Valery Lyman’s 16-minute film, One of These Mornings, captures the pain, the joy, the happiness, and the excitement embodied in the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.
Now, a year and a couple of months after that election, Ben Ehrenreich’s Slate piece on the dramatic failures (already!) of the international, but especially US, response to the Haiti earthquake disaster, Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti Rather Than Helping Haitians?, forces us to confront the fact that changing the world is not brought about by an election. If Ehrenreich and others are right, it appears that through a combination of knee-jerk militarism, systemic racism, and the pursuit of economic interest even in the midst of tragedy, Haiti’s most needy have not been getting much of the relief that the global community has generously sent out through personal donations via social networking media alongside traditional aid channels. That’s a scandal in itself, and it calls for serious reflection on why so little has changed in this country.
The other big moment of contradiction this past week was the U.S. Supreme Court decision about corporate “personhood” and unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns — which is the biggest single setback to democracy this country has seen in a long time. But, there being a silver lining to every dark cloud, this may also be the moment for Obama to step in and take the reins of his multiple-majority power lock and do something with them. (Why is it when Bush had to work with a Democratic majority in Congress he still managed to do so much damage, and when Obama has clear majorities in both houses, his hands are tied? We know, of course, that it’s largely because of the beholdenness of all American politicians, wimpy “moderate” Democrats no less than others, to the special interests who fund them — which the Supreme Court decision has just made that much worse.)
The decision is an easy target for Obama, and at least some of the more moderate Republicans (such as McCain, who’s initiated campaign finance reform in the past) as well as Democrats would be hard-pressed to support the decision. As he prepares for his State of the Union address this Wednesday, any American who supports him should take some time in the next couple of days to send a message to the the White House and to, at the very least, sign the MoveOn.org petition against the Supreme Court decision. For this “progressive” president to act on his promises, he needs to feel the country behind him. One step can lead to another, generating momentum for at least some of the change he had promised; but that first step has to be taken.
Real change is not brought about by a single election, nor by the expression (audacious or otherwise) of hope. It’s brought about by the hard work of enacting that hope into practice. Once the conditions are set for a moment of good feeling like that embodied in Valery Lyman’s film, we need to ensure these remain not just moments but movements, the moments of jubilation being the froth spraying off the tops of the waves, whose repeated breaking on the shores of our consciousness changes that collective consciousness. Hope needs to be set into motion along multiple vectors — cultural and institutional — and at multiple scales. But it requires political leadership, and leadership, in a system of politics as financially corrupted as this one, only comes with repeated kicks from behind. Friendly, soft, but persistent kicks.
Thanks to Ron Burnett for sharing the Vimeo link. Of the bloggers I’ve read commenting on the Supreme Court decision, Sara Robinson’s at Campaign for America’s Future, Chris Vitale’s at Orbis Mediologicus, and Brendan Demelle’s at Ecological Buddhism provide inspiring and interesting perspectives. And see Rebecca Solnit’s piece on the disaster of media coverage of Haiti.