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November 5, 2008 by cosmoakacitizensmith

Anarchists don’t do elections, so there’s no point in reading anything into the US Presidential result, right?

John Pilger leads the leftist charge on this point. Barack Obama, he says, is a “glossy Uncle Tom” who will preside over an “unchanged system of power.” Radical, right-on folknik David Rovics, always on hand with a stirring tune, reassures us that “Whoever wins in November/….Stands only for death/Whichever face he has on.”

But 140 years on from the Civil War, and 40 years on from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, not to mention the activities of the Black Panther Party, America has put an man of African descent in the White House. We ignore the lessons of this at our peril.

From a brutal system of indentured slavery, violence and segregation, African-Americans have built through the generations a climate in which an occurrence like Obama’s victory has been made possible.

This climate has been achieved through, amongst other things, cultural and political activism, boycotts, marches, direct action, legal challenges and at times violent insurrection. Oh, and voting.

Make no mistake about it, regardless of his background, Obama – the man and his agenda – is of the elite. Whether he wants to or not, he can do very little to change the vast, hidden racial inequalities such as those which sprung onto our TV screens in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Nor will his approach to foreign policy be any more enlightened than his predecessor. But his victory is without question a symptom of the wider effects of a grassroots transformation in US attitudes to race which will continue to be felt. Things are still far from perfect, but they’ve come a long way.

In Wales and the UK, anarchist and libertarian groups suffer from a dearth of ethnic minority involvement. There is a lot more to the race issue than hassling fascists and supporting anti-deportation campaigns. Are we so colourblind that we are going to write off what’s happened across the Atlantic as the same old “bullshit,” like Pilger suggests, and ignore the struggles that have made this possible?

Not so long ago, if you said that one day there would be an African-American in the White House, most people would have thought you were mad. Well, guess what? These days, most people think anarchists are mad.

Some comfort there, I reckon.

Some of John Pilger’s articles on the US elections discussed in this post can be found here, here and here.

David Rovics’ song Whoever Wins in November can be downloaded here.


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