Obama Gets Real, and Reflections on Take Back America
Adrienne Maree Brown
March 19, 2008
I’m at the Take Back America conference this week, seeing the event with the dual eyes I have been using for viewing this entire election season thus far.
This is the most exciting election of my lifetime and most of the folks I know have to say the same, whether they want to admit it or not. everyone’s talking about it, the speeches and debates are water cooler conversation for more than the usual (political nerd) suspects.
Our next president will be a black man, or at the very least a white woman, according to the masses at this conference (nicknamed the “progressive convention”); the passion is in people’s eyes, their bodies aquiver with the idea of advancing progressive ideals. it’s been a while since we had a national moment of victory.
The speakers here are talking about green jobs, healthcare for all, workers’ rights, Martin Luther King–things/ideas/people I take seriously, believe in, need. and more than ever before, the speakers and participants here are referring to a history of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience, the idea of protecting our democracy with actions that make our words mean something. So that makes me happy.
On the other hand, the talk is always far better than the action. we are on a very fine line where people want to hear real talk about race, for instance, but also want to see themselves as beyond racism.
Yesterday Barack Obama gave the best speech I can ever remember hearing from a politician, the kind of speech that everyone from electoral cynic to Obama fanatic had to lean into. We have waited for this kind of speech, we have dreamed of this kind of candor about race from a national platform.
Where Obama has most excited me has been in his deflection of responsibility back towards the people. he is willing to occupy the space of charismatic leader, but not of magician race/economy/world fixer. In speeches like yesterday’s, he is saying ‘I come as an observer, as a listener, and to channel what I see and hear–what i hear behind closed doors as well as what i hear in town halls’.
Hillary Clinton will be hard pressed to have anything close to a response to this way of doing things, even if she comes up with some amazing content to fire back. What we are seeing is how a candidate can elevate the issues beyond his or her self, and into our own hearts, into our own greater calling.
Sitting and listening I thought lovingly of the white racists in my family, of those impacted by economic injustice and combatting addiction and prisons in my own family, of their proximity to each other, of the long journey we have to a point where both sides of my family are equal, respected, evolved, free of hate and bitterness.
Attending this conference with people who desperately want to see change and watching them arch and writhe with the pleasure of hearing their own inner heart’s desire for healing makes me want to open my own heart to them. Election years are so tricky this way. For a moment people are willing to believe, to join with those of us who work day in and day out on radically changing the status quo of gross inequality. For a moment it feels like the momentum is there to get the work done.
I sit over here prudish, my heart also beating faster after such a speech, wanting to writhe and moan a bit myself, but not wanting to give it up on the first date. I have been, we have been, so mistreated, bamboozled, lied to and abused for so long–I want us to have the highest standards for our next moment in history. For the organizations, and the leaders and for the people who lead those leaders.
It looks like this:
Personally, I want to engage each and every individual I meet in this greater process of honestly addressing and advancing racial justice. This means the hard questions to the white folks in my life about what they are doing to uphold racist practices, policies, patterns…how do they benefit?
This means asking the people of color in my life how do we look at each other with mutual solidarity, making sure that no one race or ethnicity advances at the cost of another, and that, on the most personal level, we aren’t waging our struggle from a space of hatred and vengefulness, but of a greater love and greater humanity than any of us is capable of alone. It is time for us to need each other enough to be real with each other.
Organizationally, it means that leaders and boards can no longer simply speak to their dreams of diversity, and go so far as tokenization in the pursuit of that dream but never a step further. It means engaging people of color and impacted communities (impacted by economic and environmental injustice and human rights abuses) at the decision making level in all of our work. It means that wealthy people and majority white organizations have to be willing to show that they trust people of other races and class backgrounds in the key decisions about budgets, about campaigns, and about a shared vision for the world we want.
In leadership it means refusing the urge to oversimplify, as Obama did when he reduced the complexities of the Middle East situation to mere radical Islam, instead of acknowledging that in Israel, as in America, the desire to be safe somewhere has led to colonization and displacement that must be righted. And also that in Israel, as in America, there are people who have been placed behind walls, behind borders, contained out of sight so that others may live. It wasn’t right in the founding of America and the injustices towards Native Americans resonate today.
We have to have race solutions that actually heal, rather than point fingers and marginalize, and we have to be most consistent with our loving acceptance of each other in the solution process when we have the most to lose, the most at stake, when it is the most uncomfortable.
I am excited to be alive at this moment, when there is so much work to be done. I am excited to take the ideas and enthusiasm back to the streets and farmland and the coastlines and the coal-impacted communities who are waiting for us to wake up to their needs and join them in changing no less than the entire world.
Adrienne Maree Brown is the executive director of The Ruckus Society and an advisory board member of WireTap. A co-founder of the League of Young Voters, Adrienne is obsessed with learning and developing models for action, community strength and movement building.