doesn't come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up." Bottom-up politics - what we in Students for a Democratic Society used to call "participatory democracy" a zillion years ago - will only be a dusty slogan if the SYFPH brigade succeeds in its efforts to silence the rank-and-file.

Let me make myself clear by way of excerpting a fine piece by Tim Wise at the Red Room, a piece that should be read in its entirety:

[L]et me say this, to some of those on the left--some of my friends and longtime compatriots in the struggle for social justice--who yet insist that there is no difference between Obama and McCain, between Democrats and Republicans, between Biden and Palin: Screw you.

If you are incapable of mustering pride in this moment, and if you cannot appreciate how meaningful this day is for millions of black folks who stood in lines for up to seven hours to vote, then your cynicism has become such an encumbrance as to render you all but useless to the liberation movement. Indeed, those who cannot appreciate what has just transpired are so eaten up with nihilistic rage and hopelessness that I cannot but think that they are a waste of carbon, and actively thieving oxygen that could be put to better use by others.

This election does indeed matter. No, it is not the same as victory against the forces of injustice, and yes, Obama is a heavily compromised candidate, and yes, we will have to work hard to hold him accountable. But it matters nonetheless that he, and not the bloodthirsty bomber McCain, or the Christo-fascist, Palin, managed to emerge victorious. ...

It was a victory for youth, and their social and political sensibilities. It was the young, casting away the politics of their parents and even grandparents, and turning the corner to a new day, perhaps naively, and too optimistic about the road from here, but nonetheless in a way that has historically almost always been good for the country. Much as youth were inspired by a relatively moderate John F. Kennedy (who was, on balance, far less progressive than Obama in many ways), and much as they then formed the frontline troops for so much of the social justice activism of the following fifteen years, so too can such a thing be forseen now. That Kennedy may have been quite restrained in his social justice sensibilities did not matter: the young people whose energy he helped unleash took things in their own direction and outgrew him rather quickly in their progression to the left. ...

First and foremost, please know that none of these victories will amount to much unless we do that which needs to be done so as to turn a singular event about one man, into a true social movement (which, despite what some claim, it is not yet and has never been).

Oh yes, we can savor the moment for a while, for a few days, perhaps a week. But well before inauguration day we will need to be back on the job, in the community, in the streets, where democracy is made, demanding equity and justice in places where it hasn't been seen in decades, if ever. Because for all the talk of hope and change, there is nothing--absolutely, positively nothing--about real change that is inevitable. And hope, absent real pressure and forward motion to actualize one's dreams, is sterile and even dangerous. Hope, absent commitment is the enemy of change, capable of translating to a giving away of one's agency, to a relinquishing of the need to do more than just show up every few years and push a button or pull a lever.

This means hooking up now with the grass roots organizations in the communities where we live, prioritizing their struggles, joining and serving with their constituents, following leaders grounded in the community who are accountable not to Barack Obama, but the people who helped elect him. Let Obama follow, while the people lead, in other words.

For we who are white it means going back into our white spaces and challenging our brothers and sisters, parents, neighbors, colleagues and friends--and ourselves--on the racial biases that still too often permeate their and our lives, and making sure they know that the success of one man of color does not equate to the eradication of systemic racial inequity.

So are we ready for the heavy lifting? This was, after all, merely the warmup exercise, somewhat akin to stretching before a really long run. Or perhaps it was the first lap, but either way, now the baton has been handed to you, to us. We must not, cannot, afford to drop it. There is too much at stake.

Barack Obama said from the outset that he believes in compromise, a fresh kind of politics not poisoned by partisanship. That's fine. As a Popular Front Democrat who resides on the leftmost wing of the party on all but a few issues, and well beyond it on many, I (and many like me) have had no choice but to compromise over the years.  

But I don't believe in compromising before expressing my point of view, before trying to move party policies at least a few inches in my direction, before objecting when I think the party is surrendering more than it should or that it needs to. Compromise means that all parties to the deal get something in return. To get that something means pushing one's point of view, without disrespect, but forcefully and with clarity. Speaking truth to power is not something to do only when the other party is in power.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Nov 06, 2008 at 06:05 PM PST.

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