Reclaiming the Dream and Brand Obama

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR columnist Jared Ball

A stroll through Al Sharpton's recent MLK-themed demonstration, in Washington,DC, was anything but a walk down memory lane. Gone were theprincipled voices of yesterday. "None were there to challengeObama, whose presidency has so far been an absolute reversal of anyof King's most pronounced political concerns; an end to poverty, warand capitalism as an unchecked economic system."


Reclaiming the Dream and Brand Obama

A BlackAgenda Radio commentary by BAR columnist Jared Ball

"Dr.King's dream has by now become twisted, distorted and distilledthrough brand Obama."

Onmy way back last week from a visit with family and friends in Panamaa cab driver pulled along side me at the airport.  Hecalled out to me as an American.  Once he had my attentionhe slid his finger across his throat and said, "America escancelado."  America is cancelled.  I smiledas he drove off.  My wife was furious.  For herit was more personal, how dare someone insult her husband and claimto speak for all her people.  For me it was first a lessonnot to ever again so carelessly travel with my old navy sea bag, nomatter how practical that thing is, and more importantly that hisanger was ultimately righteous.  It was a nice sign thateven under Brand Obama people's sense of sanity is still there.  Andit was a sign I did not see enough of back here at this weekend'sWashington, D.C. march to "Reclaimthe Dream."

ThePanamanian cabbie, at least in my mind, was responding to a centuriesold relationship of U.S. dominance which meant that up to even justten years ago no Panamanian could enter a region of their own landrenamed the "Canal Zone."  Certainly everyonethere remembers the invasion of 1989 and the death of theland-reformist president Omar Torrijos, who himself once said that he"did not want to go into history" but that he only wantedto "go into the Canal Zone."  But here, and atthis rally, not many seemed to remember the King they claimed toreclaim nor the policies and behavior of the current president whoseown reclamation they openly also marched. From the pulpit to theshop floor all were on hand to say somehow that the policies to whichObama is committed are precisely those for which MartinLuther King lived,fought and was killed.

Dr.King's dream, which he himself later abandoned as a "nightmare,"has by now become twisted, distorted and distilled through brandObama.  This is by acknowledged design, as White HouseChief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has said himself.  Asentiment repeated againthisweek whenObama advisor Valerie Jarrett said that Michelle Obama would not beavailable to work on the issue of rape in the Congo because it is,"not herbrand."  No.  Brand Obama cannot appearconcerned for anyone with whom he is so often immediatelyidentified.  No Black people, no Africans and nothingapproaching real progressivism.

"No oneI spoke with at the rally said they were there to challenge Obama topractice the politics of Dr. King."

Sowhile King left 1963 only to increase his calls for and action towardan end to militarization, capitalism and White supremacy Obama'sbrand is able to assume this political trajectory while actuallyworsening each of these "evil triplets" as King calledthem. Brand Obama has, in the words of one commentator, confusedthe fact that when honestly polled his "positions are inverselyproportional to his popularity."  And this isespecially so in Black America.  His positions on healthcare, war, poverty, racism, incarceration and reparations all runcounter to why some said they rallied this weekend and yet the brandconvinces so many of the opposite.  From preachers to unionworkers to students no one Ispoke with at the rally saidthey were there to challenge Obama to practice the politicsof Dr. King.  Nonewere there to challenge Obama whose presidency has so far been anabsolute reversal of any of King's most pronounced politicalconcerns; an end to poverty, war and capitalism as an uncheckedeconomic system.  All were there to protect Obama againstthe Tea Party or to support some amorphous and undefined concept of"justice."  In fact, when asked to define her useof the term "progress" one participant told me that povertyin 2010 is a "luxury" compared to 1963.

This march to"reclaim the dream" fell to the powerful brand ofObama.  It was a regressive step back away from therighteous critique of the original March on Washington offered byMalcolm X.  It was a regressive step back away from theprogressive radicalism adopted by King post-1963 including his ownbelated arrival to an old struggle to move the fight beyond a solefocus on domestic civil rights and on to an international strugglefor human rights.

When my comradesaid that, "Dr. and Mrs. King would not have been welcome ateither rally" this weekend she hit that proverbial nail on thehead.  Their focus on poverty, human rights and peace makethem both pariahs in either camp, because the Black liberal isultimately no better than a White reactionary.

ForBlack Agenda Radio, I'm Jared Ball.  For morevisit

JaredBall canbe reached via email at: [email protected].