Like most of the folks that I know, the day after Election Day, I was excited.
I was excited because the Republicans generally, and President Bush in particular, had their collective noses rubbed in the mud (I was going to use another imagery, but I am being polite.) The anger and frustration that millions of people have had with the Iraq War, the attacks on civil liberties, the corruption, the mean-spirited government, the cuts in services and the polarization of wealth just added up.
Now that we have that out of our systems, we need to turn our attention to the Democrats. Frankly, they were lucky. They tapped into the anger and frustration with the Republicans and were beneficiaries of that, but they were not leading anything.
So, the point is that Black America, and all others that share our desires, cannot sit back and hope that the Democrats do the right thing. If history is any judge, without pressure, the Democrats will cave in to, if not actively support, the general direction of the Republicans.
There is no point in waiting for the Democrats to come up with a plan on Iraq, or any other significant area. Rather, people like you and me need to place demands on the Democrats and insist on a change of course for this country. In that regard, we must learn a valuable and painful lesson from the Bill Clinton era.
When President Clinton was elected there was a sigh of relief that spread across this country, much like the sigh that many of us heard — or experienced — on Nov. 8 after the Republican defeat. Having suffered under 12 years of the Reagan/Bush administrations, it felt great to have what appeared to be a different direction for the country. At that point, one movement after another de-mobilized. It was amazing to watch it happen.
Clinton was able to get a pass from organized labor, as well as the African American movement and the women's movement. When he changed welfare, there were murmurings of discontent, but little public outcry from the mainstream leaders of liberal and progressive America. When he advanced his anti-terrorism act, there was little concern about the arbitrariness of the provision. When he attacked Yugoslavia, too many of us accepted that this was an alleged humanitarian action.
The results of this de-mobilization could be seen in the Republican victory in the 1994 midterm Congressional elections and their "Contract with America." It could be seen in the declining number of Democrats elected to office during the Clinton era. And it could be seen in the conditions being laid for the assumption of office by George W. Bush. In other words, people of conscience gained absolutely nothing.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time labor and international activist and writer. He is currently serving as a visiting professor at Brooklyn College-City University of New York.