Struggle in the Obama-era: what next?

People all over the world have waited for the end of the hated far-right-wing administration of US President George Bush and his Vice-President Dick Cheney.

However, what will an Obama presidency bring with it? US Socialist Worker held a round table with a range of activists and left-wing authors on this topic. Below are some heavily abridged excerpts of some contributions. All contributions, in full, can be found at

Ken Riley, president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422, Charleston, South Carolina

Election day has been phenomenal in South Carolina. Among young African Americans, the idea of not voting is unpopular and uncool.

I was in line to vote early and saw a lot of young people I knew. I gave one young man who just turned 18 a ride to vote, and he couldn't have been more proud. That's the kind of energy and excitement we have in the African American community in Charleston.

These are very difficult times. Some of the factors affecting our economy we have never faced before. For us in organised labour, one of the most important things about an Obama administration is whether we get the Employee Free Choice Act [proposed legislation that would make it easier to join unions].

The election shows that trickle-down economics just doesn't cut it. I think the Obama victory is going to help people become organised in general and more involved.

Therefore, you won't see people cast a vote and back off. There will be significant organising.

Donna Smith, health-care activist featured in Michael Moore's Sicko and national coordinator of American Patients United.

I think our work has only just begun.

I think there is so much that is fundamentally wrong with the way we've been running our government for the last several years. And I'm not talking about just the last eight years. We had some years running up to those eight years that were not necessarily the most hopeful for people who were working- and middle-class.

It's been a difficult 30 years.

All of us are going to be required to work together in ways we maybe have not in the past.

So I think the gift that has been given to us by the Obama campaign, beyond ending the reign of Bush and Cheney, is that we know that if we organise together, we can change things.

I think the fight is going to be as tough, if not tougher, going into the next few months for a single-payer health care system.

I think we're going to see lots of moves at reform that aren't necessarily going to fix the health system. It may expand coverage options for some, but may not fix what is broken in the system, which is the middleman in health care — the for-profit health care industry and what they're doing to our ability to access health care.

I think those of us who support single-payer health care are going to have to be very directed and organised to accomplish our goal.

Electing one individual cannot possibly fix all that we need fixed. To think the election of Obama or a more progressive Congress is going to immediately launch us into a new dawn is just not realistic.

It's going to take continued, hard and focused work to clean up the mess that's been in place since the Reagan revolution. The full impact on working people of the Reagan revolution has taken a while to play out. And I feel like it will take us a little time to clean it up.

Camilo Mejia, the first active-duty soldier to publicly refuse redeployment to Iraq and chair of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Regardless of who gets elected, the work of building a better world remains in the hands of the people and rests on our ability to assert ourselves as the true architects of our future.

Obama is regarded as the anti-war candidate for having voted against the invasion of Iraq and for promising a progressive withdrawal of troops from that country.

But to seriously address the situation in Iraq and the eventual withdrawal from it would require Obama to address the 180,000 private contractors in Iraq, the permanent military bases, and the diplomatic and corporate complex from which the US government intends to run the country.

And of course, the "success" of the surge fails to recognise that more than half of the population of Iraq is either displaced, in need of emergency aid or dead.

The Iraq war has become too unpopular to continue justifying the US imperial agenda. We cannot allow any president to shift focus to Afghanistan in order to continue US warmongering.

Obama has promised to continue pouring troops into that country and to see the war spill into Pakistan if he deems it necessary.

The anti-war movement has to realise the need to continue the struggle for peace and justice — a struggle that starts at home where, in opposing wars of aggression, we battle poverty, racism and exploitation of the working class by the ruling elite.

Only by building a true grassroots movement to combat a corporate-controlled government will we be able to create a world where peace, justice and social equality can prevail. This is the work of the people, not of the politicians, regardless of who is president.

Sharon Smith, author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States

Only 50 years ago, African Americans were denied the right to even cast a vote in presidential elections, much less run for office. These rights were won only after the massive struggles of the civil rights movement finally broke the Democratic Party from its segregationist legacy.

Obama's victory marks a blow against racism of similarly historic proportion. Despite the Republican's best efforts to whip up racial animosity toward Obama, they failed.

Contrary to pundits' claims, many white workers enthusiastically voted for Obama, whose victory would have been impossible without them.

Obama's election does not mean that racism has disappeared overnight. On the contrary, McCain/Palin rallies drew racists by the thousands, who were then emboldened by the vitriol emanating from the stage.

Police brutality, racial disparities in jobs and education, and housing segregation will all continue as before, no matter who is in the White House, until there is a renewed struggle explicitly against racism.

But Obama's victory also represents a surge in class consciousness and a decisive rejection of neoliberal policies that have lowered working-class living standards. Opinion polls have shown popular sentiment shifting leftward on nearly every social issue, from the Iraq war to same-sex marriage in recent years.

We have not seen a rise in class struggle for more than three decades in the US. But the class anger on display in this election could well be a prelude to such a rise in coming years.

Obama has promised "change", but the scale of change that is needed requires mass struggle from below.

Mike Davis, historian and author of Planet of Slums

Forty years ago this week, the Democratic Party shipwrecked itself on the shoals of an unpopular war in Vietnam and a white backlash against racial equality.

Later, the Democratic response to the Reagan revolution from 1981 was not principled resistance but craven adaptation. The "New Democrats" under Bill Clinton not only institutionalised Nixon-Reagan economic policies, but sometimes surpassed Republicans in their zeal to enforce neoliberal doctrine, as with Clinton's crusades to "reform" welfare (in fact to create more poverty), reduce the deficit and implement the North American Free Trade Agreement without labour rights.

Crucial defections by Democratic voters to Bush in 2000 and 2004 had less to due with Republican manipulation of "family values" than with Al Gore's and John Kerry's embrace of a globalisation that had devastated mill towns and industrial valleys.

This week's election paradoxically augurs both fundamental realignment and fundamental continuity.

Tens of millions of voters have chosen economic solidarity over racial division. Indeed, this election has been a virtual plebiscite on the future of class-consciousness in the United States, and the vote is an extraordinary vindication of progressive hopes.

But about the Democratic candidates, we should not harbor any illusions. Although the economic crisis, as well as the particular dynamics of campaigning in industrial swing states, finally drove Obama to emphasise jobs, he has failed to acknowledge vast public anger about the criminal Wall Street bailout or even criticise Big Oil.

Waiting in the wings to define his first 100 days is a team of Wall Street statesmen, "humanitarian" imperialists, ice-blooded political operatives and recycled Republican "realists", which will thrill hearts from the Council on Foreign Relations to the International Monetary Fund.

Despite the fantasies of "hope" and "change" projected onto the handsome mask of the new president, his administration will be dominated by well-known, pre-programmed zombies of the centre-right — Clinton 2.0.

Only three things, in my opinion, are highly likely: First, there is no hope of the spontaneous generation of a new Roosevelt-style "New Deal" without the combustion of massive social struggles.

Second, after the brief "Woodstock" of an Obama inauguration, millions of hearts will be broken by the administration's inability to manage mass bankruptcy and unemployment, as well as end the wars in the Middle East.

Third, the Bushites may be dead, but the hate-spewing nativist Right is well-positioned for a dramatic revival as neoliberal solutions fail.

The great challenge for the small bands of the left is to anticipate this mass disillusionment, understanding that our task is not "how to move Obama leftward", but to salvage and reorganise shattered hopes.

The transitional program must be socialism itself.