Question: Can an activist politician succeed in modern American government?
Glen Ford: Probably not. This is still a thoroughly racist country. If the goal is to elect a black president and declare the struggle over, I suppose then you would say that Barack Obama is fighting the black fight. You see there are two currents, that's what I began talking about. If you simply want to reconcile the black presence in America with the larger society, that is with white rule, and I mean rule not from the White House but rule in all the important power centers of the country. Then we have achieved our victory. If that is not what your goal is, if your goal is to reshape the world we live in then Obama is now in the opposition.
Question: Is the failure one of the electoral process itself?
Glen Ford: Now, there is a role, a place, for electoral politics. There’s especially a place in electoral politics for black people who have not fulfilled all of the possibilities of electoral politics. There’s a lot more work to be done, and gaining the White House is really not part of it. So I’m not speaking about the futility of electoral politics.
When you have unfinished business—that is, black folks still not having achieved everything that could be achieved within the context of what we used to call, or should call, “bourgeois democracy,” in the years since the passages of all those civil rights acts. Then certainly, it is legitimate and the thing to do.
That it’s the only way you change society is absolutely foolish, because the menu has been prepared—it doesn’t matter whether Barack Obama was the best choice on the menu that was put in front of us. If we are to accept any of those choices as being enough, then we are nothing but consumers of their crap. We shouldn’t even be talking about going to another restaurant. We should be reexamining the whole system of delivery of the meal.
Question: What advice would you give someone who wants to create real change?
Glen Ford: The thing that is most important to know, for people who want to engage in struggle on behalf of their fellow human beings, is that, objectively speaking, this system is on its last legs—that we are actually privileged to be able to witness the demise of a system that has destroyed so many millions of people. We are watching it self-destruct, because it always had within it the seeds of its own destruction. We’re watching it self-destruct right in front of our eyes. And though struggle is always painful, and you’ve never won until you actually have won and it is possible to become demoralized at every juncture, and it looks like the man is still in as much control as he was yesterday, objectively he’s not. And once you understand that, then it’s easily understandable, if you study what is actually happening with the world economy and the relationship of forces. Once you understand that you’re on the winning side, well, hey, that’s a hell of an adrenalin [rush] and you can make it through to the next stage.
Question: Can you give a specific example of a success story?
Glen Ford: Well, life is large and there’s almost an infinite number of doorways to helping other people, that’s what struggle is all about, and helping yourself, that one could enter. I was fascinated by the story of a group in Baltimore, a group of young people. They banded together to create tutoring classes—these were all high school graduates going to college, but they decided that they could best help their community by tutoring high schoolers who were in danger of dropping out. And so that’s a good bootstrap, you know, help the community, self-help kind of stuff.
But they demanded that the city and county and state fund and expand their efforts and when there was no positive response, they launched direct action. That is, demonstrations, and all kinds of direct actions to demand state financing for the vital work that they were doing. So they combined that kind of bootstrap, help your own community, cast down your bucket approach, with direct action. Give us our money, because it’s all our money, so that we can efficiently help our own people. I thought that was just a fantastic approach for people who are 19, 20, 20 years old, to take.
But with just a little imagination, there are other promising doors that people can walk through, that’s just one. I thought it was very interesting.
Recorded on: August 6, 2009