All entries for November 2008

November 04, 2008

Barack Obama: A Force for Change

Published in Dissident Warwick Issue 3/11/08
by Barnaby Pace

I hope the change that is on offer in US politics today is real. I am not referring to the facetious image politics of the new hopeful having a different racial background, gender or being somebody you would have a drink with but a lasting sea change from the self-serving, squalid and sometimes cruel political climate that has existed in the US for the last 8 years. Yes we are talking about Obama. He is not, and cannot be all things to all men, he isn’t Santa, the Easter bunny or the second coming of Jesus (despite the McCain campaign’s nickname for him, “the one”) but he does offer real hope to both the American people and to everyone else around the world.

In the last 8 years we have witnessed corruption, authoritarian domestic security policies, torture programmes, pugilistic foreign policy, increasing poverty inside the US, the export of an extreme ideological economic policy, denials and obstructionism of action on climate change and a failing US economy, to name but a few issues. We are extremely fortunate that Bush has become a lame duck president with little support in the House of Representatives or Senate. It seems that opinion of US politics is at rock bottom.

It is worth remembering at this point that there will be flaws in the policies put forward by any politician. For my part I dislike the unbalanced pro-Israel stance that Obama has adopted during the campaign, the pugnacious attitude to cross-border strikes in Pakistan, his support of the FISA bill which granted immunity to telecoms companies for illegal wiretapping ordered by the Bush administration, the unwillingness of nearly every US politician to consider prosecuting the current administration for war crimes. On the economy Obama, considered by many an extreme lefty in US politics could be considered either moderate or right of centre by the standards of UK politics. US politics always has been very free market oriented and that is unlikely to change. Obama and the US democrats are not perfect, but we cannot expect any politician to be.

Obama does however have a huge amount to offer. Unlike every US presidential candidate before him his finances are not coming from special interest groups and lobbyists but from small donations from supporters now numbering in the millions. This unwillingness to kowtow to businesses we can hope will be a foundation of many aspects of an Obama presidency. Obama’s plans to reform bankruptcy law to protect pensions over executive pockets, to allow the medicare programme to find cheaper generic prescription drugs from anywhere in the world and to increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour are indicative this.

America has become trapped into the Bush-Cheney sabre rattling form of “diplomacy” where anyone who’s not your friend is your enemy, and anyone out of favour cannot even be spoken to. This does not look tough, it looks arrogant. Real diplomacy is based on talking to anyone, friend or foe. The Obama-Biden commitment to talk to any leader and to attempt to re-establish the US as a nation to lead on diplomacy, instead of one to block and bully is one that represents a real hope for action. On issues ranging from global poverty and global arms control to climate change, a new diplomatic approach is much more likely to suceed. The proof of interest in these issues can be found merely by looking at Obama’s voting record and the bills he has sponsored whether on Darfur in the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in 2006 or by opposing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment which said that the US presence in Iraq should be used to counter any Iranian threat, which would have been a highly aggressive and provocative step.

This is arguably the most scrutinised election in memory with US escapist drama viewers switching to the reality TV of election fever. Barely a day goes by where you cannot find a sizeable article in every UK broadsheet analysing the twists and turns of this election. This isn’t merely due to the spectacle of the rallies or the constant TV adverts but because what this election embodies the hopes of Americans and the world. We see in Obama not only somebody to steer American away from the horrors of the Bush years but to quote former president Clinton, we want to be awed by the power of America’s example, not the example of its power. We can hope that this renewed interest and scrutiny of American politics continues and that a potential Obama presidency is one that is made to live up to the ideals of the lofty rhetoric expressed by the Obama campaign.

We cannot expect Obama to solve every problem, we certainly cannot expect him to do everything we could wish of him, but he has the opportunity to help the millions of American’s people around the globe whose lives have only been made harder directly or indirectly by the Bush regime. Obama can restore our hope that America can be a beacon of hope for the world not the source of pain.

Letter to the Warwick Boar

Published in the Warwick Boar 4/11/08

Dear Editor,

“Our role is to facilitate not dictate debates, the reason being that many of our students have differing opinions. I will make no apologies for my Warwick focus…Gone are the days when we should be prioritising ideological campaigns trying to achieve world peace or trying to bring down capitalism. This year what we want is a focus on ourselves…”

I’m sure we speak for a large number of students here at Warwick in expressing our annoyance at comments made by our Students’ Union President in last weeks edition of the Boar.

Tommo’s article painted a truly dismal picture of the potential for student campaigns both on campus here at Warwick and on an international scale. To admit defeat is to be entirely ignorant of the multitude of successful student campaigns that have been led in the past and are still very much active today in pushing for social change worldwide. Take for example the student boycott of Barclays in 1986 for financially supporting the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Barclays was forced to pull out of the country after the boycott which helped lead to the destabilisation of the Apartheid regime and their eventual downfall. Other examples include the Vietnam War, Tiananmen Square and high-profile student protests in France in 2002, 2005 and last year. The issues that students are campaigning on today are no less important than they were in ’68 but we must tackle the climate of student apathy in order to make today’s campaigns as successful and wide-reaching as they were then.

Although it is undoubtedly true that a large proportion of the student population will spend their years at Warwick caring about little more than the price of a pint, is this really something that their union should be encouraging? We are encouraged to ‘get involved’ with union decision-making and we are often reminded that the Union is ‘more than just a nightclub’, yet how do Tommo’s comments promote this in any way, beyond limited internal policies on Freshers and Accommodation.
It is also true that there is a range of diverse opinions on campus, and lively debate involving all sides is hugely important, but do we want to be dictated to by the apathetic? The president of the Student’s Union has a responsibility to draw students’ attention to issues of national and international importance; they are not only there to facilitate debate but to lead it, especially where the Union democratic bodies have decided to take a stance on issues.

Students are concerned about issues outside the Warwick bubble and the Student’s Union is a body which can facilitate and act on behalf of these concerns. With 26 registered campaigning societies in the Union, support at all levels is vital, otherwise we may find that policies banning unethical companies such as ExxonMobil, Nestle and Arms Companies are gradually rolled-back to leave our Students’ Union with the bare bones of a stance on anything at all. The body of Union policy on campaigns is testament to the history of active Warwick campaigners who recognise that the Union can make a difference on issues outside the bubble.

A final point that is crucial to make here is that not all student-led campaigns will achieve their aims within a year. This may be hard for someone who is elected into a year-long term at the Union to accept but it is important to look at the big picture, the long-term. Big campaigns will take a long time but their effects will be worth the effort in the long run.

Hannah Smith and Barnaby Pace

November 2008

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