Seeing Beyond Ourselves , Taking Advantage of Contradictions
When I woke up to the news of President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I was shocked and a bit disappointed. It seems the President was taken off guard himself. My reaction is typical of a peace activist who has been in struggle with the U.S. government under the Bush Administration and now with the Obama Administration to end many of the same policies. I have seen numerous statements from the anti-war/peace activist community condemning the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. I have seen few that step back and try to understand other perspectives and more important, discussing ways to use the fact that the President has won the prize as a tool to organize and pressure the Administration.
Michael Moore wrote two letters in response to President Obama receiving the award. The first was to the President; the second to Moore’s readers. I think Michael Moore’s twin letters reflect twin truths. Holding two or more understandings to be true at the same time appears to be difficult for the Western mind. We are taught that there is no middle ground. There are few if any grays, only black and white; right and wrong. There are the righteous and the wicked. Unfortunately, this limited view does not allow us to understand the depth and breadth of the moment and impedes our ability to build bridges and create change.
Based on what Moore wrote in his 2nd letter, he was influenced by the Right’s rabid response to Obama’s winning the Nobel Prize. I think he wanted to make clear his distaste for their criticism and support Obama against their tirade of hate. The Right’s criticisms are not principled. They do not give a damn about Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Some hate President Obama because he is a Democrat and many hate him because he is a Black man. And while I will not say that there would not be strong opposition to Obama from the Right if he were White, the ferocious nature of the attacks and certainly many of the posters and images in the attacks smell of racism. They cannot call him a Nigger so that call him all kinds of names like Socialist, Marxist, Communist and Muslim. Not too long ago, these identities in our country as whole were an anathema. Today the xenophobic elements of the Right continue to see these groups along with Blacks as alien and frightening. I am saddened but not surprised by how many people have openly called for Obama’s death. Calling for his death could translate into killing any Black person. This is real, just as real as the wars and occupations. Let us not forget, the United States has a long history of terrorizing and killing Black people when we become too uppity.
I voted for Obama without illusion but with hope that we, not he; can make the change we seek. Why did I vote for him? 500 years of American history and I don’t care who does not like it. I listened to my ancestors. They told me to vote for him. They also told me to stand up to the President where he is wrong. Black people did not and do not struggle to throw off oppression to be free to oppress others. I resist his wars. I denounce his wars and U.S. general foreign policy. I also doubt I will vote for him again if significant moves to bring the troops home have not been made. But I will also say that at times the lesser of two evils gives one room to maneuver and more possibilities. I am sure the enslaved Africans could tell the difference between the sadistic overseers who loved to whip and draw blood and the fairer overseers who would whip them or possibly kill them if they drew the overseers’ ire, but not for simply being. One they hated to see, the other they did not like, but were a bit relieved when he was behind the whip.
Like most of us, Obama is a contradiction. However, most of us do not command the most powerful military in the world and have the power via our words and deeds to save lives or take them. Like it or not both of Moore’s letters are true. The question is; do we as change agents have the ability to take these contradictions into account and use them to create the change we want to see? Defending, finding comfort and dwelling in our self satisfaction of understanding on one side or the other of the contradictions does not build the bridges that will expose the contradictions. Only exposure will force the maintainers of the status quo into a dilemma that will either compel them to show their brutality in an effort to maintain the status quo or acquiesce to our demands in an attempt to salvage what they can. The anti-war/peace movements’ inability to recognize the greater reality and only see the world through our prism, limits our ability to grow a movement. It actually gives Obama negative power, not the people power that pushes him to do what is right. It keeps people divided along lines that are really not there because both views/many views have their truth. This is not relative truth. This is the truth of history, the truth of a shared experience and the truth of imperial America. The anti-war/peace movements; the movements of understanding and building a multi-cultural future; unwillingness to be open enough to see the truth in the views of those who are closest to us on the political spectrum limits the success of our efforts to help our natural allies see and act on our point of view. As a result of our inability to see various points of view, we wait for the maintainers of the status quo to make a mistake or for their house of cards to fall in the hope that our allies’ disillusionment will awaken them to our view. I submit that this is a dangerous approach. Disillusionment can lead down many paths including violent dark places. We must build bridges and a vision of a common future. Berating people because their priorities and understanding do not mirror our own isolates us. Let’s have a dialogue about how to build the movement, not a simple back and forth about what is wrong. I think we all have a good idea of what is wrong. I think Michael Moore’s letters attempt to point out the contradictions in away that invite those who agree with us on most issues, but have higher priorities on their plate, to walk with us. Our movements also have the challenge to figure out how to walk with them.