The 200k Challenge Live Webcast
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And we’re in the second night, near the conclusion of the Real News Webathon. Now joining us, I believe, from Atlanta–Danny, you’re in Atlanta, aren’t you? Okay. We’ve got to do something with Danny’s audio. Danny’s audio’s too low. Danny Glover joins us. There we go. Now we’re good. Danny Glover, actor and activist, needs very little introduction. And also joining us is Adolph Reed. Adolph, where are you today?
ADOLPH REED, PROF. POLITICAL SCIENCE, UPENN: I’m in Chicago at the moment.
JAY: Adolph Reed comes to us from Chicago. Adolph is the author of the book–let me get it in front of me–The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon: The Crisis of Purpose in Afro-American Politics. He’s also the editor of Race, Politics, and Culture. Thanks for joining us, both of you. Danny, kick us off here. The debate that’s going on now in Congress on the Bush tax cuts, whether to extend them or not, it kind of seems to be a final breaking point of a lot of progressive politics. Even people in the House, progressive Democrats, House members are saying this is kind of a line in the sand. In terms of your own view of Obama, I know from the very beginning your support for Obama was one–you know, critical support. You said we should all understand where he comes from. But how has your own thinking about Obama evolved from the primaries to now, Danny?
DANNY GLOVER, FILMMAKER AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: What is that now you said?
JAY: I’m asking about how your own thinking about Obama has evolved from the primaries to today.
GLOVER: Well, I can’t say I’m disappointed. You know, I mean, we are always saying, and several of–many of us were saying that, you know, campaign for a presidency is not the building of a movement. And surely [inaudible] hoping that we [inaudible] engaged beyond the election of Obama as the president in the building of the movement, a movement that would be critical of his policy, a movement that was not seduced by the fact that he was become the first African-American person of color as president. And the absence of that is what’s disappointing to me. The absence of that movement is what’s so disappointing. And in so many constructive ways and so many specific ways, he’s done exactly what all of us had anticipated. I anticipated that the role he would play would be essentially [inaudible] is to try and attempt to rescue the empire. And [inaudible] simply that, exactly that. Now, that sounds [inaudible] or somewhat maybe perhaps sophomoric or whatever, but it’s simply the empire was–is in–the paradigm, financial paradigm–capitalism is in crisis. And once we accept that, and to organize, trying to find constructive alternatives to that, whatever we want to call it, whether we want to [inaudible] legacy [inaudible] talk about socialism or whether we want to talk about 21st-century socialism, the one thing that we fail [inaudible] is to begin to exert the energy of new possibilities. You know. And it’s very interesting, because I have some friends of mine who [inaudible] economists, you know, have done work among the board of /"sipr@/. I’m on the board of [inaudible] magazine. And these are men who’ve written–and in some case, in the case of a couple of my friends, very–you know, I mean, they tried to tell it like it is. But it seems is that in the midst of that, Obama was going to have them at the table. I remember a group of thinkers, quote-unquote “progressive thinkers”, got [inaudible] the possibility and suggestions of what might [inaudible] the agenda for a new economy. But they weren’t even at the table. They weren’t even invited to the table.
JAY: Well, that was clear at the table at the health-care–.
GLOVER: And who was at the table with the health care? All of these particular issues that we find. And the disappointing point is that the movement that needs to happen, the movements that needs to be built for specific, systemic change, has not been [inaudible]
JAY: Adolph, I was at Morgan State University in Baltimore a few weeks ago. It’s a mostly black university. The class I spoke to was about 99 percent black. And it was interesting. One of the–a young woman in the class asked a question. She says, can anything–can they do anything to you if you don’t vote? And the teacher was kind of a little upset, and he said, well, what do you mean by that? And various students said, well, we’re thinking we actually just want to decide not to vote in these midterm elections as a real decision, but is there any repercussions? But it was like the whole class was kind of shaking its head. Is this actually something that’s unusual happening on the university? Or is this disillusionment with Obama spreading amongst the African-American community?
REED: Well, you know, I don’t have a crystal ball, I mean, though I will say that when I was in graduate school, my dream job was to be at Morgan State, so I know the campus pretty well. But–look, I can understand the frustration, but I think the problem is that what’s happening, one of the things that’s happened over the last 30 years or so, to just kind of underscore the point that Danny makes, is that our notion of political activism [inaudible] trickled down basically to voting [inaudible] form of political expression. And I think this [inaudible] contradictions in the Obama campaign from the very beginning. And then the crafting of brand Obama–.
JAY: Adolph, we’re having a little trouble with the audio. I think maybe if you turn your speaker off while you talk it might help. I think we’re getting feedback from your machine.
REED: It can’t be; I don’t have a speaker on. All I’ve got is my–.
JAY: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay, there’s something with the Skype, then. Okay. Go ahead.
REED: Oh, okay. Well, I guess I was going to say I don’t know [inaudible] one of the contradictions in the campaign [inaudible] campaign [inaudible]
JAY: Okay, Adolph, I’m really sorry to interrupt, but I want everyone to hear what you’re saying. Danny, I think maybe if you turn your sound down, maybe [inaudible]
GLOVER: That’s what I’m going to do right now.
JAY: Sorry about this everyone at home, but this–sometimes this is what Skype happens. Okay, go ahead, Adolph.
REED: Okay. I’ll give it another shot.
JAY: Now it’s clean now. It’s good.
REED: Okay. I guess I was saying that one of the problems–well, I’ll go back. That–you know, the frustration expressed by the student at Morgan I think is, among other things, reflective of the fact that over the last 30 years our notion of effective political participation has been increasingly shriveled down to voting, which is the most passive form of participation that there is. That’s part of the problem. But taking that, you know, [inaudible] I guess, taking that point back to the construction of brand Obama, even going back to, you know, before the actual presidential campaign, the Catch-22 is that, you know, a lot of people who are progressives thought that, you know, let’s go back to ’07 and early ’08 and even the summer of ’08–Katrina vanden Heuvel comes to mind and others. But [inaudible] one of the lines that we got [inaudible] people who said, look, you know, it can make sense to vote for Obama, as we always vote for Democrats as the lesser of two evils, right, and with the understanding that what the Democrats have had to offer us for more than 20 years now is basically that the other guy’s worse. And we can vote for him [inaudible] even use the campaign as a way to do a little bit of political education, or as much political education as you can do during the tight frame of reference of an election campaign, and say to people, yeah, you know, I mean, there’s not a whole lot there, he’s not that much, but the other guy’s worse. Well, [inaudible] what happened instead was people–and I think a lot of people probably should have known better–allowed themselves to get swept up in the hype. And this was true of a lot of my friends in the labor movement, too. But then what happens? Well, you know, the rationale becomes, look, he’s only going to be as good as the movement that brings pressure to–you know, that puts pressure on him from underneath. True enough. That’s been true of FDR. That’s been true of Kennedy. You know, frankly, a friend of mine used to point out that labor and progressives actually got more from Richard Nixon than they got from Bill Clinton. And that’s certainly not because Richard Nixon cared about us or cared about the things that we care about. It’s because our movements had the social force to force him to do stuff like OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Act] and affirmative action. But with Obama what happened was that they’ve kind of worked the movement imagery in a very useful way for the administration and a very useless way for the rest of us, which was to say, to sell this campaign as a movement. Now, at the same moment, then, that we have in the progressives [inaudible] you know, giving [inaudible] almost [inaudible] like, you know, stories about how, you know, I wasn’t really excited about this guy until I went home and saw my 16-year-old daughter, who had never been politically active, all jacked up and energized, and then I started to pay attention to him, and I realized he could be Jesus. Right? I mean, there was a lot of that stuff going on. So what happens then is, you know, we get what are conflicting stories, right? One is, you know, we–you know, here’s a progressive. He’ll be as good as we can help him be. Don’t push him about anything now; we’ve got to get him elected. And then once we get him elected, we can bring pressure [inaudible]
JAY: Right. Well, let’s go back to Danny’s question. Danny are you hearing me now? ‘Cause I know you have to turn your sound down.
GLOVER: Yeah, I turned my sound down. I can hear you. Can you hear me?
JAY: Okay. Well, Danny, let’s–the question both of you have raised, you know, where is the movement. So let me ask you. What do you think? The last time there was a really big movement in the United States, it was ignited by African-American leadership and African-American people and the civil rights movement, and that helped ignite the whole movement in the 1960s–the antiwar movement and other motions in the society. Where is it now? You’re saying we need it, so where is it? What are the obstacles to this?
GLOVER: There are two things that happened, I believe. The absence of any ideological debate and the acceptance of this one form is one of relationship, and that is capitalism. That’s the first thing [inaudible] certainly even with the dog days of the moments of the McCarthyism, which essentially eviscerated any kind of discussion around war and poverty, all those were on the table right there. I mean, even Kennedy, Robert Kennedy [inaudible] voice became a forceful voice and transformed what he saw and the experience that he had, as people like Harry Belafonte and Dr. King began to show them the drastic aspects of American poverty and racism. So on the one hand you had incredible voices. So the civil rights movement, which is a continuum for our humanity from slavery on, the civilized movement has many [inaudible] voices–young people, the radical voices from SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], which evolved into other voices that led to the movement [inaudible] party and other radical movements. And they discovered also what was happening also even within the context of our own experience there were other [inaudible] the African movement for African liberation, decolonization, and [inaudible] happening simultaneously. So there’s a different kind of discourse and [inaudible] discussion that was happening at this particular time. The civil rights movement, of course, took a very definitive role, played a very definitive role in the building [of] other movements [inaudible] movement for women’s rights, etc., etc. But also you saw this extraordinary moment where people will begin to begin to be–think more, discuss differently. The level [inaudible] dialog [inaudible] intellect was different. It basically [inaudible] challenge in various ways the system itself. Now, I would have to believe that there are certain other things that are happening which I think beyond–off our radar screen. And as we look at, and many have discussed it [inaudible], that first of all what is considered the golden years of US capitalism [inaudible] 1945 for the next 30 years, and [inaudible] basically [inaudible] was able to accept a great deal [inaudible] discourse and a great deal that had happened at that particular point in time. But you move out of the war, too, and strong voices of peace, strong voices of–anti-fascist voices, etc., etc., all these [inaudible] labor movement, [inaudible] within labor and all this. And I believe after–probably our last moment was Jesse’s campaign, you know, Jesse’s first campaign, his first campaign, when progressives came together after the collapse of [inaudible] civil rights movement, the end of that, the repressiveness, the radical movements, Black Panther Party, etc., and all the other kind of radical movements. And that last moment [of] Jesse’s first campaign brought progressives together in a different kind of way, brought people together in a different kind of way. We’re talking about–we’re now talking about 26 years ago, you know, damn near 30 years ago that we were talking about that. So in a sense we’ve watched at the same time what is happening economically as people see the financialization of the economy, the outsourced [jobs], the opening up the movement of capital and restrictions of all those–restrictions of labor, all those things [inaudible] began to take place. And I think–and also King warned us, as he talked about–. There were three things in his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? He talked about war, he talked about militarism, materialism, and racism, and particularly about materialism [inaudible] the new economy [inaudible] financialization, new economy, with the growing technology, particular point where essentially our system [inaudible] was conducted as a consumer. And therefore [inaudible] things in which we were able to kind of just dispense with that particular [inaudible] lack of movement is because [inaudible] even [inaudible] the one thing that we attempted to do was abandon the ideas of consumption, [abandon] the ideas of the American dream, etc.
JAY: Adolph, we all know the statistics. Nobody is being affected by the economic crisis more drastically than the African-American community, particularly young African-Americans living in big cities. Unemployment might be 30, 40, in some places even 50 percent. I mean, is there going to be a movement without–I mean, to what extent is this issue, in terms of helping people understand what’s happening to them and what can they do about it, I mean, is there going to be any movement about answering those two questions for young African Americans?
REED: Well, you know, if you can pardon my narcissistic moment for a shameless plug, right, that the book that I’m trying desperately to finish now is called The Lessons of Obamamania. And the subtitle is: There’s No Substitute for an Anticapitalist Left. And I think that what’s happened over the last three decades. Well, look, I mean, now, [inaudible] Danny and I both are products of the social movements of the ’60s, and, you know, we won a lot, but I think one of the things we haven’t paid as much attention to is the terms on which we won a lot of what we won, right? I mean, there’s a gradual kind of separating of an agenda of economic redistribution and a class critique of capitalism from a rhetoric of multiculturalism and diversity. I just saw that Credit Suisse just got a diversity award from somebody, right? And, I mean, the fact of the matter is, right, like, from this perspective you can have a society in which 1 percent of the population owns 90 percent of the stuff, and as long as 12 percent of that 1 percent is black, half of us women, 12, 13 percent are Latinos, and whatever the appropriate percentages are LGBT or whatever, then by that standard it’s an equal and a just society. Well, that’s what’s happened is that we’ve slowly and insidiously, for reasons that are really complex and that, you know, no individuals are culpable for, more than others, anyway–well, I take that back; some of them are–but we’ve evolved from that high period, right, of the late 1960s, when the social state of [inaudible] first won from struggles from the law in the New Deal, was extended [inaudible] large other segments of the population, we’ve evolved from that to a notion of justice and equality that’s completely consistent with neoliberalism.
JAY: Adolph, we’re going to take a call from a caller now. Jickie in Washington. Jickie, are you with us? Hello, Jickie.
JICKIE: Hello, Danny, and hello, Adolph. I just wanted to ask a question on behalf of all the black community who were so exhilarated in Washington when Obama was inaugurated into office. And obviously, you know, some have said that support and exhilaration has waned off. And I was wondering as to the black intellectuals in this country, yourselves and also Cornell West, you know, who from the very beginning has had some reservation–celebration, but with that celebration also came some reservation, you know, how you now feel about this administration and how it is actually servicing the needs of the black communities in this country, including places like Baltimore, New Orleans, and where there are other concentrations of black communities that are really suffering in this economic climate.
JAY: Adolph, you want to go first? And then Danny.
REED: Sure. I’ll say two things. One is I’m often reminded of a story my father told me. My father was at Normandy and was at the Battle of the Bulge. And he never wanted to be there, but he was also part of FDR’s [inaudible] program [inaudible] got stuck in Belgium when the war was over, and he said that he was in the theater in Belgium watching the newsreel that they used to have in movies (maybe some of the old people can remember that; I can, for sure) on the day after or shortly after FDR died, and they were doing the man-in-the-street thing that they used to do. And he said that they interviewed a black woman who was obviously going downtown to work in some white woman’s kitchen, and the first thing she heard of FDR having died was when the reporter told her and asked her what she thought of it. And my father said that she fell on her knees and cried and said, oh, Lord, what are we going to do? What are we going to do? And he said he sat there in the theater and thought, well, yeah, I know what you’re going to do. I mean, you’re going to get up off your knees and go down and clean that white woman’s kitchen like you did yesterday and like you’re going to do tomorrow. [inaudible] my point is that these moments of extraordinary identification, right, do two things, right? I mean, one is, yes, I mean, it’s very difficult. You know, I live in Philadelphia and I drive through West Philadelphia to get to work, and it’s very difficult not to get caught up–and, in fact, it is impossible not to get caught up in the enthusiasm and excitement that poor black–poor and working black Americans and other black Americans, and a whole lot of other people, too, had on election day in ’08. The other side of that coin, though, is that, you know, a lot of history happens or a lot of insight or what looks like insight comes just from being in the right place at the right time. And I just happen to live in South Shore in the 39th State Senate District in Chicago, and was active in politics of that district and the race when Obama first appeared in 1995. So I’ve gotten to watch the development of this brand from the very beginning. It–there was never any reason, for anybody who paid attention, to assume that Barack Obama was ever going to be anything other than what he is. He was always a neoliberal confection, he was always in the hip pockets of the financial sector, and he always had this nice game of–his one trick, actually, was being able to present himself quite movingly and persuasively as the [inaudible] of everybody’s interest, with this promise of transcending all of the contradictions and bringing everybody together. Well, that’s a game that works only when you’re campaigning for the next office up. He’d got himself to the next office up. From the moment that he first nailed down the nomination, I’m sure the caller may recall as well, he made this breathtaking turn right, right, in the week and a half after he had locked up the nomination, which was a harbinger of things to come. He got more Wall Street money in campaign donations than anybody else in the race, and you know they weren’t really doing that because they were–because they just loved the idea of there being, you know, a black president. And his first appointments after he won were to give the economy to the people who had produced the Wall Street bubble in the first place. So now we’re all in the position of–I mean, I said this in my first comment, right? I mean, like, those of us who encouraged, right, this enthusiasm for a variety of reasons are now in the position of having to explain to people–and this is especially difficult for those who have actual constituents, right, whom they encourage [inaudible] mobilize on Obama’s behalf, to go back to them and say either I was wrong, in which case you’re inept, or I lied, in which case, if they can vote you out of office, they’ll vote you out of office. But, you know, I mean, there’s a kind of penny-wise and pound-foolish aspect to this. And look, I understand how people get caught up in stuff, but–you know. So, as the short answer goes, you know, I don’t think there’s anything to say to people now except, you know, I mean, this is another neoliberal Democratic administration.
JAY: So, Danny, the question that had been posed by the caller was sort of assessing whether or not the administration had done anything for especially the African-American poor in the big cities. And when Obama was elected, he made kind of a point that I’m everybody’s president, and I’m not going to, you know, be a president for blacks. And when we–I interviewed a lot of black voters and others at the time, and, you know, they said, well, he’s got to say this ’cause he’s got to get elected, but once he gets elected he’s going to be there for us. I mean, you do a lot of traveling, Danny. You’re in a lot of cities. I know you’re on picket lines and you’re in schools with the Algebra Project and you talk to a lot of people. What are you hearing now from ordinary people–not just in the black community, ’cause, I mean, you’re involved with working people in all kinds of communities.
GLOVER: Well, I mean, every sector, whether it’s those–many of those unions were supporting Obama sent workers out to campaign on his behalf, spent large sums of money on his behalf. But all those, they all express a great deal of disappointment. But the disappointment is housed in such a way in which they still can see, to some degree, that it’s possible–or conceive to some degree it’s possible to retain or extract something from the system itself. You know. And while at the same time, where jobs are being exported or whether workers remain stagnant or whatever, there seems to be this appetite mainly to believe that something good can come out of this [inaudible]
JAY: But don’t the unions have to start–. Danny, don’t the unions–.
GLOVER: –and as long as we [inaudible] to accept that, and particularly African-Americans, who in some senses, I think, abandoned their historic moral positioning, African-Americans, we’re going to accept that. And certainly I think to that degree that that’s what–I don’t hear that. I don’t hear that in people’s voices. I don’t hear that [inaudible] never happen and had no possibility of happening. And we have to do something.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Danny.
JAY: And Adolph I think we lost. So we’ll have to thank Adolph–.
REED: No, no. I’m here. I’m back.
JAY: Oh, you’re there. We lost your picture. Thanks very much for joining, Adolf. Thanks very much for joining us, Danny. And we’ll continue this conversation in a few weeks.
GLOVER: Bye now.
JAY: Thank you very much. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you want to donate, you know where the donate button is. If you want to make a phone call, you call 888-449-6772. Join us in just a few minutes. As we announced earlier, but now we are going to do it, Jesse Freeston’s going to join us and talk about his work in Honduras. Please join us in a few seconds, back on Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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