By Natalie Crnosija
Over 100 protestors picketed an April 1 Democratic fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama at Boston’s 60 State Building. As the last of the $500-a-plate guests were being admitted and the streets of Beantown were being prepped for the presidential motorcade, 10 protestors remained. They hoisted handmade signs and decried the president’s conduct.
They did not wear tricorn hats and condemn healthcare.
They did not decry taxation.
There was no Tea Party in Boston.
Protestors from the organizations Citizens for an Informed Society, the Socialist Worker’s Party and TeamGood.org, with other non-affiliated individuals, demanded Obama end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and stop off-shore oil drilling. They wanted to get some more of the hope and change Obama’s posters had advertised. These activists are a petite part of the growing trend of presidential disapproval. Obama’s overall approval rating at the time was 48 percent, according to Rasmussen Press polls. It has since dropped to 47 percent.
“We’re disappointed with the Obama administration,” said Howard Hayward of the Citizens for an Informed Community of Bridgewater, Mass.
“He promised hope and change and all we’ve seen is a worsening from the Bush policy. He’s been elected for a little over one year and we don’t expect everything overnight, but he has had ample opportunity to make some changes.” Hayward’s sign, painted in blue, read, “Foreign Policy=Murder for Profit.” Hayward said that the Obama administration had done little to end the war in Iraq, for which Iraqis are paying the ultimate price for the benefit of American corporations.
“The only crime Iraqis committed is that they are Iraqis, that they live in Iraq, that’s all,” said Hayward. “Just think of how many people are profiting from this war—the Raytheons, the General Electrics, Boeing. How many senators get campaign finance contributions from these corporations? They profit from war. It’s unjust.” The Department of Defense awarded Raytheon contracts totaling over $30 million in the most recent deal between the defense company and the U.S. Government. General Electric and Boeing were awarded $3 billion and $2.2 billion contracts in 2008.
America’s casualties are not limited to the borders of Iraq. “We’re out here to stand up against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the U.S. withdrawal from Pakistan—to stop the bombing,” said Laura Garza of the Socialist Worker’s Party. The continuing struggle against the Taliban in the frontiers of Pakistan has prompted the Obama administration to use drones to destroy militant strongholds. The use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, in Pakistan has killed 687 civilians, according to Pakistan’s International News. “We’re killing innocent people,” said Hayward. “Why in America are we so appalled when someone attacks us, but look at what we do to everyone else in the world. We have to consider consequences of our actions.”
The combined effect of military action is neither helping the American people nor furthering the spread of democracy, argued Garza. She came to the demonstration with a card table from which she distributed the Militant Newspaper, a newspaper published by the Socialist Worker’s Party, and sold copies of the speeches of Malcolm X, Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela.
“I believe the policies that [Obama is] enacting are inimical to the interests of the working people in the United States,” said Garza. “I think people are being bombed and people are being sent to fight, and not for the furtherance of democracy or anything like that.”
Obama’s recent opening of offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the northern coast of Alaska also prompted the wrath of protestors.
“Drill, baby, drill,” Robyn Su Miller, an unaffiliated protestor, shouted at fundraiser attendees as she craned over the police barriers.
“We’re disappointed because the president’s environmental policy promised all of this, promised all of that…he is now proposing offshore drilling?” asked Hayward. Obama’s drilling is not going to completely alienate his constituency, said Stony Brook University Political Science Professor Helmut Norpoth. They are less likely to remain supportive of Obama if he, like President Lyndon B. Johnson, continues support of a long-term foreign war. And for all their bluster, explained Norpoth, the protestors are not representative of the majority of voters.
“It doesn’t have much effect in the end,” said Norpoth.
“[Obama still has a] pretty good [rating] among the Democrats….I don’t see any drop off there yet.” There is, however, more anti-authoritarian energy on the Republican side, said Norpoth, but the Tea Party’s highly-publicized and radical conservatism could alienate Republicans come election time.
“There is no Tea Party movement equivalent on the Democrats’ side,” said Norpoth. “If Republicans get into a situation where they are undermining their mainstream candidates, it will be more of a problem for Republicans than for Democrats.
Liberal disappointment in Obama is largely a product of voters’ inflated expectations of sweeping change during his presidency, said former President of the College Democrats Alex H. Nagler. “A lot of people projected onto him,” said Nagler. Over a year into his presidency, liberal voters are finding that Obama is not as liberal as they had thought. “Obama was always a centrist,” said Nagler. “You can’t run unless you are centrist, unless you’re Sarah Palin.”
The U.S.’s continued military presence in Iraq does pose a problem, explained Nagler. His vow to withdraw U.S. troops within 16 months of his election has yet to be realized, though the 16-month mark was passed in March. Former President George W. Bush also failed to fulfill the terms of his war plan, which intended to reduce ground troops in Iraq to 30,000 by 2003. When Bush left office, there were over 120,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Michael Ippolito of TeamGood.org said that Obama, through his policies, is not the break from the system Americans needed. TeamGood.org promotes the creation of a people-centered society, a movement that was hit hard when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which struck at the spine of the McCain-Feingold legislation and gave corporations the right to political speech. Ippolito argued that Obama should prevent corporate personhood and corporate welfare.
“We believe in the constitution,” exclaimed Ippolito. “We want democracy and real capitalism—not corporate welfare and capitalism hijacked by these corporations.” As the group of protestors hoisted their signs on Congress Street, Ippolito said he hoped people were informed by his fellow protestors.
“People just need to get informed and stop thinking that people who are spreading information are commies,” said Ippolito. “We believe in America—in patriotism.”
The most enthusiastic of the protestors was Miller, who argued with a suited passerby about offshore drilling. She protested to change the view of liberals’ relationship with Obama. “My hope would be that the media narrative would change so that it’s not like ‘Oh, these crazy right-winger Tea Party people’ are out here protesting Obama,” said Miller. She clutched her collection of signs, one for each issue.
People, not exclusively organizations, were being represented in the protest, said Miller.
“I would hope that [the Obama administration] would see that we are all not from organizations and that each one of us out here is representing a lot of other people with our same concerns,” said Miller. “There are a lot of people on the left who are criticizing Obama, too and I would hope that that would become more known.”