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The meanings of victory

November 11, 2008

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Changing of the guard: Outgoing George W. and Laura Bush show soon-to-be First Lady Michelle and President-elect Barack Obama the White House on Monday, Nov. 10. – Photo: AFP
The count has been called and Barack Hussein Obama Jr. has become the 44th president of the United States of America. But, in truth, history will record him as No. 1: the first African-American president.

It is undeniable that this is a singular political achievement, a work of impressive political skill, and, we must admit, a gift of the political gods.

Among friends, in the privacy of a prison visiting room, I’ve often made the following half-joke. Obama wins handsomely, and in his acceptance speech, flush with victory, loaded with “political capital,” he would open by saying, “My fellow Americans, first and foremost, I want to thank the one person who made my election possible, if not inevitable: George W. Bush!”

I always got a laugh for, like all good jokes, the truth makes it happen.

And the truth is, without the blunders of Bush, Obama would’ve been an also-ran. His fundamental issue, which set him apart from the rest of the Democratic pack, was his early opposition to the Iraq War. That gave him a wind that carried him far and long beyond his competitors, who were, for the most part, half-hearted war supporters – or worse, people who supported the war only because to not do so would’ve harmed their political careers – or so they thought.

That wind carried him to the Oval Office, the grandest prize in U.S. politics. But what does it mean?

We cannot deny its symbolic value. In millions of Black homes, his picture will be placed on walls, beside Martin, John F. Kennedy and a pale painting of Jesus. I’d bet that quite a few African homes – especially in Kenya – will also boast his smiling visage.

But beyond symbol is substance and, substantively, some scholars have defined Obama as little different from his predecessors. Political scientist Clarence Lusane, writing in a recent issue of The Black Scholar, pointed to the money men behind both Obama and the Democratic Party and noted the following:

“The promotion of U.S. hegemony, expansion of markets for U.S. corporations, security-based multilateral relations, protectionist trade policies and a focus on terrorism will likely be key priorities demanded by the major political and financial backers of the Democratic Party. In other words, in a number of key areas, an Obama administration would echo the policies of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.”*

Yet symbols are powerful things. Sometimes they have a life all their own. They may come to mean something more than first intended.

History has been made. We shall see exactly what kind of history it will be.

Source: Lusane, C., “‘We Must Lead the World’: The Obama Doctrine and the Rebranding of U.S. Hegemony,” The Black Scholar, v.38: n.1, Spring ‘08, p.3.

© Copyright 2008 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Read Mumia’s latest book, “We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party,” winner of the 2005 People’s Choice Award, available from South End Press, or (800) 533-8478. Keep updated by reading Action Alerts at and To download mp3s of Mumia’s commentaries, visit or For recent interviews with Mumia, visit Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews to inspire progressive movement and help call attention to his case. Send our brotha some love and light at: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Greene, 175 Progress Dr., Waynesburg PA 15370.

2 thoughts on “The meanings of victory

  1. Annie Garrison

    I keep being overwhelmed as I sift through the institutional force of empire, including the will of the military industrial complex, surrounding Barack Obama, and realize that who is president is nowhere near as significant as the media makes the presidentiual race out to me.

    The American, and multinational, institutional force of empire is enormous, and in the making long before Barack Obama was born, and it’s surrounding him now.

    As the president, surrounded by this much institutional force, Barack Obama is now way beyond most of us. I laughed as I told my network of Congolese student activists, committed to ending the ongoing African holocaust in Congo, that I was sending Barack Obama’s Transition Team an e-mail to ask him not to appoint Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and to say that Hillary is the worst thing he could do to Congo, short of appointing the CEO of multinational uranium mining corporation, Uranium One. I knew how futile e-mailing Barack Obama’s transition team was, even as I did so, but did it anyway, to share a joke with my new Congo friends.

    Grassroots pressure and concrete, strategic local action, more than protest, are the only hope I see for standing between Barack Obama and an ongoing African holocaust.

  2. Alice Hammond

    Just reading these articles are a bite overwhelming, but we must continue to fight with every breath of our beingness. The struggles has been long and will continue and we must give because of all that was given to get us to this day. Little do I know, but I know we can’t stop, solidarity


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