Camp Hope Holds Obama to “Change” Pledge

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“From the people who put you in office”

December 30, 2009

Determined to keep President-elect Barack Obama true to his promise of change, peace and economic justice activists kick off an 18-day outdoor vigil January 1, four blocks from the Illinois Senator’s home in Chicago.

Camp Hope, headquartered in the Windy City’s Drexel Square Park, seeks to have Obama swiftly enact eight initiatives on issues he supported during his campaign.

A Thursday, 1:00 pm news conference will feature ministers, a Chicago City Alderman, a 25-year-old father facing deportation after living in the U.S. for 17 years, and the mother of Tomas Young, a paraplegic Iraq war veteran featured in the movie, Body of War.

Kathy Kelly, co-director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the Chicago group organizing Camp Hope, said, “We feel responsible to give visibility to needed, progressive change at a time when the powerful seek to maintain the status quo of warfare and unbridled greed.  The reckless abandon they exhibit is a sad reminder of the Bush Regime.”

The Chicago native said the camp is simply saying to President-elect Obama, “Don’t leave these ideas out in the cold.  They are from the people who put you in office.”

The ideas are in eight policy areas, including:

  • War in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
  • Global Climate Change
  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Guantanamo and Torture
  • Immigrant Rights
  • Unemployment and the Prison-Industrial Complex
  • Housing Foreclosures
  • Universal Health Care

To date groups in California, Missouri, and Maine plan local activities in conjunction with Chicago’s Camp Hope.  Initial press inquiries have come from French and Japanese journalists but, to date, none from U.S. corporate news outlets.

A St. Louis activist, Bill Ramsey, in an op-ed titled, “Charting a Course Toward Change,” said, “The helm is in transition and those who row can change the course.  Setting down our oars and speculating how the new captain will steer is not an option.”

He added, “The fundamental social changes we claim as our common history . . . were achieved when social movements insisted that new presidents take immediate actions, which then became the impetus for more profound changes.”

  • Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912, did not support “votes for women.”  But determined suffragists lobbied Congress and kept the issue in the forefront of public opinion with parades, arrests, and hunger strikes.  In 1918 Wilson finally urged Congress to pass the 19th Amendment which states ratified in 1920.
  • Franklin Roosevelt began his first term with labor strikes becoming common.  Within the first 18 months of his first term, a wave of strikes and radical protests by the unemployed brought about the first labor laws, unemployment insurance, and social security.
  • Kennedy was elected in 1960, the year the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement began.  The protests grew until a reluctant president and his attorney general stepped in on the side of the movement, eventually leading to passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965.  In the spring of 1962, a delegation of Quakers vigiled outside the White House.  Kennedy invited six of them to the Oval Office to listen to their case.  Grassroots pressure was an important factor, along with intervening historical events, that helped steer Kennedy away from his original cold-warrior path to support a nuclear test ban and order the withdrawal of troops from Viet Nam
  • In 1976, grassroots pressure, including vigils outside his home in Plains, Georgia, succeeded in getting Jimmy Carter to listen to their reasons to grant amnesty to Viet Nam war resisters and cancel the B-1 Bomber.  On his second day in office Carter granted amnesty to the resisters and within 6 months cancelled the B-1 Bomber.

The program for Camp Hope’s 18-day vigil includes presentations from Dr. Quentin Young, an expert on universal health care; Stephen Kinzer, author and former New York Times foreign correspondent, Col. Ann Wright, and Veterans For Peace Director, Michael McPhearson on “Abandoning War”; a screening of the Stanley Kubrick classic, Dr. Strangelove, and the 2007 Academy Award-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side.

Mike Ferner is author of Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq.