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So, What Now? Five Racial Justice Thinkers Make Sense of the Election

There was less swagger, but arguably more urgency as millions of people headed to the polls this week to re-elect President Barack Obama.

There was less swagger, but arguably more urgency as millions of people headed to the polls this week to re-elect President Barack Obama. It wasn’t so much a test of hope as it was one of patience, to give the man from whom so much was expected four more years to make good on his promise—and to right some of his wrongs. Voters of color, in particular, played their part in democracy despite sometimes formidable odds and lasting economic hardship. All of this leads to one question: What’s next?

That’s an especially pressing question for advocates of racial justice. As publisher Rinku Sen explained the day after the election, our politics may be altered by forces beyond our control, but movements change the world in which we live. Here are five racial justice writers, thinkers, and leaders on their hopes for the president’s next term in office. Join us next week for Facing Race 2012 in Baltimore as we continue the conversation about the next four years.

WILLIAM JELANI COBB, Professor and Author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress”

Second terms have traditionally not been that effective, based on conventional wisdom. But there are people who have achieved very important things in their second terms. Eisenhower signed the National Highway Act, for example. So I think that we should look to really cash in on the progressive causes may not have come over the last four years. Now is the time for our president to do something serious about immigration reform. Now it’s time for him to do something definitive about climate change. And I think the signature thing aside from this budget piece is ending the war on drugs.

I think that what’s happening in American politics is fascinating right now. For those of us who have a long view of these matters, it is the same thing that was happening to the Democratic party in the 1940s. There was a time period in which the Democratic party had this idea that it was going to be a party of Southern whites and Northern blacks at the same time. Those two things were irreconcilable. The more reactionary elements of the Democratic party came to see the handwriting on the wall and in 1948, they bolted. They created the Dixiecrats and eventually moved over into the Republican party. That same dynamic is happening 60 plus years later with the Republican party, except this time the group that’s in question is Latinos. They’re looking at their present and saying that this look that we have is a smaller portion of the pie. And in order to appeal to people who will help us win votes, they’re going to have to jettison some of the more racially reactive aspects of their party. The Republican party is going through the same kind of growing pains that the Democratic party was going through in 1948. And it’s really fascinating to watch.

JOAN MORGAN, Author and Cultural Critic

I’m ecstatic. I was really auditioning real potential countries to go live in if we were faced with four to eight years of a Mitt Romney presidency. I like Obama for all the reasons there is to like Obama: he’s a cool cat, he looks good doing what he’s doing, he loves the hell out of his wife. But honestly, when I voted for him in 2008, I voted for him with a two term committment. I felt that it was going to take at least that long to correct the wrongs of the mess that was created by the previous administration. In some sense, unless Romney just completely shocked and surprised me and undermined everything I believe to be true about the Republican party, I already knew who I was voting for in 2008 for the 2012 election.

It’s really going to be important to find a way, politically, where we can work on local levels to effect the kind of change we need to see. It amazed me during this election how much collective amnesia was going on between both the critics and supporters about exactly the kind of condition the country was in when [Obama] stepped into office. There’s this perception that someone on the top just magically changes things and makes it better. Politics are local—that’s an old, standard saying. We have to find ways to get involved on the ground level and not just in these big, dramatic ways that come every four years when it’s time to vote for our guy.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ, Author and Vice Presidential Nominee for the Justice Party

We have to push Obama to go further with what he should have been doing. I think what I saw was a big vaccuum with the corporate money that went into these two parties. That vaccuum is now moving people who are saying, “Wait a minute, I’m not happy with either party and I would like to see other alternatives.” I’ve seen people talking more like that. Even some of the people who voted for Obama want to see something different happening.

I hope that he’ll really take on the Republicans. I think [in his last term] he was too appeasing. He caved in to things that he shouldn’t have. I hope that he can challenege the Republicans to help poor moms, or those Republicans will get pushed out of the way. I think we need to push him to go further and we need to develop a movement that will open up the whole democratic process. More parties, more voices, more issues.

ZAHRA BILLOO, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (California)

I was thinking this morning about something [Obama] said when he was asked about ending racial profiling when he was first elected. He said, “make me.” I think that his re-election, though there is still a lot of disappointment in his first term, provides opportunities to change the political setting, including in racial profiling and ending our wars abroad.

My hope is that without the fear or work of re-election that he will be able to take a more fair and even-handed policy on civil liberties and foreign policy issues that he campaigned on in his first term. That includes closing Guantanamo and actually ending our wars abroad. I think one of the things that’s been referenced a lot, of things that he’s done well, is ending the war in Iraq. But we have bases that remain open there, and that’s just one front. There’s also Afghanistan and the National Defense Authorization Act. I think that it’s going to be important for his supporters, but also all Americans, to hold him accountable to the promises that he made on these issues in 2008 but was unable to deliver on for a variety of reasons.

ROB “BIKO” BAKER, Executive Director of the League of Young Voters

As a generation we have to take seriously our power. I think we have to get some analysis and go to work. On a policy side, I would hope we would have some major work done on climate science. I think Sandy is proof that our infrastructure isn’t ready for it, and I think we need to have a real conversation about science and we need to have real conversation about infrastructure. It needs to be deep, it needs to be quick, and it needs to be significant. There needs to be some real conversation about the criminal justice system. A lot of people have been talking about Michelle Alexander’s book as a starting point to shift the conversation and I hope Obama can do that. And voter suppression is a real issue. We gotta get serious about improving election administration, and that can be done through universal voter registration.

I think supporters of Obama need to get real about building infrastructure for the political process. If you think that there’s any candidate right now other than Hilary Clinton that’s going to be able to make an instant connection to this generation, I think we’re in trouble. We gotta get serious about our movement and let it be a people-driven movement. And then, for the haters, I’ll just say that numbers don’t lie. I really think this is something that’s going to keep happening. The people that are hating on President Obama are hating on him because he’s changing the narrative. But America’s changing. You might not agree with it, but I think every generation’s had to deal with the right side of history. I don’t think our elders are ready for us.

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