Meaningful Change You Can Vote For

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Meaningful Change You Can Vote For

"Meaningful Change You Can Vote For" is a detournment of a Barak Obama presidential campaign poster. 

Six copies of the poster were placed placed on the Brown University campus on September 23, 2007.  Pictured below is the poster at the intersection of George and Brown Streets:


The poster uses the official Senate portrait and campaign logo of Obama under the satirical campaign slogan "Meaningful Change You Can Vote For".  Below the slogan are five campaign promises for a radical emancipatory political project :

  • Free universal healthcare and tertiary education
  • Free treatment of contagious disease in Africa, Asia, & Latin America
  • Open borders and immediate legalization of all illegal immigrants
  • Withdrawal from economic and military neocolonialism
  • The return of the working class to international politics

Barack Obama, of course, does not actually endorse these goals, either rhetorically or in actual policy.  Finally, above the "Obama 08" logo is the tagline "The philosophers have only interpreted the world... Obama will change it."  The tagline is based on Karl Marx's Tenth Thesis on Feuerbach: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."

My goal with this project was to encourage the viewer to critically question not just Obama's politics, but American electoral politics in general.  Obama was chosen because he represents to many (and, indeed, makes great effort to represent himself as) an alternative to the cynicism of American politics, the last great hope of liberal democracy.  He presents himself as a "real" candidate in an electoral system which systematically disenfranchises the poor and citizens of color, and in which "choice" between candidates is analogous to that between Coke and Pepsi.  He is "meaningful change you can vote for."

While the poster clearly undermines this cult of Obama, it is ambiguous about the effectiveness of American democracy.  "Meaningful change" is precisely what canNOT be voted for, not only because no actual candidate supports a radical emancipatory agenda, but perhaps also because it is structurally impossible for ANY candidate EVER to run on a radical agenda in the American electoral system.  Perhaps one cannot VOTE for meaningful change at all; rather, it must be fought for outside the the domain of electoral politics through activism, self-help, civil disobedience, violent resistance, etc.

On the other hand, the poster co-opts Obama's "audacity of hope" rhetoric to provide a Utopian imagining of how easy it could be to enact meaningful change within the democratic system.  The "satirical" campaign points are concrete policy goals (rather than empty ideological rhetoric) that our government is really capable of putting into action.  The last "campaign promise" specifically challenges the performativity of our political imagination: the first step towards structural change for the working class is to start talking about the working class again.  We must insist upon Utopianism against the self-fulfilling prophecies of "electability" and "realistic politics." If we believe a candidate is not "electable," she won't be.

-- pH

ps: key to my thinking on this project were two essays by Guy Debord and Alain Badiou. check them out!

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