6 Nov 2008
Why, for today at least, I’m celebrating Obama’s victory
I feel I just lived through a seminal moment in history. Yes, I know all the reasons why we ought not be excited about Obama’s election as President of the US (it will inevitably go sour at some point, his Afghanistan policies, he is still an economic growth man etc. etc. etc.), but just for now, for a few days, I want to bask in the glow of something really quite extraordinary having happened. In Naomi Klein’s seminal ‘Shock Doctrine’ (a must-read) she explores how neo-conservatism has pounced on (and actively engineered) moments of shock and social disorientation in order to intervene with drastic and self-serving measures that would have been otherwise unimaginable. The reverse of this is that times of disturbance also offer the potential to do positive things. Sharon Astyk put it beautifully when she wrote;
I think it is true that had Americans been told after 9/11, “We want you to go out and grow a victory garden and cut back on energy usage” the response would have been tremendous – it would absolutely have been possible to harness the anger and pain and frustration of those moments, and a people who desperately wanted something to do.
I never thought I would live to see a black President of the US. I never thought I would watch a Presidential acceptance speech that moved me to tears. I never thought I would then read the same speech 2 hours later in the Evening Standard on the London Underground and it would do the same thing to me a second time.
I never thought I would see a US President who actually took climate change seriously, talked about a Green New Deal for the US, and whose policies included;
- Reduce the US’s carbon emissions 80% by 2050 and play a strong positive role in negotiating a binding global treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol
- Withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months and keep no permanent bases in the country
- Establish a clear goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons across the globe
- Close the Guantanamo Bay detention center
- Double US aid to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 and accelerate the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculoses and Malaria
- Open diplomatic talks with countries like Iran and Syria, to pursue peaceful resolution of tensions
- De-politicize military intelligence to avoid ever repeating the kind of manipulation that led the US into Iraq
- Launch a major diplomatic effort to stop the killings in Darfur
- Only negotiate new trade agreements that contain labor and environmental protections
- Invest $150 billion over ten years to support renewable energy and get 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015
I always used to think there was not much point in voting. I was struck by something Starhawk said when the spoke in Totnes recently. She talked about Hurricane Katrina, and how many hundreds of people are now dead who would have been alive had a different administration been in power, indeed pretty much any administration other than the utterly appalling, wretched and self-serving Bush administration.
Yes the Obama presidency won’t be perfect, it will undoubtedly disappoint, frustrate and infuriate. It has picked up a poisoned chalice in that it is taking a nation in economic freefall, at a time when it is no longer the powerbase it once was, and energy geopolitics are rapidly changing, and yes we could do without that “to those who would tear down the world, we will defeat you” nonsense.
Yet, I still remain, for now at least, deeply moved by such an extraordinary event. Imagine the devastation of waking up yesterday to find McCain and (heaven forbid) Palin giving their acceptance speech. Millions of ordinary people campaigned, fundraised and voted to end the dreadful tyranny of the Bush years and for something better, and it worked.
I am rarely moved by political speeches. Yet I loved the bit in Obama’s talk where the spoke of “young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy”, and his power as an orator. For tonight at least, I want to celebrate. I am thrilled by a generation of young people finding the political process accessible again, and seeing the emergence of hope. I celebrate for my children to be able to see what has happened, and the possibilities inherent within it. Naomi Klein writes powerfully of the need to keep the momentum and pressure that got Obama elected focused on ensuring that his policies are implemented.
I was struck by how different the world will be when it sits down in Copenhagen for the climate change negotiations, for the first time with a US delegation not sent there to fudge, sabotage and undermine. These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary shifts happening around the world (in Waterstones today I picked up a book called ‘Future Files: the 5 trends that will shape the next 50 years which didn’t even list peak oil as one of the 5 trends!). Something powerful has changed, and on this day at least, that is something to celebrate.