Sunday, March 04, 2007

Barack Obama and Edward Said, Chicago, May 1998


Ali Abunimah (Abunimah's new book here . I have it from the library sitting next to my chair; next book on the stack to read) posts some pictures of Obama and Professor Edward Said at a May 1998 Arab community event in Chicago at which Edward Said gave the keynote speech.
Ali Abunimah writes,
The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"
and....
Obama has also been close to some prominent Arab Americans, and has received their best advice. His decisive trajectory reinforces a lesson that politically weak constituencies have learned many times: access to people with power alone does not translate into influence over policy. Money and votes, but especially money, channelled through sophisticated and coordinated networks that can "bundle" small donations into million dollar chunks are what buy influence on policy. Currently, advocates of Palestinian rights are very far from having such networks at their disposal. Unless they go out and do the hard work to build them, or to support meaningful campaign finance reform, whispering in the ears of politicians will have little impact. (For what it's worth, I did my part. I recently met with Obama's legislative aide, and wrote to Obama urging a more balanced policy towards Palestine.)
Close... advice.... no kidding....
Q: Senator, when did you first meet Tony Rezko? How did you become friends? How often would you meet with him, and when did you last speak with him?

A: I had attracted some media attention when I was elected the first black President of the Harvard Law Review. And while I was in law school, David Brint, who was a development partner with Tony Rezko contacted me and asked whether I would be interested in being a developer. Ultimately, after discussions in which I met Mr. Rezko, I said no.

I have probably had lunch with Rezko once or twice a year and our spouses may have gotten together on two to four occasions in the time that I have known him. I last spoke with Tony Rezko more than six months ago.
Good luck with meeting Obama's aide.

Postscript: From Hitchen's Obit for Edward Said,
There is at present a coalition, named the Palestinian National Initiative, which never gets reported about. It is an alliance of secular and democratic forces among the Palestinians that rejects both clerical fundamentalism and the venality of the Palestinian "Authority." It was partly launched by Edward Said, and its main spokesman is Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a distinguished physician and very brave individual, to whom Edward introduced me last year. In our final conversation a few weeks ago, Edward challenged me angrily about my failure to write enough on this neglected group, which certainly enjoys a good deal of popular support and which deserves a great deal more international attention. Perhaps then I can do a last service, and also dip a flag in salute to a fine man, if I invite you to direct your browsers toward the sites for Barghouthi and the PNI.
Wish Obama had the vision to talk more about Democracy and Liberal solutions instead of flip flopping around.

2 comments:

ken said...

A minor point first. "Siad" should be "Said" in the title and tags.

Obama made a recent speech in which he makes no criticism of Israel and is obviously playing to the Israel lobby. He is fishing for funds and showing no more principles than his opponents.
An article on his speech is on my blog at http://kenthink7.blogspot.com/

Nikol said...

What do you think of Obadiah Shoher's extensive reply to Ed Said at http://samsonblinded.org/titles/edward_said_end_peace_process.htm ?