The following statement is from the Stop the War! Stop McCain! working group of Students for a Democratic Society:
An historic victory has been won through struggle. Millions of people, from all sectors of society, organized and mobilized to defeat McCain and elect Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States. The message from the masses is clear: a rejection of the war on Iraq, a repudiation of Bush’s domestic and foreign policy, and a resounding ‘no’ to the Republican agenda and the right wing. The result is a powerful blow to racism and white supremacy, and an inspiration to oppressed nationalities and youth in this country.
As members of Students for a Democratic Society, we too are celebrating this historic victory. We are proud knowing that in a small way, the organizing work we do every day helped contribute to this success. Since Martin Luther King Jr. day in 2006, when SDS was re-founded, hundreds of chapters and thousands of SDS members have organized to bring about radical change on campus and in the community. We have worked hard to build the antiwar movement, support immigrants rights, empower workers, struggle against racism, stop environmental destruction, end the oppression of LGBTQ-identified people, and put into practice our democratic and egalitarian ideals. All this organizing work over the past two years, on over 100 campuses, helped win over many students to progressive politics, and in turn helped turn out the vote against McCain and reaction this fall.
When election season came into full swing, some of us decided to become more directly involved, so we formed a working group in SDS and started pulling together resources. We wrote blog posts, tabled, agitated, distributed flyers and leaflets, protested McCain campaign events, and worked to create an antiwar, anti-McCain sentiment on campus. Relative to the number of campuses that exist in the US, and compared to the activity of the Obama campaign itself, these efforts were small. But they were important nonetheless because we helped build a progressive movement independent of the Democratic Party.
Despite this, there were some progressives who thought it was a mistake to build the campaign to defeat McCain and elect Obama. Why? Because, in their view, Obama is just another politician who is out to fool the people and serve the rich and powerful. Obviously we disagree with this simplistic analysis, but it does have a material basis. We understand that the Democratic Party represents the interests of big business. We know that Obama voted for the $700 billion bailout for the capitalists on Wall Street, while working people were left in the cold. We recognize that Obama plans to continue the occupation of Iraq and to escalate the war in Afghanistan, even as massacres of Afghani and Iraqi civilians are a daily occurrence under the occupation. We have not forgotten that on so many issues of critical importance to working and oppressed people, the Democratic Party stands on the wrong side. That’s why in building the movement to defeat McCain, we also educated those around us about the Democratic Party’s history and the need to build our movements independently of the Democrats.
Taking into account these and other weak points in Obama’s program, we looked at the elections and recognized it basically came down to three things. One, it was a referendum on Bush’s policies, including the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Two, for the past months the financial crisis has had a huge impact on peoples lives. So in many ways, this election became a struggle between McCain’s stubborn head-in-the-sand insistence that “our economy is strong,” on the one hand, and the importance of working against the privatization and de-unionization that have characterized the so-called Republican Revolution, on the other. And three, it was a true battle between the progressive forces of anti-racism and those of white supremacy. Those reasons alone should have been enough for any progressive to unite with the Obama movement and against the ‘100 years’ in Iraq, the anti-worker policies, and the racism of McCain’s campaign. We also recognized that the elections would be the main issue on campuses and in society as a whole, and that to sit on the sidelines would spell isolation and alienation.
What did we achieve? By organizing outside of the Obama campaign, we helped strengthen independent, grassroots student organizations that can struggle for, and win, change. We brought new activists and organizers forward. We raised the level of consciousness and struggle. We helped shift the center on campuses farther to the left. Our gains are modest but they are victories too and will help us in the battles that lie ahead.
For everyone who helped make the Obama victory possible, it must be said that our work would be for nothing if we stopped here. We agree with Barack Obama who said on election night, “This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change.” It is the masses who make history, not the president. We recognize the power of the people from the millions who took to the streets to protest the Iraq war, to demand full equality for immigrants rights, who mobilized to support those left stranded after Hurricane Katrina. We – the masses of people, organized and in struggle – are the ones who will make the change we need.
And so for that we appeal to all the students and youth who organized for Obama, who worked to defeat McCain, who went door-to-door and made the phone calls that made the difference – now is not the time to rest. War, economic crisis, exploitation, oppression, and the problems facing us today are very real, and it is far beyond the means and will of this government, whether it is ruled by Democrats or Republicans, to address them. As Frederick Douglass said, “Without struggle, there is no progress.” As members of SDS we recognize this essential truth and will continue to build the movements for justice.
As Bush prepares to leave office, we need to be prepared for any US aggression against Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Syria. We should also give Bush a sending off that is fitting for the eight years of destruction that he left behind, both here at home and abroad. And when Obama takes office, one of our first priorities needs to be sending a clear message, “US Out of Iraq AND Afghanistan”. We don’t want the war in Iraq to wind down so that the occupation of Afghanistan can be strengthened – we want an end to all occupations and ALL the troops brought home now, and not a single more life cut down by the bombs and bullets of American empire.
So today let us celebrate this blow against the right wing; tomorrow we have to keep doing what we know works: organizing the mass movements for social justice and equality, and constructing a movement of millions to take the power back to the people.
Stop the War, Stop McCain working group
Students for a Democratic Society