Not since the election of John F. Kennedy in 1961 has a U.S. election campaign presaged such progressive change in the United States. The extraordinary fact that the almost certain winner of the Democratic nomination and little doubt the Presidency will be a black man or a woman is in and of itself a major sign of change in a country where poverty and crime is racialized and where women are more under-represented politically than almost anywhere else on earth. But it is also that just like Kennedy did in his day, Barack Obama symbolizes the new America. It was the America I saw at the U.S. Social Forum six months ago, multi-racial, young, poor and working class people organizing again and working to find common cause instead of division. Whether or not Obama wins, his campaign is mobilizing masses of people, especially young people who have up until now turned away from the electoral system. And it’s not only the Obama campaign. Women seem to be rising up in response to sexist attacks on Clinton.
Neither candidate is likely to bring about real change in the U.S. because of the rigidity of the corporate controlled system . In Clinton’s case, she represents the establishment of the Democratic Party. But the primaries, the most democratic part of the U.S. electoral system, are showing as Bob Dylan once said that “something is happening here.”
Obama does not have the most progressive platform but his message is not only inspiring, it is identifying a new approach to politics that speaks to the new politics emerging in social movements around the world. Speaking at Martin Luther King’s church in Atlanta on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, Obama said:
"Unity is the great need of the hour - the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.
"I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans. I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny."
These are inspiring words for young people and for African Americans who have now switched to Obama in their huge majority, moving in polls from 37% to 86% of black voters. He is also getting a lot of votes from independents and cross over Republicans. Clinton on the other hand is relying on the coalition that her husband built with the addition of more women. Despite the momentum of the Iowa victory, Obama has the biggest challenge since his strength lies in mobilizing people who traditionally don’t vote, let alone vote in the primaries. If after Super Tuesday on February 5 when 24 states vote for their democratic candidate, neither Obama nor Clinton have a clear lead, then Clinton will likely win since she holds the allegiance of the bureaucrats and bosses of the party who have their own delegates at the Convention.
Obama’s best chance is to work to build the kind of alliance that was begun at the U.S. Social Forum, an alliance of the have nots or the marginalized. That means overcoming the historical divisions that have been sewn between African Americans and Latinos. There is not much time to move in this direction, but whatever the final result, the Democratic primaries of 2008 are the tip of the iceberg of a people who are fed up with the uber rich, mostly white and male elite using the resources and power of the United States to get richer and richer and plundering their own country and the rest of the world to do it.