The Weird, Wonderful Problem of Winning

Here at MADRE, we’re hopeful about what an Obama presidency could mean for those of us who care about women’s human rights around the world. At the same time, we know that there are inconsistencies and challenges that we will face. He’s great on choice; not so great on the death penalty. Committed to (partial) withdrawal from Iraq; but plans to escalate the war on Afghanistan. Understands that combating AIDS in Africa requires science, not Christian dogma; but wants to further militarize the continent through AFRICOM. I could go on, but you get the picture.  

So the question is—and we want your help answering it—how do we relate to an administration that is our ally on some issues, but not on others?

Historically, US progressives haven’t had to grapple much with this question, especially not during Bush’s reign. That question is now paramount. In fact, I think that the way we answer it may determine how effective we are in winning the policies we want to see from Washington. 

After all, we can’t continue to act as though the White House is the enemy of all things feminist and human-rights oriented just because they don’t support our whole agenda.  If we do that, we forfeit a tremendous chance to engage and push for real change. And we will disconnect ourselves from a groundswell of people who recognize that this is, in fact, a moment of opportunity for progressives.

We also don’t want to be cheerleaders for the new administration. David Axelrod and Barack Obama would love to see their 10 million-strong email list become a giant rubber stamp sitting on the President’s desk. That would be a big mistake.

Fortunately, our options aren’t limited to total rejection or unconditional support. I want to suggest here that we adopt an approach that MADRE is calling critical cooperation. That means vocally supporting every positive move that the administration makes and demanding improvements to any US policy that doesn’t uphold human rights. Our opposition, when it’s warranted, can be constructive. But let’s not back peddle on what we know is right just because there’s someone in the White House who may meet us part-way.

It’s a strange and wonderful problem to have: figuring out what to do when our candidate wins.  This idea of critical cooperation is MADRE’s working proposal.  I’m putting it forward on the blog today because I’m writing a piece explaining critical cooperation towards the new administration. I would love to hear what you think as I’m sitting down to write.

So what do you think? You can post your comments below.

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