Monday, April 21, 2008

George Schmidt on Obama


You can second Paul [Moore's - at the end of George's piece] words from me.
Below is what I just sent to him. Watching the ugliness in Pennsylvania (and I lived in Latrobe for a time) plus the endorsement of Hillary by Scaife has me ready to get violent. Anyway...

I wrote the following to Paul Moore when he offered his comments on Barack Obama to us as a letter for May Substance:


I'm hoping that Barack Obama gets elected, so that I can finally run my photograph of Obama, Sharon Schmidt, and Sam Schmidt. Sharon's refused to allow me to publish that photograph until Barack is elected President of the USA. (You know, during the years I was working at CTU and Barack Obama would come by -- which was often -- we all called him "Barack" so it's going to be funny adjusting). Anyway, we have that photograph for Substance, if I can finally help elect Chicago's Native Daughter (Michelle Obama, see below) First Lady.

Remember, it was the Chicago Teachers Union -- while Debbie Lynch was CTU President and I was working there -- that put Obama in for the nomination for the U.S. Senate seat. The US Senate seat put him into the convention, and the rest is history. One of the most dramatic confrontations over the Obama prospects came, ironically, at a Christmas party for union members the year before Barack won the Senate seat from Illinois. Debbie Lynch and the officers of the Chicago Teachers Union went out on a limb endorsing him (against the majority of the Chicago Federation of Labor) for the Democratic Party nomination. I remember at a party, having a friend, a regular Democrat, half drunk and screaming at me that we were throwing away a chance to win the Senate seat (it had been held by a millionaire Republican) by even considering Barack Obama. The smart (organizational) money was on a guy named Dan Hynes, who had paid his dues through the Regular Democratic Organization and had the majority support of both the Committeemen from Chicago and the unions.

"Nobody outside of Chicago will vote for a black guy with a last name that sounds like Osama..." I was told, over sloshing beers.

All you had to do was listen to one of Barack Obama's early speeches and you knew how wrong that was. And it became more and more clear that the closer you got to the man, the more impressed you were. He went downstate to campaign and could woo all white audiences in southern Illinois (which until only about 30 years ago was Klan country) with his combination of charm, intelligence, and wit. Long before he went to Springfield to announce his candidacy for the Presidency echoing Abraham Lincoln, people were comparing his gifts -- and grit -- to the most famous President ever to emerge from Illinois.

I remember the numerous times he'd come by the union offices (before he was an intergalactic star) and thank us or just talk. He was also at just about every union event. After he was elected to the Senate, he came by the CTU to thank everyone on the staff. Sharon and the boys were at his speech agains the Iraq War, too. The last big set of photographs I have of him are from a "Labor for Stroger" rally the night before election day 2006. Obama was a Democrat, and making sure his party won.

Of course, that cuts both ways. He's also a Democrat with relatively conservative views on a number of issues, from health care "reform" to public education. Don't get all of your hopes up, however. In many ways, his policies are going to be a continuation of neoliberalism. He's University of Chicago, maybe not as hard core as some, but pretty mainstream there. Economically, his policies are not nearly as good for the working class (or public schools) as John Edwards's were.

But he certainly will bring to the White House roots in the working class that are uncommon in Washington, let alone in the Presidency. Bill Clinton was a long long way from Hope by the time he entered the White House (and Hillary was never a girl from the coal fields outside Scranton, despite that strange spin we've had to giggle about lately). Putting the Obamas in the White House will be as close as we're likely to see in our lifetime of putting some working class people into the White House. And that, in my opinion, is a pretty important thing, White Blindspots and all.

Another significant Obama thing is just beginning to come into full perspective. Michelle Obama graduated from Chicago's public schools, high school from Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago. That's where my son Danny graduated last June. Small worlds. Both Obamas became Ivy League, but it was far from the "birthright" (like the Bush family) of either of them.

By the way, and you can share this. Michelle Obama (and to a lesser but real extent, her husband) is truly working class.

There is something about the White Blindspot in the USA that doesn't allow successful working class African Americans to be "working class" -- while someone as phony as Hillary Clinton (and on this, she is completely phony) can be allowed to jump back over two generations to give herself "working class cred." In the Chicago area,everyone knows that her suburb (Park Ridge, which is a few miles from here) and her background are very privileged. Reaching back to Scranton, her campaign has really stretched things, and, I sincerely believe now that I've followed it, in a more and more ugly and racist way.

Hillary, when she was the Republican high school kid from "Chicago" was really from one of Chicago's wealthier suburbs. All of the suburban kids like to tell everyone they're from "Chicago" when they are far from here. But most wouldn't walk down the street Michelle Obama's was raised on (it was all-black, in the heart of the South Side segregated Black Ghetto of Chicago) except maybe on a tour I used to joke we should call "Inward Bound" (check out the ghetto, boys and girls; the middle class people here -- black working class people actually -- mow their lawns just like your daddies do...).

Hillary had little or nothing to do with the working class, or with Chicago's South Side, when she was beginning her adulthood from here. The worlds were completely different. Hillary always had backups and options (which every child should have). Michelle Obama would have been lucky to have a half a second chance, and she was no Conolessa Rice. Whatever other luck the Obamas have had, they actually know those streets on the South Side, and don't need escorts to walk into a "working class" bar.

My feelings on this at this point have a thousand threads for me and my family here, and for all of us in Chicago's working class movement.

The way in which the Clinton campaign has handled Pennsylvania ended any second thoughts I might have had. The only word I can think of for the past four weeks (even before the "bitter" nonsense) has been "racist." So racist, as a matter of fact, that as it emerged I was first in disbelief that a group as smart as the Clintons' innner circle could allow their White Blindspots to spin co completely out of control, revealing so much...

I'm amazed that Hillary Clinton can get away with so much insulting "working class" nonsense. These rangs from her "Scranton" roots to trying to throw back shooters at a bar in Indiana. The Clinton wannabe stuff should be simply drawing laughs. Only in the USA would that Scranton nonsense go anywhere.

... while Barack Obama has to spend a week cleaning up after one (very minor) gaff in San Francisco. But that's the kind of double standard we've come to know and love about white America.

No matter what happens tomorrow in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama can win the nomination and then really turn it on to beat McCain handily. All of the ammunition that the Clintons have supposedly provided to John McCain will backfire.

Even with the right wing scream machine aimed at everything about Barack, he can handle the job.

And since "race" will be central to the growing pains of American politics as we move to put another guy from Illinois into the White House, let's take a look at the McCain "roots".

The officer corps of the United States Navy since the dawning days of U.S. Empire after Mahan's "Role of Sea Power..." and the reach across the Pacific.

Can anybody spin the McCain roots in a diverse world that needs less of all that atavistic nonsense.

I really want to see how a guy who grew up in one of the last vestiges of complete white supremacist almost aristocratic privilege (the officer corps of the United States Navy, which had decades of racial servants available to the various generations of McCains) is going to spin that one. Generations of McCains had black and brown people as servants, courtesy of one of the few places where white guys could have the power of God (the captains of warships at sea during war time are about that powerful). The first women to achieve serious rank in the Navy have only been able to do so during the lifetime of our generation. Tailbook (McCain's part of the Navy: Naval Air) is still a recent memory. Long after black men and women were integrating the ranks in the Army and Marines, the Navy was, shall we say, upholding different "standards..."

My real curiosity is how the conservative media can spin this one. Only the White Blindspots could possibly even try.

I know. I know.

They've done it before.

But John McCain -- and his Daddy, and his Granddaddy -- were waited on by the (colored) orderlies and valets provided to them, both on ships and at the bases, by the privileges of the officer corps of the most racist of all the branches of the U.S. military -- the officer corps of the U.S. Navy. And I can't believe that the McCains were anything out of the mainstream of that very very powerful and enormously white and privileged male clubs during all those generations. But we'll see what spin can bring out.

By the way: the first black man to command a U.S. nuclear submarine was also from Chicago, a graduate of Lane Technical High School. Chicago has long been America's most segregated city, with, as I've noted dozens of times to you and in Substance, more than 300 all-black public schools (including the ones attended by the future First Lady of the USA until she went to high school).

Racism has had a funny history here.

Intense, and with intense resistance....

Producing some amazing people, from Harold Washington to Barack and Michelle Obama.

More later...

Gosh this is going to be interesting.

Let's stay in touch after Pennsylvania gives more grist to all these mills tomorrow.

George Schmidt
Editor, Substance

Paul Moore's article:
This week Miami-Dade public school employees were able to exult in a temporary stay of execution for our health care benefits. The credit for that goes to the 13,600 plus who voted down any such concession and declared their readiness to fight. That was the political message that the elected members of the School Board heard loud and clear. Because frankly, and I hope I don't hurt anyone with delusions of grandeur, people in power are not afraid of any one of us. They've handled the greatest of the great among us and flatly stated they will allow the rise of no "messiahs" from our ranks.

But they are afraid of all of us together!

So the question becomes how to build greater unity, how to protect the gains we have made and build on them. In that vane, the single most important thing we can do with the rest of this year for the public schools and for ourselves is work to elect Barack Obama president of the United States. And this has nothing to do with his or anyone's party affiliation but rather with striking a blow at the most divisive force in our society--racism.

Allow me the briefest of history lessons. Racism exists and will continue to exist as long as its economic underpinnings remain in place. The reason that chattel slavery came into existence in the semi-feudal agrarian US economy of the time was that it was very profitable for the masters of that economy. Everybody knows that slavery existed because it was so profitable for a small group of merchants and plantation owners, right? Well the reason that racism remains so pervasive in the United States today with its developed industrial economy is that it is very profitable for the masters of that economy. It helps Wal-Mart keep unions out of all of its stores for instance. It allows the FCAT to punish students Edison, Northwestern, Central and Carol City while the students at Ransom-Everglades and Gulliver Prep are nurtured in their test free zones.

Now it took the bloodiest war in US history and hundreds of thousands of white workers willing to fight to the death to end chattel slavery. So have no illusions about Barack Obama, no election and no candidate for office will end racism in this country.

Barack Obama is not under racist attack right now for fear of his empty rhetoric about change. The ruling class chuckles over such nonsense. But something that does scare them must happen before Obama can be elected. In all future primaries and in the general election, if he gets that far, Obama will win 90-plus% of the Black vote. Those voters will turn out in record numbers. But he will win the nomination and then the presidency only with a substantial number of white working class votes. Obama's candidacy holds out the possibility that working-class whites might make their first halting steps toward an effective political relationship with their brothers and sisters of color. The masters of our economy know their history. They know that was the dynamic that brought down their ancestor's slave economy. They know that would be the beginning of the end of their gravy train.

Oh, the unity it would take to elect Barack Obama! Such unity would bring this country’s anti-public school and anti-democratic forces to their knees. Our struggles for a decent wage, health care, and adequate funding of public education is all wrapped up in this campaign. For our own sakes, let's help make Barack Obama President of a truly "United" States of America.

Paul A. Moore
Miami Carol City High School

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