For those of us working for radical and lasting change, as opposed to just a change in Washington, the significance of the Barak Obama campaign has already occurred. Whatever the outcome on November 4 (and there are many of us doing more than simply hoping that a Black man will soon occupy the White House), the real change is one of attitude and expectations. All over the US, amongst disenfranchised people in historically oppressed communities, there is a new sense of hope, a sense of the possible. That a symbol of this nation's racial divide could be shattered (or bridged, depending on one's perspective) has brought more than amazement and excitement. Though Senator Obama himself would be quick to point out that a change in the Presidency is not the same as a change in basic political or economic systems, this time of hope signals an engagement with the political process possibly unprecedented and certainly not seen since at least the zenith of the civil rights and Black Power movements. Though the Obama campaign is surely not itself a full-fledged movement, the possibilities of building people's movements off of the expectations raised by the campaign are very real indeed. And that is true whatever happens in one week’s time.
Whatever happens on November 4, 2008, the excitement and sense of the possible will inevitably be shattered. This will come quickly in the now unlikely event of an Obama defeat, and appropriately ferociously in the tragic possibility of an Obama assassination-so expected by so many in the Black underclass (and directly called for by the crowds of McCain-Palin supporters shouting "off with his head."). If, however, history is made in one week's time, expectations will continue to rise, as the world anticipates what the US will be like once led by a person of African descent who was raised in the context of progressive views and values. For a brief moment it will appear to some as if the color line has been lifted, even though the gray cloud of class (which has always been intertwined with race) looms ever darker on the horizon.
The best possible Obama presidency, however (with Bill Ayers as Secretary of Education, and a closing of the Pentagon and the National Security state), cannot even live up to the hopes his campaign has inspired. The most likely Obama regime will see some minor positive reforms alongside of the major economic and geo-political crisis which the US faces whomever is "in charge." For organizers on the Left to be prepared for the coming period, we had better understand today that much is possible when people get excited and then disappointed. But the slow fizzle of sadness about what President Obama cannot or does not do will be accompanied by an "I told you so" media which will invite little more than defense of the man himself. The political openings of the present and upcoming period center squarely on the need to demand and fight for systemic changes, and short-term goals which spotlight the cracks in this weakening empire we call home.