With less than two days left before the elections for the 44th president of the United States, Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden are about to enter a new and historic era for the country. What does their election mean to Americans in general and Fil-Americans and Filipinos as well as the rest of the world in particular?
First, to reiterate what many have already written, this campaign period has been marked by a number of firsts and of new ways of doing things. The first person of color, of humble beginnings, but blessed with a recipe of success- a loving family, excellent education, able mentors, and a cultural sophistication honed by travel, training, and trials, is about to become president of the most powerful nation in the world. If not him, it could have been the first woman president.
On the other hand, the incumbent political party nominated a team that was not only ill-qualified, but wracked by controversy, blunder, and internal wrangling. All these, as the pundits say, reflect on the competence and temperament of the candidate.
Second, the Obama campaign made a radical break with traditional campaign strategies and tactics in three fundamental ways. The first is that true to his community organizing background, Obama understood the potential and power of social movements to win elections. He melded a competently directed and well-funded campaign with a decentralized and ground up election movement powered by diverse, creative, and energized people and organizations that were willing to take initiative, sacrifice, and bleed for the Obama cause.
This successful melding of a broad based election movement with competent campaign strategies was enabled by the wholehearted adoption of Web 2.0 as I wrote previously. Think 3.1 million volunteer supporters, 25,000 Obama bloggers, and a campaign kitty of $600M.
Lastly, Obama’s campaign message of hope and change anchored by specific proposals indicate his capability and competence to lead the country. McCain’s platform was clearly deficient and would most likely lead to further economic decline, continuing wars, and environmental degradation. Americans are not a stupid people.
Because Obama mobilized a movement in this election, he has in the process energized diverse sectors ranging from the youth, ethnic groups, women’s groups, environmentalists, scientists, activists, and the previously apolitical, among others. The challenge now is to sustain this political enthusiasm and energy and channel it, as activists would say, into initiatives on reform and restructuring.
The backdrop though of this historic election is an economic and financial meltdown wrought by a generation of neoliberal economic and social policies that weakened oversight and excessively deregulated; implemented monetary and tax policies that benefited vested interests; underinvested in public education, social services, and infrastructure; exploited the environment, and ventured into costly and illegitimate invasions. If the course is not changed, the very future of the USA may be irretrievably compromised.
The challenges facing Obama on day one are both multifaceted as they are difficult. Thus, there are huge expectations on Obama to initiate not only radical reform, but formulate new and innovative ways of doing things. Because reform and restructuring are on the agenda, this presents opportunities for Fil-Ams to participate. One, because the Obama-for-President movement was broad based in terms of sectors supporting him, and with Obama himself being of mixed color, his election sets the emotional tone of the country.
That emotional tone is a positive one of hope and genuine change. As he has repeatedly stated, America is a land of opportunity. With a loving and supportive family, access to good education, and public services, anyone can reach their potential. It is about equalizing opportunities, regardless of skin color or class. Following Benjamin Pimentel’s article, acceptance in white America need not be based on bashing Blacks anymore.
The change part, as others have noted, is that America has shown time and again that it can correct its mistakes and even engage in cathartic change. America launched the Washington Consensus of neoliberal economic and social policies that proved disastrous for developing countries. It has now returned home and the damage is unimaginable. Obama will have an historic opportunity to right the excesses of market fundamentalism, international unilateralism, crony capitalism, and U.S. contribution to global warming. If successful, he will steer America into a new era replete with a peace dividend and new technological breakthroughs in alternative energy and environmental technologies and services. Those who deeply understand these changes are in a position to benefit from these currents of change.
An insightful analysis by someone who wishes to remain anonymous noted that Obama will lead the nation at a time of intense change. His policies and actions will fundamentally remake the institutions that shape the economy, social relations, politics, foreign policy, environmental management, science and technology, among others. It is Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift of, as he wrote, from the “Old guard” that is tired and unimaginative and its replacement by the “Emergent New” generation. I put emphasis, just as he does, on “emergent” because it is evolutionary as it is contingent. There is latent energy that desires release, development, and effervescence. Obama has correctly sensed this. A McCain presidency according to him would only limit the “Emergent New” generation.
I have told others that as I look at the Obama election movement through the lens of the Gawad Kalinga social movement, the parallels are uncannily similar. Both share a message of hope, change, and healing of relationships. Both subsume conflict in favor of looking for common ground to work out problems. Thus, both are inclusive. Both prioritize the health of families, of communities, of the environment. Both seek to remake society in fundamental ways. It is about revolution, but a revolution not of the fighting kind that McCain espouses. Gawad Kalinga’s revolution is about healing relationships between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, among a family members and neighbors. Obama’s revolution is built on opportunities for all. Both have tapped into the energy and resources of civil society. They have the support of the youth who are color blind, the feminists, the laborers, the environmentalists, the scientists, heck, even plumbers!
Lastly, both have leveraged Web 2.0 and the creativity of all. Both have been skillful and artful in tapping into the political opportunities that presented itself, strategically accessed and utilized resources, and framed their message and platform in ways that attracted supporters and kept them for the long haul. Future elections will be run on a framework of social movements. I hope it will be of the genuine kind.
The Obama and Gawad Kalinga movement reflect changes in society in general. Because of persistent widespread inequality and poverty, as well as the environmental challenges, movements of poverty alleviation, health, sustainability, and social inclusion are present worldwide. The need for creativity and innovation in addressing these challenges has attracted some of the best and brightest to these movements. It will come as no surprise why social entrepreneurs are supporters of Obama and of Gawad Kalinga.
The future is exciting and challenging for Americans. The world looks forward to the new stage the United States of America will be performing on.
What will the contribution of FilAms be?