There were two million people in and around Chicago’s famous Grant Park (the site of the infamous 1968 anti-war protests) at midnight on November 5 to hear Barack Obama’s victory speech. People wept openly and danced in jubilation.
These scenes were repeated across the US and the world, including Indonesia, Palestine, Iraq and across Europe. It was a clear rejection of eight years of the Bush administration with its war-mongering, pro-corporate agenda.
The election night celebrations came after months of hard work. Obama’s campaign mobilised tens of thousands of people in community and workplace networks, campaigning around his central theme of “change”.
The economic crisis ensured Obama’s victory, with the Bush administration’s “response”— bailing out the rich—igniting anger across America.
The people who celebrated Obama’s victory on the streets are the people who are suffering the effects of the crisis—the working class. They expect Obama to take action to ameliorate its effects.
There have been one million home foreclosures and the number is fast rising.
Unemployment is increasing, with big employers—most notably Ford and General Motors—in serious trouble.
Unions that helped mobilise many of Obama’s volunteers expect Obama to wind back years of anti-union attacks—starting with the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to join a union if a majority in their workplace want to.
Despite the war on terror taking a back seat to the economic crisis by the end of the campaign, the majority of people want Obama to pull troops out of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
What will Obama deliver?
Obama is sandwiched between these enormous (and thoroughly justified) expectations and the interests of the forces that he is allied with.
The Democrats are fundamentally different to the ALP or the Labour Party in Britain. Only 14 per cent of Obama’s funding came from trade unions and the unions have little organisational influence in the party.
In contrast, over half of the Obama’s funds came from big business. Overall 67 per cent of Democratic campaign funds come from corporations.
This has a very real affect on the policies and interests of Obama and the Democrats.
Rhetorically, Obama has separated himself from the Bush administration’s plans for the economy and has announced plans to create 2.5 million new jobs. But he voted for the US$700 billion dollar plan to bail out the banks.
Obama has also reiterated his position on the war since his victory—he will move troops from Iraq into Afghanistan, whilst leaving significant numbers of troops on bases in Iraq.
Far from signalling “change”, virtually every position announced for the new Obama administration have been granted to personalities recycled from the conservative Clinton White House.
For example, Obama’s newly appointed chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was a top Clinton advisor and is one of Washington’s staunchest supporters of Israeli agression.
Bloomberg also reported “he was a director at Freddie Mac in 2000 and 2001 while it was committing accounting fraud.”
There is speculation that Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates will retain his position for the opening period of Obama’s rule.
He is one of several Republicans (even John McCain), in the mix for top posts in the new administration.
Madeline Albright was chosen to represent Obama at the recent G20 summit.
In 1996, as Clinton’s Secretary of State, Albright infamously said “we think the price is worth it”, refering to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children at the hand of a blockade imposed by her government.
None one of the 23 senators or 133 House members who voted against the Iraq war have received nomination.
Obama’s victory, and the huge outpouring of emotion that came with it, illustrate the powerful forces driving for change in the US.
The challenge for the left in the US is to connect with the hopes that people have and to channel this into the social movements that are going to be necessary to put pressure on the Obama administration for real change.
The vitality of Obama’s movement for change must be captured and channelled into an organised, working class response to the crises that beset the US to build opposition to the ruling class forces represented by both the Republicans and Democrats.
By Ernest Price