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Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder

Posted April 28, 2009 | 09:44 PM (EST)

One Simple Thought About One Hundred Days


There is lots to be said about what President Obama has accomplished during his first 100 days in office. I'll leave that important task to others.

Here, I want to talk about our performance.

When he was elected, some believed Barack Obama's rise to the presidency was akin to the second coming. Others, even on the progressive side of things, held that his sauve style masked a more sinister figure. Most of course, were somewhere in between.

More specifically, some hoped President Obama would undo all that had gone wrong in the eight years of the Bush administration and end war, halt climate change, provide health coverage for all, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and so on.

Others felt that the Bush-era policies would continue under an Obama administration. With a pleasant, intelligent, and cordial person acting as a front, corporate rule would quietly get more powerful, and war, poverty, and environmental decline would continue.

So after 100 days, who's right?

The good news is we don't have to decide, and we don't have to agree. Either way the answer is the same: organize.

If President Obama is in fact as progressive as many hoped, he still needs strong social movements. No leader can get too far beyond his base of support. If we want strong health care reform, progressive tax reform, green and fair jobs, action on climate change, equal pay for equal work, and so on, we need to organize for them just as actively as if we still had a President Bush in office.

If it turns out President Obama -- wittingly or unwittingly -- is a front man for the continued corporate take-over of America, we need to do the same thing: build strong social movements.

In either case, we have the same task: turn the large public will for progressive change into a political force. In either case, we need good ideas about how to move forward, great organizing, lots of ways ordinary people can get involved, and smart communications.

So yes, let's evaluate the performance of the Obama administration to date. But let's also evaluate our own. How effective are we at building the powerful social movements that assure that President Obama, members of Congress, and our local officials respond to our aspirations for a better future? And for that matter, how effective are we at implementing the changes needed ourselves, whenever we have the power to do so?