Beyond Obama and Bernie

“What Can We Do?”

Photo Source: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza – CC BY 2.0

Future NBA Owner Barack Obama: “Voting is the Most Important Action We Can Take”

One of the Democratic Party’s main missions is to keep people off the streets no matter how urgent it is for the masses to flood the nation’s roads, sidewalks, town halls and public plazas.

As failed state America sinker further into an apocalyptic and authoritarian catastrophe that has been in the making for many decades, Barack Obama tells young people that “the best way to protest is to vote.” That’s bullshit. As the radical historian Howard Zinn noted in March 2008 essay “Election Madness,” penned as Obamania spread across the Democratic electorate:

“The election frenzy… seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple-choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students…Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to meet them by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war….Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”

The remarkable George Floyd rebellion, the biggest protest wave in American history, forced Obama to briefly acknowledge some of the power of people in the streets but only with the caveat that voting is still the main thing – and another one of his many shots at the supposedly dysfunctional 1960s.

Obama reiterated the counsel at the funeral of Congressman John Lewis. There Obama devalued the significance of social movement protest beyond the election cycle—the type of political engagement that had brought John Lewis on to the stage of history[1]—by telling his audience that “the right to vote” is “the most powerful tool we have” and that voting is “the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy.”

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Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).

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