When we build a black wall around Barack Obama, we are only protecting him from accountability to us.
The presumption that Barack Obama, no matter what he does or doesn't do, enjoys nearly unanimous black support is a veritable wall around the president. But who does it protect him against? Republicans? Banksters? Tea partyers, warmongers, torturers? Or does it protect him against black people and the left, his supposed base?
It was the summer of 2007, and I was in the study of a prominent black Atlanta pastor. The conversation turned, as did so many that season to the coming presidential election, still a good 16 months away. “We've got to unite and build a wall, a solid black wall around Brother Obama,” the reverend declared.
I tried to ask whether one man's career was really more important than the needs of forty million black people, what obligations candidate Obama would owe the black community, and how we might ensure these were fulfilled. But the pastor wasn't hearing any of this. All the obligations, in his view, seemed to flow from the bottom up, while the power flowed from the top down. It's never easy to stop a preacher on a roll.
“If we can build that solid black wall,” he continued, “if we can unite black people behind Brother Obama, he will have the power to do anything he wants to do. Can't you see it?” he asked. “If we do that, nothing any of his opponents say or do will be able to touch him.” Almost four years later, it looks like black America's legacy leadership are still following the pastor's playbook.
The black political wall around Barack Obama is a reality, and one of the president's most powerful political assets. It trades upon African America's historic credibility as a people of struggle, the people who produced Nat Turner and Ida B. Wells, Charles Hamilton Houston, Kwame Toure and Martin Luther King and many, many others.
White liberals and progressives often tend to follow the lead of black America, whether right or wrong. You want to know what you should do? The president's black and black people are supporting him? What else do you need to know? But who is inside that wall, and who is outside? Who does the black wall the Atlanta preacher described protect Barack Obama against?
The black wall around Barack Obama doesn't protect him from the war makers and war criminals of the bipartisan military industrial complex.
From the beginning, the architects of the Bush-Cheney policies of torture and unjust war have been on the inside of Barack Obama's wall, not outside it. With U.S. troops in 144 countries, the most powerful person in government outside the White House is the Secretary of Defense. Obama was the first president in U.S. history to keep a Secretary of War (the office's pre-1948 name) from the other party. He ran promising to expand the military, to escalate the war in Afghanistan, crack down on the Palestinians, continue the provocations and threats toward Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and so forth, and to close Guantanamo and end illegal torture.
In office Obama kept Guantanamo and the network of global secret prisons remain open. He “legalized” torture, declined to prosecute Bush-Cheney crimes. This president has kept all his warlike promises, breaking only his peaceful pledges. The president has viciously prosecuted whistle blowers, like those who leaked video of U.S. troops gunning down innocent civilians in Iraq.
The black wall around Barack Obama protects the president, but it protects the war machine too. But while black America remains the most antiwar section of the U.S. polity, black critics of the imperial wars are not heard. They are on the outside of Obama's black wall.
Don't criticize the dear leader too loudly, they are told, lest you weaken him. Look--- over there --- it's President Michelle Bachman!
The black wall around Barack Obama doesn't protect him from greedy Wall Street banksters and corporate thugs.
Like the war makers, the banksters were inside the Barack's wall long before the inauguration, even before the election. When George Bush couldn't pass his own bailout bill through Congress, he had to summon Barack Obama to D.C. Obama halted his campaign for a week or two and lined up Democrats to vote for the Bush bailout. Without their votes, it could not have passed. Once in office, Obama doubled down on the bailout, doling out more than $21 trillion to his benefactors thus far.
Homes are the principal assets of most who have them. The continuing wave of foreclosures, disproportionately affecting black families, is the most serious raid on black wealth in decades, widening the already vast wealth gap between blacks and whites.
The black wall around Barack Obama protects the president, and the banksters with him. Those opposed to the foreclosures, who want to rein in and prosecute Wall Street predators, who organize against foreclosures find themselves outside Barack Obama's black wall, not inside it. ACORN registered voters to elect this president. But Obama stood by and watched them falsely accused, smeared and broken.
Look --- over there! It's the Tea Party! Circle the wagons, get back in line!
The black wall around Barack Obama doesn't protect him against the forces aiming to privatize public education
From the beginning President Obama has been an enthusiastic supporter of efforts to blame and defame public school teachers, and to charterize and privatize public education. As Chicago Schools CEO his infamous Secretary of Education fired hundreds of dedicated, qualified Chicago teachers in order to replace their schools with charters. Obama has taken Duncan's failed Chicago policies national, firing for example, a whole school district of teachers in Providence, Rhode Island. Obama's Race To The Top forces states to reorganize public education to suit the dictates of the Gates, Broad and Walton Family Foundations, the private sector actors who gave birth to the charter school industry, which is firmly inside Barack Obama's black wall.
This week the president is scheduled to make his first public appearance since announcing his re-election campaign at the national convention of Al Sharpton's National Action Network, along with Arne Duncan. Together with Newt Gingrich, Duncan and Sharpton have been campaigning for charters and school privatization nationwide for the last two years. Gingrich, Duncan and Sharpton, the three stooges of corporate school reform are firmly inside Barack Obama's black wall, along with their foundation benefactors. Public school teachers and the communities they server are as usual, on the outside, but required to man the barricades for Obama's re-election.
Watch out! It's Mike Huckabee and Mitch Romney! You don't want that to happen, do you?
The black wall around Barack Obama doesn't protect him against Republican-led assaults on democratic rights.
Restrictive voter-ID laws are proliferating in Republican-led legislatures across the country with the clear intent of reducing the number of student and minority voters. Perhaps the first was in Georgia, where the Voting Rights Act gives the US Justice Department authority to block any changes in election law that disproportionately affect blacks. The wave of disenfranchisement could have been prevented. But black legacy leadership didn't pressure the Obama administration, and the Department of Justice didn't lift a finger.
The traditional black leadership are so bankrupt that when right wing propagandist Andrew Breitbart smeared Shirley Sherrod, a local human rights activist of 45 years standing, even the NAACP, who doubtless knew her history, rushed endorsed the calumny. Shirley Sherrod, along with millions of black, brown and young voters are on the outside of Barack Obama's wall.
Republican governors and legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana have passed ambitious efforts to end public sector unions, ban union political contributions. Michigan passed a measure that would let governors overrule or dissolve school boards and local governments by declaring a “fiscal emergency” and appointing an individual or corporation to rule in their place.
But the fiscal hawks are inside Barack Obamas wall, not outside it. The president himself promotes the fictions that “national debt is like family debt” and that cuts in wages, benefits, Medicare, Medicaid and social security are the solution to his fictitious problem.
Unions are outside Barack Obama's black wall too, although he gratefully accepts their campaign contributions, and allows their leaders to sit on commissions and meet with him from time to time. Union leaders invited the president to come to Madison, Wisconsin during the face-off with the legislature. Fortunately, he declined. They invited the vice-president. He demurred. They invited the Secretary of Labor. No way. Here again, the president's freeze on the pay and rights of federal workers set the stage for Republican moves to take it one step further.
Look --- over there! It's President Sarah Palin! Can you live with that? Shut up and drink your kool-aid.
In every case, the black wall around Barack Obama protects him not from Tea Partyers and Republican foes, whom he is anxious to meet more than half way. The black wall around Barack Obama protects him from accountability to black people, to his supposed base.
Increasingly we can expect the White House and its allies will demand that all grassroots political agitation and organizing not explicitly connected with turning out the vote for the president and his party cease. That's been the traditional pattern. Antiwar movements, housing and human rights work, all of it folds in even numbered years, as activists allow all their efforts to be diverted into electing Democrats.
As 2012 looms, the black wall around Obama remains a crucial asset. It's why his first campaign appearance will be on the arm of Al Sharpton. The pressure will be on to circle the wagons again, to build the wall higher. As the pastor predicted, the black wall around Barack Obama wall insulates the president against his foes, not from the right, but from the left. It protects the president not against the Pentagon, the banksters, the corporate thugs, the privatizers and the Republicans, all of whom he seems to get along with just fine --- but against us. It makes him democracy-proof and people-proof. It protects him against his own supposed base.
It's time for black America to answer the questions the Atlanta pastor wouldn't. What's more important? Stopping the foreclosures, ending war and mass incarceration, reining in the banks and corporadoes, saving the public education and the environment, creating jobs and doing justice? Or protecting and prolonging the career of one man, a man who doesn't protect us?
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA, where he serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party.