Miss Ella Jo Baker in the Age of Obama
This week we celebrate the extraordinary life of Ella Jo Baker - one of the most influential sheroes of the civil rights movement. I look to her powerful teachings and legacy to find guidance and inspiration in an era of conservative backlash and Obama confusion.
I’m the first to admit that I have been extremely heartbroken by the Obama administration more times then I can count. The same Obama I associated with hope and change in 2008 is now, two years later, associated with disappointment and betrayal. From the president priding himself on setting record numbers of immigrant deportations to caving into tax cuts for the wealthy to increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, I have been pushed to ALMOST loose faith in Obama.
Yes I’m angry. Yes I feel frustrated. But I say ALMOST because I still have hope in us - the activists, the youth, the dreamers - the very people who inspired Obama to run in the first place. We must remember that Obama wasn’t just one tall skinny black man, but an insurgency of people who believed in the power of change.
As we stand at the crossroads of confusion, we must look back at our herstory and learn from the teachings of our revolutionary ancestors like Ella Jo Baker. Just as I disagree with many of Barack’s agendas, Ella Jo Baker disagreed with Martin Luther King when she worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Unlike the SCLC that upheld a strong central hierarchal leadership, Ella Jo Baker favored local, grassroots activism where everyone could lead. In turn she left the SCLC and helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, which became famous for organizing pivotal sit-ins and demonstrations for the civil rights movement.
One black president and fifty years later, we cannot forget the vision of Ella Jo Baker who contributed to the growth of the freedom movement by pushing it beyond its own limits. Today, the activists that elected Obama must do the same by staying true to our radical roots and placing pressure on politicians to recognize our own power as a progressive movement.
In organizing within the freedom movement, Ella Jo Baker once said, “The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use.” This “major job” stands even taller before us in the age of Obama. We must look beyond Obama as the singular charismatic leader who failed to “save us” and recognize the strength, power and tenacity of people like ourselves to be the true leaders and agents of change. As a movement, together with Obama, we have the power to save ourselves.