By Randy Shaw
In 2008, young people and longtime non-voters set
cynicism aside to mount a national grassroots campaign
to elect a President vowing to enact Change We Can
Believe In. But in 2011, these hopes have been dashed,
a victim of a political system that promotes minority
rule and of a President who prefers to work within the
political mainstream and favors compromise to conflict.
Millions who once believed that a Democratic President
and Democratic-controlled House and Senate would set
the nation on a new course now fear that a Republican
President will make a troubling status quo even worse.
Can hope for national progressive change be kept alive?
In hindsight, activists should have taken it upon
themselves to become the vessels of hope rather than
trusting Barack Obama. But at this political moment, it
is Obama who is best positioned to restore the hopes of
his core supporters. Here are five quick actions he can
take to raise the spirits of his base before the 2012
In the past three years, the once bright hopes for the
nation's future have dimmed. The question now is
whether President Obama will seek to restore faith in
the prospects for progressive change, or else assume
that he can prevail in 2012 by defending an untenable
status quo against fears that a Republican will make
matters even worse.
Obama may have no choice but to focus on restoring
hope. Democrats cannot win elections based on fear, and
Obama's campaign team recognizes that it must revive
grassroots enthusiasm for the President to win re-
Here are five actions Obama can quickly take:
1. Steep Withdrawal from Afghanistan
It's no surprise that the lead story in the June 6 New
York Times concerned Obama's interest in a steeper than
expected troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The
President cannot hit the campaign trail facing
questions as to why he is spending billions on a
nonsensical war without end when schools in the United
States are being decimated by budget cuts.
Even diehard Obama defenders have a hard time
justifying ongoing Afghanistan operations. The war's
expansion has increased grassroots cynicism, and a
major withdrawal would at least show that the President
is finally listening to his base.
2. Moratorium on Dream Act Deportations
Obama's well-documented hypocrisy toward immigration
reform - he claims to be pro-legalization while his
administration deports record numbers and does nothing
to ease immigrants' plight administratively - must end.
Obama can take a major step to revive hope for the
future among young people by imposing a moratorium on
deportations of those who would be covered by the Dream
Act. He can also boost enthusiasm among labor and
Latinos by killing E-Verify and making other
Latino turnout saved Harry Reid last November and will
prove pivotal in several states in 2012. By finally
moving on overdue reforms, Obama can restore confidence
among Latinos that he will act rather than merely talk
on their behalf.
3. Expedite Green Job Creation
Among the millions of young people whose hopes have
turned to despair since 2011 are a large segment whose
primary concern is the environment. The environment has
been off the political radar screen in recent years, a
victim of Republican intransigence and tough economic
times (Jonathan Franzen makes a strong case for the
latter crowding out environmental concerns in his new
Obama needs to show that his 2008 campaign promises for
green jobs were not illusory, and that he can work his
various departments to expedite projects and hiring.
And if he can't get green job creation moving faster,
at least he can show young people that he is trying his
best and that they should not abandon faith in a
4. Prosecute Wall Street, Not Tabloid Cases
Obama's Justice Department indicted John Edwards last
week, and appears on track to spend as many resources
on that ill-conceived case as it has on the Barry Bonds
perjury prosecution (it is also investigating Lance
Armstrong's steroid use). Meanwhile, Wall Street
executives get off scot-free despite nearly destroying
the nation's economy.
Obama must reverse this bizarre prioritization of
tabloid prosecutions, which has depleted hope among
those who believed his campaign promises to go after
those responsible for the fiscal meltdown.
5. Diversify Appointments
President Obama chooses who works in his
administration, and he has selected remarkably few with
progressive roots. His frequent recycling of former
Clinton appointees undermines his campaign agenda for
change, and shows that his administration operates as
business as usual.
Obama still has time to make myriad appointments to
change this perception, and this is another area in
which his inaction cannot be blamed on Republicans (and
for positions subject to veto by Republican filibuster,
it still helps that a community-based person was
Will Obama take any of the above actions, or make
similar moves to revive hope in the future among his
base? I think he will, though his commitment to change
could well end on Election Night 2012.
At that point it will be up to activists to use the new
political landscape to do what they should have done
starting in January 2009: which is to create their own
sense of hope for the future that is not dependent on a
politician's campaign promises or moving speeches.
Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar
Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the