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Bill Fletcher on an Historic Inauguration in the Shadow of Gaza

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Bill Fletcher, author and editor of the Black Commentator, speaks of conflicting emotions in an historic inauguration: the relief of welcoming the nation’s first black president elected on a platform for change, yet the grief and anger as Palestinians sift through the rubble of the devastating US-backed attack on the Gaza Strip. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we move now to where we go from here, we’re joined by Bill Fletcher. He’s the executive editor of the Black Commentator, former president of TransAfrica Forum.

Bill, here in Washington, D.C., welcome to Democracy Now!

BILL FLETCHER: Thank you. Glad to be on the program.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, your thoughts today, on this day after the inauguration, talking about what’s happening here in this country and in the context of what’s happening around the world?

BILL FLETCHER: You know, Amy, I think the excitement that I and many other people feel, it’s so deep in our soul. I mean, any progressive person, and certainly any progressive African American, can’t but feel incredibly moved by what we have experienced, thinking about it historically, just looking at the pictures of the Mall and the millions of people that were there, and it’s just — it is an incredible moment.

But at the same time, Amy, I sat there watching the inauguration and having these incredibly conflicting emotions. One was obviously the excitement that I just mentioned. But then the other piece was I kept thinking about Gaza, and I kept thinking about this way in the United States that we often here draw this line between what happens in the United States and what political leaders do or say about us in the United States and what happens and how the United States interacts with the rest of the planet. And I’m hoping that the Obama presidency will represent something dramatically different.

AMY GOODMAN: And what gives you that sense? And what about the activism here on that issue and others? And how does the media play into this?

BILL FLETCHER: Well, since Obama was elected, the lion’s share of the attention — and quite understandably — has been on domestic considerations: the economy, the deepening recession, and increasingly discussions about things like healthcare and workers’ rights, things that are very, very important.

There has been very little attention to international affairs, and with the exception of President Obama’s statement around the Mumbai massacre, we watched the massacre going on in Gaza, and there was very little forthcoming. And so, I’m prepared to say, even though I believe that he should have said something around Gaza — his argument was only one president at a time. OK, but today is January 21st, and one president at a time, we need him to represent something completely different on Israel and Palestine. That’s only going to happen, though, if people that believe as deeply around justice in the United States also believe deeply about justice for the Palestinians and are prepared to make this an issue to put before the President.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bill Fletcher. His latest piece, just about to be posted online, is called “The Inauguration in the Shadow of Gaza.” And the role of the media, Bill, which is so important — I mean, in these last twenty-two days of the assault on Gaza, where upwards of 1,300 Palestinians have been killed, it’s believed over a third of them children, thousands, up to 6,000, Palestinians injured. There were thirteen Israelis who died, ten of them soldiers. Four of those died in friendly fire. There were mass protests around the world. But what affects a population is when they learn about those protests. Thousands of people marched in the United States in New York right in Times Square, a block from the New York Times, yet the level of coverage of those protests, the opposition in the editorial pages, was almost nil.

BILL FLETCHER: Absolutely. It didn’t surprise me, but it was nevertheless horrifying. And I think that you’re absolutely right. The protests internationally were quite amazing, and including a growing sentiment among Jewish Americans that something was fundamentally wrong in the Israeli response and their atrocities in Gaza.

The media continued to make excuses around the Israeli operations in Gaza. What was striking was the attacks on the United Nations facilities, which under other circumstances would have brought outrage in the major media in the United States; certainly if Hamas had accidentally hit a United Nations facility, there would have been charges of atrocities. But each of these attacks, on the civilian populations, on the United Nations, were treated again and again as simply collateral damage, as simply one of the unfortunate outcomes of any military conflict. There was no background on what was going on. There was very little attention to the Vanity Fair piece that described the coup that the United States, Israel, and the Fatah warlord had been planning back in 2006. There was none of that. And so, the circumstances of this military incursion, this atrocity, were missed by the bulk of the US population.

That said, we now have an opportunity with President Obama to rethink US policy towards Israel and Palestine. Amy, I think that will not happen, though, unless there’s a constituency in the United States that takes on the issue of justice for Palestinians as deeply as those who fight against it.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Fletcher, you’re a longtime labor activist, as well. What about the state of the labor movement in this country — for example, what’s happening with the United Auto Workers and with other unions?

BILL FLETCHER: There’s some interesting developments going on right now, because after the split that took place in the AFL-CIO in 2005 that produced nothing of any significance except for a new federation, there are now discussions going on about healing that wound and some sort of reunification. And I think that that could be very, very important. But it will be only important if the reunification takes place where there’s an open discussion about the issues that are facing working-class people and what we need to be doing about it at the level of strategy. And, unfortunately, I must say that the path that’s been pursued by the United Auto Workers in response to the crisis in the auto industry leaves a lot to be desired.

The United Auto Workers has had a tremendous opportunity to criticize the way that the auto industry has been run, to criticize the fuel inefficiency of so many cars, to criticize the management practices. And yet, for reasons that defy explanation, the leadership of the United Auto Workers seems to pull back from that, to give a pass to the auto leadership. This is a time when they should be criticizing the auto owners. This is a time when the union movement really does need to be speaking up and challenging what, in fact, capitalism has meant for the regular working person in this country. So I’m hoping that a reunification of the labor movement will be done on very different terms.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Fletcher, I want thank you very much for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Your website at the Black Commentator


BILL FLETCHER: www.blackcommentator.com.

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