You Tell Us: Obama supporters and the Occupy protests
on November 8, 2011
When I was in Oakland recently, I saw an interesting mural. There was a whole wall full of them, commissioned by the city to brighten up the area. All of them were happy and cheerful. This one depicted the Obama family smiling and having a picnic together—a very happy scene. But recently, someone decided to alter it a bit. The mural was hijacked, and now President Obama’s mouth is dripping blood, making him appear to be a monster.
The mural must have been painted soon after the 2008 election, when everyone on the left (myself included) was full of hope that politics in America would finally start changing for the better. The city’s African American community was thrilled to see the election of our first black president and First Family. After a decade of Republican rule, we felt that we had finally won. “Hope” and “Change” might sound like corny slogans, but a lot of people really did feel that way at the time.
That mood didn’t last long. Just like the vandalized mural of Obama, our mood has changed from hope and celebration to desperation and anger.
Personally, I’m very conflicted on how I feel about Obama’s job performance. He has had some important accomplishments, especially Obamacare, which is the first reform to our screwed up health care system since the ‘60’s. However, all of these accomplishments have been a slow, small, subtle sort of reform, representing the politics-as-usual that we’re all sick of and not at all the progressive revolution that Obama’s supporters from the left were hoping for.
Meanwhile, the recession has dragged on and on with no hope of recovery in sight, while politicians (including Obama) debate arcane details about the budget deficit. It was bad enough watching Republicans run the country into the ground, but now the people have seen that a Democrat-led government is unable to do much better. They feel betrayed, and want to take charge of the political system themselves, rather than trusting a distant representative in Washington, DC to take care of them.
Perhaps we were just being naïve to think that any new president or election could make the sort of changes we were looking for. That’s a valid critics—many of Obama’s supporters were certainly naïve. However, that does not make our anger any less real. The lesson we’ve learned is that no matter how good of a candidate we elect, it doesn’t work. The political system simply won’t accomplish what we want—and that means we need to move outside traditional elections to revolutionize the entire political system.
This is the background that has sparked the Occupy movement. The same people who campaigned so hard for Obama are now vandalizing his picture, venting their anger and despair against a system that seems to have betrayed them. The fact that all the Occupy protesters have been nonviolent so far is a remarkable achievement and is a testament to the courage and discipline of all the protesters.
But now, Oakland police have decided to crack down on these peaceful protesters with force and violence. The videos of the police crackdown look more like a war zone than a political protest. Perhaps they thought that a small show of force would be enough to end the protest movement. If that’s what the police thought, then they were wrong. The people are angry, they’re fed up with the usual system, and they’re not going to let police stop them.
I don’t know what will become of the Occupy movement, but I do know that police violence will only encourage the Oakland protesters. This is a battle that the Oakland police have no chance of winning. It’s ironic that police use the term “kettling” for their tactic of shutting down protests with localized force and blockades, because this movement represents political anger that has been heating up for years, just like water boiling inside a tea kettle. If they try to hold in that anger with force, they will only cause the kettle to explode. I sincerely hope that police wise up before the violence escalates any further.
Charles Pye is a freelance writer and blogger, writing political commentary at his blog politicalpye.blogspot.com.
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