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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

New book breaks down revolutionary movements behind Obama campaign

Horace Campbell examines self-organization in politics

Sept. 10, 2010, by Sara Miller

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign mobilized more than 3 million small donors, 8 million volunteers, 13 million email addresses and more than 2 million Facebook partners to induce a qualitative change in American politics. Now, a new book by Horace G. Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University, illuminates how these networks organized to make the electoral victory possible, looks at the economic, political and social forces that converged to form Obama’s campaign revolution and examines the new importance of self-organization and self-emancipation in politics.

Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA” (London: Pluto Books, 2010) examines the organizational capacity through “networks of networks,” and the accompanying message of optimism, both of which were required for a quantum leap in 21st century politics in the 2008 electoral campaign. Situated in the context of the agency of new social forces galvanized in the 2008 electoral season, the book develops a theory of politics that starts with the humanist principles of ubuntu—healing and reparations for the 21st century. It argues that key ideas like quantum politics and a ‘network of networks’ move away from old forms of vanguardism during a period in history that can be characterized as a revolutionary moment.

In “Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics” Campbell draws from the revolutionary traditions of the society—especially those of Thomas Paine in one era, and Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in their relationship with Abraham Lincoln—to argue that Obama is not a revolutionary, but similar to the period of Lincoln, was caught in a revolutionary moment. As Campbell writes:

“The yearning for something new was grasped by those who had been drawn into the optimism of the revolutionary moment. Spontaneous words of hope were put to music as a cultural upsurge pushed the message of change to new platforms beyond the political consultants. This cultural revolution tapped into the minds and memories of previous interventions and used a bottom-up approach to mobilize humans of different colors, diverse sexual orientations, rich and poor, old and young, men and women, swing states and non-swing states for the historic victory.”

He organizes his book around nine compelling chapters:

• Revolutionary Moments and Ruptures

• The Political Training of Barack Obama

• Confronting Racism and Sexism in U.S. Politics

• Grassroots Organizing Confronts the Machine

• Fractal Wisdom and Optimism in the Primary Campaign of 2008

• Between the Past and the Future: The Democratic National Convention

• Ground Operation for Victory: Challenging the Ruthlessness of the Wounded Corporate Bankers

• Beyond Messiahs: Networks for Peace and Transformation in the 21st Century

• Ubuntu and 21st Century Revolution

Among the reviews for “Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics,” Adam Hochschild, author, journalist, co-founder of Mother Jones magazine, writes: “Barack Obama’s presidency provides a rare opening for change. Whether we make use of it as we should is up to us. … Campbell’s book is a bracing reminder of all the threads of history woven into this extraordinary moment, a warning about the military and financial forces trying to keep things as they are, and an inspiration to work for the very different world that could be within our grasp.”

Campbell has published widely, including “Rasta and Resistance From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney,” (Africa World Press, 1987), currently in its seventh edition, and “Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation.” (Africa World Press, 2003). In addition to teaching at SU, he is the director of the Africa Initiative and he works in the wider Syracuse community as an activist for peace.

“I wrote this book to inspire all of those who want a new world in the 21st century,” says Campbell.