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In Obama Era: Can We Think Big and Make the Changes We Really Need?

From Alternet

By Rep. Keith Ellison, AlterNet.


Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a complaint.”

I’ve had a few of my progressive friends say to me, “You know Keith, I’m not that happy about the president not really going after those quirks in the Bush administration, I’m not that pleased that we haven’t heard as much as we want to hear about a public option. What about 100 percent auction for cap and trade? What about these issues that we care about?”

And I say to my friends, that if the progressive movement could make Richard Nixon get out of Vietnam and sign the legislation for the Environmental Protection Agency, what can we do with this president? We cannot set our sights low, we should not settle for less, we should not gripe, we should not complain. We should organize, organize, organize!! You thought you were busy before November; you better figure out how to get even busier now, because the opportunity for us to change this thing all around are well within our grasp. The question is: Will we do it?

The fact is, look — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did not wait on Lyndon Baines Johnson to inspire him, did he? He didn’t say, “Lyndon, should I march?” He didn’t say, “Jack, should I march??” He went out and marched! He also did not say, “I HAVE A COMPLAINT.” He said, “I HAVE A DREAM!!” and he marched on that progressive vision, and it absolutely destroyed Jim Crow and eliminated the undemocratic nature of our society at that time.

You and I have to shoot higher than that. We can’t shoot at that mark, we’ve got to shoot above that mark. We’ve got to be thinking big!

Some of us are talking about, “Hey we’ve got to get the troops out of Iraq.” That’s the least we should be doing. That’s the bare minimum.

We have to devote time, resource, energy, money and unity to make certain that we have a universal, single-payer system for health care in our country. We have to make the president do it. We have to make the president do it.

Let me tell you — there was a man named A. Phillip Randolph. Who remembers A. Phillip Randolph? And A. Phillip Randolph — before King, before even the great John Lewis, before event the great civil rights leaders — A. Phillip Randolph went to Mr. Roosevelt, who was the president at the time, and said, “We’re going to lead a march for civil rights in America.” And Roosevelt said to him, “Yeah, I believe civil rights are important, we should for sure have some civil rights around here, but you gotta make me do it.”

Are you willing to make Obama give us that public option, give us that single-payer system? What about, this: In 9/11/2001, our military budget was about $294 billion. Today it’s about $690 billion. We have had an explosive growth in the military budget of our country and the militarization of our country.

We have militarized development aid. You can get a sergeant to go put money into building a well before you can get someone from U.S. AID to do it. We have misplaced priorities, and we have got to convert it.

Who will make the case that our military budget is absolutely out of whack, and we’ve got to demilitarize in America. One of the problems, you and I both know, that if you have a problem, you use the tools that are available to you to solve the problem! Is that right? Because we have relied so heavily on military stuff, whenever we have a problem that is essentially a diplomatic and development problem, we have nothing to rely on other than military stuff, because that all that we’ve put any time, money and energy into.

It is going to require a massive changef rom you, from me — and it is going to be a commitment; and the people in this room cannot do it by ourselves, it requires recruiting new people, at every point in our society. And I’m not only talking about young people. I’m talking about people who might be 50, 60, 70 years old and who are ready to get out there and lay it all out on the line for a better America. I’m talking about going to the senior citizens that organize, as well as the grade schools to organize.

You know — years ago, you and I used to talk about people who we called allies — am I right about this? So like, if I care about the rights of the GBLT community, but I’m not of that community, I would be called what? An Ally. And what if I care about the racial justice, and I was a white person, I might say, “Well, I’m not a person of color, but I am an ally.”

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