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If one blows all the smoke away, one is left with the obvious question: Why not Trump? Trump is opposed by virtually the entire mainstream political establishment, Republican and Democrat, and by the entire mainstream news media, conservative and liberal alike. And yet he could win. That says something. It says that there is something there.
On May 6, 2013, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a conversation on “Black Politics in the Age of Obama” at the University of Chicago. The speakers included Cedric Johnson, the author of Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics (2007) and The Neoliberal Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans (2011); and Mel Rothenberg, a veteran of the Sojourner Truth Organization and coauthor of The Myth of Capitalism Reborn: A Marxist Critique of Theories of Capitalist Restoration in the USSR (1980). Michael Dawson, author of the forthcoming book, Blacks In and Out of the Left, was unable to attend due to an emergency. The event was moderated on behalf of the Platypus Affiliated Society by Spencer A. Leonard. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Video will be forthcoming!

A panel event held in Chicago at the University of Chicago on May 6, 2013.

Transcripted in Platypus Review #57 (Click on banner to see):
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The reelection of Obama presented a problem for the American left. Lost was the hopeful rhetoric of transforming society for the better, and as it became clear that Obama’s administration had returned to “politics-as-usual,” the left began to cynically appraise the purported gains made in his first term. Not the least of these was the claim that we live in a “post-racial” society. From Abolitionism to the Civil Rights Movement, the issue of racism was and is a defining one for the American left. As social life in the United States has reproduced itself through various social and ideological transformations, racism seemed always to reproduce itself in and through those transformations. And, surely not without merit is the contemporary left’s skepticism regarding America’s supposed achievement of a “post-racial society.” Yet, any talk of race in the current age must account for the fact that America’s first black president was twice elected by substantial margins. If anti-Black racism subsists, it clearly does not have the same relationship it once did to capitalism and society in general. This panel will investigate the how the left understands the concept of race in contemporary politics, and how this concept can, should, or will maintain of political significance for a future renascent left.

Featuring:
Michael Dawson
Cedric Johnson

The political and cultural Left, which stand for increasing the scope of freedom, have shifted positions historically on issues of sexuality. For instance, where once the Left challenged marriage and family norms in society, there has been a turn to advocating participation in predominant institutions, for instance gay marriage: there has been some conflict in LGBTQ circles over the politics of gay marriage, whether it should be advocated in certain ways or at all by the Left. What do such controversies tell us about the politics of sexual freedom and the history of the Left, moving forward? How are issues of sexual freedom related to issues in the greater society and not of concern merely to sexual minorities and subcultures? Is there simply a narrative of historical progress, as expressed for example in President's Obama's recent Second Inaugural Address? Or might we look forward to renewed political disputes around issues of sexual freedom? What can history teach us about this?

A panel event held on December 6th, 2012, at New York University.

This past US election season saw an array of positions on the Left concerning the outcome that might follow from either major party’s victory. Among them, there were some who openly supported the incumbent Barack Obama as the lesser of two evils, others who opposed him by casting a vote for another candidate, and still others who followed the abstentionist line by not voting at all. Many of those who voted for “four more years” did so under the assumption that the Democrats were a broadly center-left party with vaguely social-democratic tendencies, who might be pushed to reverse neoliberal policies and stave off measures of austerity. Some, while generally less optimistic, endorsed Obama on the premise that organizing a mass movement against capitalism would be easier with the Democrats in power. Others argued that Obama had done nothing to deserve reelection, offering no hope for either change or progress moving forward. The rest, who took no stance either for or against any party, chose instead to eschew electoral politics altogether.

Now that the quadrennial plebiscite for the “leader of the free world” has resulted in a Democratic victory, we are afforded a brief chance to critically evaluate the prospects for the Left’s transition into the next four years. What is different today from four years ago, when Obama’s election seemed departure from eight years under Bush? Did the last four years signal progress or regress for the Left? How will the terrain shift for the Left with another term under the president? In terms of foreign policy, will there be an end to the wars? Or will US militarism continue unabated? Domestically, will government social programs and infrastructure deteriorate yet further? Or will legislative reforms breathe life back into the moribund welfare state? Should we, in fact, take for granted the idea that keeping Romney out of office promises a better environment in which the Left to organize? What does the future hold for a Left caught in the stale air of the status quo?

Panelists:
Ben Campbell (The North Star)
Annie Day (Revolution)
Chris Maisano (DSA, Jacobin)
Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin)

Moderator:
Tana Forrester (Platypus Affiliated Society)

IN A STRANGE WAY, the debate over whether the American left should support the Green Movement in Iran resembles the arguments that took place in progressive circles before the 2008 presidential elections in the United States, and that reemerged in the recent midterm elections. Those in the Obama camp either believed him to be their savior, taking his every word as gospel, or, if they had a more sober political outlook, simply resorted to some version of the tired “lesser of two evils” argument.

Platypus panel held at Left Forum 2010 in New York City, Pace University, March 20, 2010.

One catch-phrase that has flown in the wake of the successful election of Barack Obama is "post-racial," raising the question of the degree to which America has overcome racism. But perhaps the matter is not one of our historical moment being post-"racial" but rather post-racist. This panel will pose the question of how racism has changed since the historical racism that plagued the U.S., from the failure of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era through Jim Crow until the overcoming of legal racial segregation with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s-60s. If today this historical form of racism is over it has not meant the meaningful improvement of conditions of life for the vast majority of black people in America, but rather has accompanied worsening conditions, as part of the broader greater stratification and brutalization of American society in the general downturn since the late 1960s - early '70s. This situation demands a strident refutation of the pseudo-problem of "class versus race" and rather requires today's Left to seriously consider the implications of the political scientist Adolph Reed's formulation that racism is a class issue. This panel will address this issue by approaching racism as a historical social problem that was surpassed but not fundamentally overcome, thus allowing the structural conditions that shaped racism historically to continue if in increasingly unrecognized, and thus de-politicized forms. This panel will address how the resolution to the "black question" was not the result of the emancipatory outcome of the Civil Right / Black Power movements of the 1960s, but was rather a part of the general de-politicization of American society in our era. Panelists will assess the historical depths of the present post-political situation by examining how the American Left failed to adequately politicize the social issue of racism in three significant periods of the history of the American Left, the pre-World War One Socialist Party, the early years of the Communist Party, and the decade of the New Left.

Speakers:

Tim Barker, Columbia University
Benjamin Blumberg, Platypus Affiliated Society
Pamela Nogales, Platypus Affiliated Society
Chris Cutrone, Platypus Affiliated Society, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Chicago

Benjamin Blumberg's comments are transcribed in Platypus Review #19 (Click below):

ON SEPTEMBER 24, 2009, approximately 900 Chicagoans rallied on the sidewalks in front of the Park Hyatt Hotel near the Magnificent Mile. At the height of rush hour, about 200 members and community allies of UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers’ union, arrived at the scene and blocked all four lanes of Chicago Avenue by sitting down in rows and linking their arms.
Historical transformations in social-political context Chris Cutrone We in Platypus have anticipated, since our inception in 2006, the possibility of a "return to Marx," and have sought to inform the terms in which this might take place. We have sought the re-opening of historical issues on the Left with the intention of their fundamental recon­sideration, taking nothing for granted, so that we could definitively close the books on stale "debates" in which the "Left" has remained stuck for more than a genera­tion, since at least the 1960s. Given the confusion reign­ing on the "Left" today, the urgency for this is evident.
On December 6, 2008, a panel discussion titled Progress or Regress? Considering the Future of Leftist Politics Under Obama was held in New York City. The Panelists were: Chris Cutrone of Platypus; Stephen Duncombe, a professor at the Gallatin School at New York University and author of Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy (2007); Pat Korte of the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Charles Post of the Detroit-based organization Solidarity; and Paul Street, author of Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (2008).