This is what democracy looks like !

by on January 22, 2009 · 15 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Election, Environment, Health, Labor, Media, Organizing, Peace Movement, War and Peace

One out of every 150 Americans was there in Washington DC yesterday, January 20, 2009.  Nothing before yesterday had ever seen such a press of humanity that demonstrated on Tuesday.  So many grand words have been spoken or written about President Barack Obama’s inauguration, that we dare not add anything mediocre.

We had risen yesterday in anticipation, and turned on the tube early to watch history and try to be part of it. The crowds were what amazed me.  Seeing faces with tears rolling down glad cheeks were what got me the most.  Watching so many young Americans happy and excited, seeing so many African-Americans beaming, and viewing the plain diversity of the crowd made us all gasp with pride. The relentless chants of “Obama, Obama!” echoed my shouts into the night air the evening he was elected. It’s such a great name to chant or yell – the 3 simple syllables allow an unusual ease of raised voice.

The people had spoken on November 4th and the fruit of their message had taken office this day, two and a half months later. By noon, we had a new president, a man half Kenyan and half Kansan.  A man whose father would not have been served in downtown Washington 60 years ago, as his son would say.  A man who hardly spoke the word ‘race’ in his speech for all to hear, but a man whose appearance on the stage of history was all too obvious to ignore.

The Bush nightmare was finally over. A new era has begun.  The wheeling out of Dick Cheney was symbolic of an administration that was crippled itself and who had attempted to cripple the country.  His last appearance as Dr. Strangelove seemed strangely true to form. Bush seemed overwhelmed with it all, with the boos, with the mass of Americans waiting for him to leave.  As his helicopter rose over the crowd on his final journey, the camera panned across a large white banner with black letters: “Bush – get da hell out!”

With moist eyes much of the day, the vindication of knowing that we supported Obama from the very beginning is privately experienced.  Against fellow progressives who couldn’t let themselves believe the country had changed that much, against left-wing zealots who believed Bush would declare martial law and never let it happen, against those who liked him but felt “they” would never allow him to live and take his seat, against traditional Democratic politicos who dismissed the campaign of a political-unknown Black man, against right-wing pundits whose prejudices kept them from understanding how the ground beneath them had shifted dramatically, we supported him. His was the strongest campaign against the Iraq war.  Obama’s basic instinct of opposition to the illegal occupation of that country gave him his early support among the progressive corners of America – including ours.

And American followed him.  The people put him on that stage, and came to witness him take charge.  This is what democracy looks like.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Lane January 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm

what an excellent portrayal and expression of the experience from your perspective. I echo your feelings exactly – particularly since I have supported him from the beginning as well. It is amazing how long it took some folks to actually buy into it, but look at the outcome. I wish I had been able to experience the inauguration in person, but the fact that millions of people were there representing me was just enough.


mr fresh January 21, 2009 at 2:53 pm

in san francisco all the signs for “bush” street (a downtown street) were covered over with obama signs. my wife was driving around for quite a while trying to find bush street until she realized that it had been renamed.


Patty Jones January 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Frank, my eyes are moist again reading your words. I wish we could have been there, in the crush of it. But seeing it with you, someone as awestruck and proud as I was… well, just thanks. I’m glad you were part of a day I will never forget.


anonarchist January 23, 2009 at 9:45 am

This is not what democracy looks like. You are too much of a bleeding heart liberal.


anonarchist January 23, 2009 at 9:52 am

Besides, the coronation of the new emperor will right the machine of corporate profit-making and war-making, so the empire can get about its business.


jon January 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

“We adore titles and heredities in our hearts and ridicule them with our mouths. This is our democratic privilege.”
-Mark Twain

Sorry you can’t find a glimpse of better things to come anonarchist. Must be a sad world for you.


Frank Gormlie January 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

I was wondering … where do we get our visions, knowledge and experience of ‘democracy’ in order to understand it, the process, and be able to make judgments whether it has occurred or is occurring? How can, for example, anonarchist make a judgment that what has happened in this country over the last year or so, culminating Nov 4th and this past Jan 20th, is ‘not what democracy looks like’? Or, conversely, how can I make a declaration that what we saw on the tube on Jan 20th is, in fact, what democracy looks like?

If you are from Central or South America, perhaps you can point to the experiences of Cuba, or of Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile or some of the other countries as having a democratic process. Are these societies ‘where democracy looks like’?

Or perhaps you’ve seen the parliamentary democracies of Europe, those are countries ‘where democracy looks like.’

What do you think?


Frank Gormlie January 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm

A friend at a dinner party last night described a good friend’s experience at the inauguration. She recounted that her friend had told her that despite the cold, the long wait, and even those who got left out or had to stand in that tunnel for hours – everyone got along. 2 million people getting along.


Monty Reed Kroopkin January 25, 2009 at 3:09 pm

It is important to recognize that, yes, the political ground we all stand on has shifted, but that Obama is more of a symbol of it than a representative of it. What do I mean? I mean that the changes that millions of us want to see, are not the same ones that Obama wants. For example, the anti-war movement does not want escalation of the war in Afghanistan. We have somewhat improved odds of getting more of what we want, from Obama than we would have had from McCain. But we should not get carried away. Obama is not the “second coming”. He is far to the right of many other Democrats (who, in turn, are to the right of a big part of the “progressive” or “left” community, here and around the world).

A statement was sent to Obama, by a number of anti-war activists, on the ML King Day holiday, and sent around to blogs and lists, etc. I saw a copy on one of the SDS lists. It is worth circulating. Here is a copy:


Media sisters and brothers,

The Declaration below has been e-mailed on 1/18 so that you can use it on Martin Luther King’s birthday. A copy will be sent to the president-elect via Democratic headquarters, and another will go to the White House after the inauguration.

As it is in King’s spirit, signing wasn’t restricted to Americans. Essentially we ask what he, a Vietnam war opponent, would do re the wars and bankers’ bailout that Obama inherits.

If you have questions about the Declaration, please e-mail



As if in celestial convergence, Martin Luther King’s birthday falls on the eve of the inauguration of the nation’s first Black president. With the world economy in free fall, amid spreading armed conflict, the classic question posed from pulpits at this time – What would Dr. King do? – has never been more urgent.

January 19 and 20 are heavy with historical significance and contradiction. Barack Obama proclaims that his presidency would be unthinkable were it not for the civil rights struggle which King personifies. Yet he also hails John Kennedy – who he knows criminally wiretapped King – as his role model. And is it
conceivable that King would be pleased with Obama after he broke his promise to filibuster an electronic wiretapping bill if it included an immunity clause for telecommunications companies that collaborated with Bush’s illegal eavesdropping after 9/11?

The New York Times correctly calls Obama’s orientation “center-right.” Never an advocate of total withdrawal from Iraq, he called for the recruitment of nearly 100,000 additional military, expanded war in Afghanistan, and more aggressive US actions in Pakistan. In retaining Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other Republican Pentagon political appointees, Obama blurs the differences between his foreign policy and George Bush’s. His United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice, advocates “humanitarian” military intervention in Africa, and Obama supports Bush’s latest US Africa Command (AFRICOM). He is silent on the US-fomented war in Somalia.

Obama is also silent re the onslaught on Gaza, even as the Israeli embassy justified it by distributing videos of his campaign statement: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters slept at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Domestically, Obama has put his economic portfolio into the hands of Wall Street hacks intimately associated with financial deregulation and the plague-like spread of derivatives and other exotic “fictional capital” –- the witch’s brew of meltdown — and backed Bush’s banker bailout.

Is it difficult to project what Dr. King’s politics would be, were he alive today? Faced with an administration committed to expansion of a military already as costly as the combined armed forces of the rest of the planet, King would join — indeed lead — a principled, active anti-war opposition.

King called the America of his day “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and his characterization remains apt. He broke with Lyndon Johnson’s White House, as he saw the Vietnam War obliterating the “shining moment” when it “seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program.” On April 4, 1967, King explained that “America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.” Domestically, Obama’s determination to put more military “boots on the ground” in multiplying conflicts is an update of the “demonic destructive suction tube” King opposed.
He would doubtlessly view Obama’s military posture as “a war against the poor,” as was LBJ’s war.

Obama’s appointments have been made, his priorities amply recorded. Given Obama’s declared politics, King would never grant a “honeymoon” season to an incoming administration placing government economic levers in the hands of plundering bankers diverting huge public wealth to the feeding of the dogs of war. He became his day’s greatest “drum major” for social justice and peace, and we have only one alternative before us. We call upon Americans and the world to try to act now in Dr. King’s spirit and join us in opposing any and all imperial administrations, in the media, in the voting booth and in the streets.

[signed by 71 people – mostly American progressive, trade-union, anti-war activists and academics, along with several well known left writers, 12 members of small left-wing US parties and 11 international leftists]


Molly January 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Comment to Monty:

Thanks for the Declaration. Good document from American leftists to the incoming President. I do like the issues raised. Yet, I feel somewhat disenchanted by the signators, as a good number apparently were from other political parties, which I presume means that they did not work for Obama’s election. Which meant that whatever electoral efforts they performed ultimately helped John McCain. Or, maybe they didn’t vote at all.

So, in effect, left-wing activists, say, from the Peace and Freedom Party, after not assisting the election of the first Black president, now are demanding his attention. Perhaps they should have joined his campaign, say, one to two years ago, and actually helped build a nation-wide movement for change. No comment on the international leftys – presumably they didn’t work on his campaign either.

Obviously, Obama is not a left-wing radical, or even a progressive anti-war activist. We don’t have to rely on any label from the New York Times – which the Declaration does – to understand who Obama is. (The NYT is so good at understanding the groundshifting under them – look at their record on Iraq.)

The country has shifted to a center-left stance. And Obama helped in this tremendously. To simplify him and simply call him a ‘center-right’ politician seriously misses the gravity of the moment.

Obama jumped out there long ago, against the Iraq war. That’s why he had the early support of so many progressives, which helped to build his movement. His candidacy helped in building the antiwar effort. This has to be understood. The major anti-war candidate won. King was not against the Vietnam war in the beginning. He developed his stance over time. To say now, 40 years after King’s assassination, that Obama is not as antiwar as King, is ridiculous.

And more, Obama’s position on Afghanistan and Pakistan is reflective of the progressives’, the left’s ambivalence, avoidance, and equivocation on the whole issue of Osama bin Laden and his Afghanistan mountain retreat. Does the American left believe that he should be brought to some kind of world justice or not? What would you do, mister leftwinger about Osama? Some leftists believe he was entirely made up as part of an internal conspiracy.

The bankers’ bail-out? Wasn’t this supported by mainstream Democrats, like Pelosi, Barney Frank? Are they simply dupes as well?

The American left doesn’t know what to do or think. We’ve never been here before. Our guy won. Now what?


Les Evenchick January 26, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Obama was not ‘our guy’ for many of us and neither was McCain.

Deocracy is not about illusions and assebled masses. Hitler had his masses.

Democracy is about who controls things. Now if we had the right to have a recall election when Obama shows that he is a fraud like bish before him, i would say we have democractic possibilities here.

But a king has been elected in a contest controlled by money.

Whats to be optimistic about. the war in South central asia escalates immediately. the financial meltdown cntinues. No plans to stop the massive layoffs. No solution to the health care crisis. ETC ETC.

Its all smoke and mirrors.

Here in New Orleans the attendance at the current NADA (auto dealers) is 35% of normal, the recent fence akers and suppliers convention was at 25%.

A bigger disaster is looming and the new administartion is showing no more ability than the Bush administration.


j e christensen January 27, 2009 at 10:40 am

To Les,
Democracy is an idea inside a reality. Les appears to expect democracy equates to sucess – maybe not intended, but your points on layoffs, health care and our failing systems as evidence that we are not a democracy. It’s true, Hitler was elected; it’s a fact that people make wrong decisions – even democratic ones. Les, I might say it’s a little too soon to conclude Obama is “showing no more ability than Bush…” but for me, our success of failures belong to us – the people not to the Obama’s or Bushes. I was not an Obama supporter – thought him to conservative – but I do agree he can do nothing we refuse to do for ourselves.


jon January 27, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Les – comparing Obama to Hitler? You’re a joke. Troll.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all others that we’ve tried.”

I think there’s quite a bit of truth to that. Our government will never be perfect, and we will never be able to solve every crisis in the world. But if we keep striving for peace and equality in race, class, and gender, then we will continue to progress as a people. I think we took a big step in the right direction this election.

Hitler??? Really? Get a grip Les.


Monty Reed Kroopkin January 28, 2009 at 10:57 am

The point Les made about the mass rally at the Washington mall is valid. No mass rally is any proof of democracy. The extreme example of the Nazi mass rallies in Hitler’s Germany is also a valid example of how mass rallies and democracy is not any kind of equation.

But this is not at all the point of the objections Les raised and not at all the main subject of the ML King Day Declaration I reprinted here. The issue is that Obama is not a champion of the progressive policies and reforms that many of us want and need. He (like FDR) may be responsive (to an extent) to widespread pressure and turmoil from the grassroots. It is up to us to generate and sustain that pressure.


jon January 28, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Fair enough. I will agree that a mass rally does not equal democracy. However, I think the comparison to Nazi Germany is foolish and off topic. On another personal note, let me apologize for calling Les a troll. Name calling on the internet is foolish and off topic. :)


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