Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama and the Propaganda of Hope

by: Ima Gardener

Today I marched with a very large crowd in a major U.S. city to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. The march and the demonstrations preceding it were supposed to emulate or at least be inspired by the heroic nonviolent actions of certain people half a century ago... inspired people living radical lifestyles free of hypocrisy and willing to die for their beliefs. People who fought for more than social justice through a system that intrinsically exploits, but hoped instead to dramatically reform or even start a new system based entirely on egalitarianism outside of economic or corporate interests. People who put human interests above profit interests and refused to compromise.

I did not see this today. Today I saw lines of obese Americans (there are now more obese Americans than overweight Americans, constituting about 1/3 of the entire population) break ranks from the march to file en masse into the McDonald's along the way. I saw H&R Block representatives handing out balloons to little African American children, putting stickers on their sleeves with large, blaring advertisements and prices--each child seemed to be priced at $29. I saw McDonald's banners and other large advertisements hanging from the stage prior to the march, and I heard the speaker encouraging the crowd to shop at a long list of some of the greatest human rights and globalization violators on the planet... the corporate sponsors for the event. I saw children and adults gorging on force-fed, genetically modified chick'n nuggets from McDonald's whilst donning spikey "liberty caps" advertising Liberty Insurance, all with their AT&T tote bags in tow. The police lined the streets, serenely grinning at the waddling crowd supposedly voicing their concern for social equality and radical hope; when all I heard was the soft babbling of consumer complacency and ignorance.

And all of it was in the name of Barack Obama. Everything was Obama-this, Obama-that. The mantra of "Yes we can!" chanted through the streets, yet nobody seemed to be stopping to ask "what is it we want?" A black man is the President of the United States, and that, in itself, is an undeniably positive thing; but we have to continue to be critical if we are concerned about the welfare of other human beings and we have to ask ourselves just what "change" this President is going to bring. These corporations, many of the same ones handing out balloons to toddlers today, are the very entities responsible for the general apparent poverty of the crowd. They are the ones forcing a less-than living wage upon a debtors consumer society where the basic means of survival are priced perfectly to ensnare the hardest of lower, service class workers into living a hand to mouth lifestyle at best and experience probable lifelong debt at worst. Their jobs have gone overseas, their consumption fuels the miseries of peoples all around the world (just look up Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald's, etc. KNOW what you consume!) and the majority of all human beings on earth remain beneath an impenetrable glass ceiling. We see slick celebrities like Barack Obama and even the poorest, most exploited person in the crowd somehow finds it in himself to identify with a man who has, in fact, absolutely nothing in common with him. Obama resembles the sheen of a McDonald's commercial we've seen over and over and over again, so we accept it without struggle.

Our economy is in shambles, we have all suffered to some degree or another; do we really want to build the same system that brought us here all over again? We are all dying from either starvation or boredom or both--our heads too shell-shocked by the incessant advertising campaigns to dream, dead hopes roused a little by the ambiguous promise of a "change" yet to be defined remain incompatible with our actual reality. So we will, perhaps, set the clock back a little, buy ourselves a little more time, pick up the economy now only to watch it crumble again later, chew on the saccharine candy of "promise" only for the sake of the word, the slogan, the t-shirt, the commemorative plate... what will change? Will the corporations be controlled, restricted, or run by those who built them? Will our myriad jobs stop going overseas, or will we all owe our livelihoods to the government and put on hard-hats to build NAFTA super-highways in the name of infrastructure programs? Will we ALL be construction workers or office clerks for the tightest and most constraining government of all time? Will any socially responsible changes actually take place, curbing and reversing the tide of our culture and our lifestyles, or will we only witness band aids and slogans enabling us to more cheerfully march into our own oblivion?

Today they were all cheerfully marching, consuming, and buying into their own oblivion. The police were not threatened by us because the system which exploits us is not being threatened. The secret arrests will continue in the middle of the night, the poverty level will continue to be forced in the name of profit while many suffer and our food will continue to be poisoned by the very ones we pay to grow for us. Change will only prove to be a fresh coat of paint. We'll continue to wage our imperialist wars because our interests will remain the same. In a capitalist society the core interests of Barack Obama are inseparable from those of George Bush or any other President, Dictator or Tyrant. Those interests are the "bottom line," the bottom line for Barack's supposed "clean coal" (though there is no such thing, and coal corporations are poisoning, killing, threatening, and exploiting people and ecosystems all over the U.S. and the world), the bottom line of those who wish to gain from the expanded Free Trade Area of the Americas responsible for so much fear, death and destruction. The bottom line is profit, always, so long as we are capitalist, so long as Free Trade supporters like Barack Obama continue to guile us into false pride. Very little is changing as a Democrat and a Republican are the same wolves hidden beneath different costumes which are themselves becoming harder and harder to differentiate. "Change" will simply prove to be a fresh coat of paint over the same rotting, termite-ridden walls.

Only when we are truly honest to ourselves can we hope to work towards true freedom and egalitarianism in the actual spirit of those revolutionaries who we unfortunately dishonor on national, commercially-sponsored holidays like these. The most the election of Barack Obama has concretely and directly changed is how now almost every segment of society seems imbued with hard-lined nationalism. Those who have always been disenfranchised by white men will continue to be disenfranchised by white men, but are now more on message because of an icon which cannot hope to live up to their actual needs. Neoliberalism has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by the American people under the illusion of change and supposed leftist politics, damaging the credibility and reality of other modes of thought.

Barack Obama's inauguration will cost 4-times more than the most expensive party ever thrown in the United States. A child dies from starvation every 8 minutes.

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