Much like anyone else with more than a passing interest in world politics, I have recently found myself spending an inordinate amount of my spare time monitoring developments emerging from the primary season of the American Democratic Party. In some ways this is surprising, because after the debacle of the 2000 presidential elections in
There are no prizes on offer for guessing the reason for my renewed interest in American politics. It is down to one man – Barack Obama. Quite naturally, I feel an affinity towards him, being as he is of African origin and an African American in the truest sense of the term. But beyond this narrow bond of racial identification and affiliation, I am also impressed by his formidable array of attributes: intelligence, energy, youthfulness, resolve, courage, charisma, and oratorical skills. Attributes of which, would ordinarily propel any candidate, possessed of them, to the comfort of the White House in a presidential election year. But nothing is certain in American politics, particularly, after the fiasco of the 2000 presidential elections.
My revived interest in American politics also brings back memories of another period in time. Twenty years ago, this year, Jesse Jackson stood before the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, to deliver what is regarded as one of the best ever speeches in the history of the Democratic Party. In 1988, just like in 1984, he ran in a bid to become the presidential nominee of his party. In both attempts, he fell short of the mark and was ultimately unsuccessful in his objective. But, nonetheless, he succeeded in planting powerful seeds of hope and expectation in the hearts and minds of his party’s membership, whilst also laying the foundation for others to follow in his trail blazing footsteps in years to come.
Back then, Jesse Jackson admonished his party that the day of the underdog was not far off in American politics. As with every prophet – religious or secular – the purview of their time-frame is almost always futuristic, and there is often a time lag between their pronouncements and the fulfilment thereof. So Jesse Jackson was not wrong back then, he was simply ahead of his time.
During his momentous speech in 1988, Jesse Jackson touched upon various themes, delivering line after line of poignant and captivating oratory that achieved great resonance with his audience. One theme that he touched upon back then and which remains fresh in my memory till this day, had to do with the historical placement in
Keeping faith with the historical perspective of Jesse Jackson’s powerful words, but shifting the focus to comparatively more recent events; I am not certain what mode of vehicular transportation Barack Obama’s Father adopted when he embarked upon his journey of self improvement to the United States. But I am delighted that he set forth on that journey and that he arrived safely, and made the connection with Barack’s Mother. Not even he, back then, could have envisaged at the commencement of his journey that he was being propelled by the irrepressible winds of destiny and was part of a much larger unfolding plan of action. For quite often, auspicious journeys often begin in the most seemingly ordinary of circumstances.
Today, because two different men on two different continents set out at different times on different journeys, another man, standing on their shoulders and on the shoulders of countless others, has embarked upon a journey of his own and in the behalf of others. Unlike Shirley Chisholm’s journey of 1972 and Jesse Jackson’s trail blazing political odysseys of 1984 and 1988, Barack Obama’s journey of 2008, has about it, a sense of greater promise and success, and this, largely because of those who beat a path before him. Such is the interest in this pilgrim’s political progress that there is a real prospect of meaningful change occurring in
As much as I find current political developments in
Right through the early periods of my induction into historical matters as a school boy, I’d always believed and had also been led to believe that the American nation was founded on the principles of equality and justice. But I acknowledge that quite possibly there may have been gaps in my learning that inadvertently led to my forming the wrong impression about the origins of the American nation. For this reason, and in order to dispel any erroneous impressions persisting in my mind, I decided to revisit some of the text on the founding of
Reading through the historical narrative of the founding of
For by their avowal and espousal of the loftiest beliefs, they demonstrated that they were men acting not only under the inspiration of the divine, but were driven by the most sublime of motives. For hardly any other nation in the world can lay claim to a group of Founding Fathers who proclaimed belief in the following creed:
‘“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But in reading these words, I am struck by the great gulf of disconnection between the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers and the reality for many American citizens, particularly those of colour and women. To these people, the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers though lofty, rich, elegant, and poetic in content and overtone, represent nothing more than a grouping of hollow words completely devoid of meaning. But how could this be so? Could it be that the Founders of America were actually duplicitous, deceitful, disingenuous, or even delusional men? We may never know for certain.
Perhaps no greater demonstration of the gulf of disconnection between rhetoric and reality can be seen, than in the periodic ritual dance of political candidates for the presidential nomination of their parties. This ritual dance, has more often than not, over the course of
Thankfully, this year the gulf of disconnection is being bridged by the participation of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party’s primaries. And with the withdrawal of John Edwards from the race for nomination, the Democratic Party will be making history, and quite possibly so will
It is perhaps, no surprise that it is the ‘broad church’ of the Democratic Party, rather than the ‘country club’ of the Republican Party, that has provided a platform upon which this dance of destiny is taking place. The Republican Party appears to be too preoccupied with maintaining the status quo rather than in making history. But in mitigation of the Republican Party’s position, it must be remembered, that it is they, while in government, rather than the Democrats, who have appointed, in succession, two African Americans to the important position of Secretary of State. So in some ways the Democratic Party is playing catch up.
I am not suggesting, not even for a moment, that he represents the ‘second coming’ or that he is some ‘other worldly’ redeemer who will resolve the problems of the world. Far from it. Neither am I taken in, to the degree, that I have reposed blind faith in his candidacy. None of this is the case. But I do believe that he represents the best hope and possibility of change for the better within the context of the American nation. With his background and mix of skills he has already demonstrated his ability to inspire not only his own people, but others around the world who look to
For those who think that he is not qualified to run. I say think again. For those who say that he does not represent anything more than inspiration, they only need to see how disillusioned people across the world have become with
In many ways, Barack Obama is running a race not only for nomination of his party, but a race for respect and recognition that began hundreds of years ago by others. And for this reason, he’s running a relay race, having received the pass of baton from those who ran, marched, and died so that others could experience the elusive freedoms declared to be the inalienable rights of all by the Founding Fathers.
Like the Totemic Poles of the native American Indians, Barack Obama is standing on the shoulders of giants gone before. On the shoulders of men and women of every colour, complexion and creed that have fought for freedom everywhere; the rainbow people of God.
The refrain of his campaign has been, Yes We Can, in answer to those who doubt their ability to effect political change in
As I reach the end of this piece, I once again return to Jesse Jackson and to his spirited admonitions of 1984 and 1988 – to wit – that we must ‘keep hope alive,’ and challenge the status quo that seeks to keep us divided and apart from one another. If we are to build a world, one in which we can all be proud of, then we must embrace change as an agent of our collective renewal.
Conventional wisdom admonishes us about the possibility of change on a personal level by saying that ‘if something is to be, then it is up to me.’ The Hopi Indians, out of the abundance of their ancestral wisdom, relay a similar truth about the inevitability of positive change and our part in bringing it about, when they declare with prophetic and poetic profundity, that:
‘We are the People, We’ve been waiting for’
Barack Obama, Baraka (Blessings) upon you; and Yes, You Can, because you are standing on the shoulders of giants!