“I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams"
Colin Kaepernick’s name on a 49ers jersey
“Words to Action"
These words became more than the graphics printed on T-shirts at a public ceremony last Saturday morning. Worn by 6-year-old Yeji Johnson, 7-year-old Ben Johnson, 6-year-old Aden Francique and his 10-year-old sister Alexandra, they acted as simple yet powerful symbols of the importance of the newly unveiled Barack Obama Boulevard in Downtown San Jose.
The four youth joined around 150 others Aug. 21 to name the 4,300-foot boulevard at the confluence of the SAP Center, Google's upcoming Downtown West development and the soon-to-be expanded Diridon Station, which will attract thousands of eyes to the minted street signs.
Akilah Carter-Francique, executive director of San Jose State University’s Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change, said she brought her children and their friends to recognize Obama’s accomplishments and historical importance first-hand.
“We thought it was an opportunity to educate our kids, help them understand the importance of civic engagement and know that they can perhaps fulfill one of these great things one day,” Carter-Francique says. “Especially when we’re dealing with this tumultuous time with race relations in our country and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, I want to continue to help them know our history. It’s part of their legacy.”
That legacy is multifaceted; her family was invited by Mary Ann Noel, one of the Barack Obama Boulevard committee members, whose husband helped organize the 1968 Olympic podium protest, alongside Dr. Harry Edwards—the man who helped catalyze the very department she now leads.
Streets as Symbols
Noel was pleased with Saturday’s multi-generational and multi-cultural turnout, following years of work organizing, securing and financing a street worthy of Obama’s name.
“We brought family, friends, children and everybody together to honor President Obama,” says Noel, who has spent 50 years in education. “It was just such a nice kickoff, because that's what he was all about: community and diversity. We had a really great time delivering that message, and honoring leaders in the community who were there for us.”
In addition to fellow committee members like Hellen Sims, NAACP Silicon Valley vice president, and Milan Balinton, executive director of San Jose’s African American Community Services Agency, Noel tipped her hat to the hundreds of coalitions, neighbors and community members who propelled the idea across the finish line, transforming Obama’s slogan of “Yes We Can” to “Yes We Did.”
But what’s so important about a street name?
“It's living history, it will always be there,” Noel says, adding that the signs will live on beyond the many seniors involved in organizing. “Every time you drive past it, you're reminded of this person's contribution to our history, impact on our lives and values they left behind.”
That was exactly what Alex Shoor was hoping to accomplish, first proposing the idea in an August 2017 issue of Metro.
“I’m continually thinking about the young people who may come upon the street and be inspired by it,” Shoor says, “and for me that's what it's really about.”
After tedious work informing local businesses, raising thousands of dollars to cover city fees, getting green lights from emergency services and (unanimous) approval from the San Jose City Council in January 2021, Barack Obama Boulevard came to fruition exactly four years later. Shoor said the timing and location, created from portions of Bird Avenue, South Montgomery Street and Autumn Street, couldn’t be better.
“It's a street in a neighborhood that's going to change and transform,” Shoor says. “Hopefully progress is going to happen for San Jose on Barack Obama Boulevard, and for many of us, that's exactly what he symbolized.
As executive director of community engagement nonprofit Catalyze SV, Shoor sees the renaming as a shining example of public policy: real progress emerging from experimentation.
“Creating a new street name is ultimately a symbol,” Shoor says, reminiscing on the endeavors' genesis in a coffee shop conversation. “I hope people feel both empowered to dig deeper into the history and legacy of our community, the good and the bad, and I hope that people feel more empowered as community advocates to be able to make changes in this community.”
The Way to San Jose
Barack Obama Boulevard joins thousands of streets in U.S. cities named after prominent historical figures.
To the inquisitive eye, navigating around San Jose is a history lesson in and of itself. On top of common Bay Area trees, landmarks and buildings, the streets also honor several pioneers, settlers, missions, land owners, religious leaders and inventors—a permanent encoding of the city’s culture and geography:
Curtner, Gish, Hedding. Julian, Leigh, Mission, Montgomery. Naglee. Newhall. Sunol. Taylor. Winchester, Woz, Zanker.
Renaming any throughway is a tedious, multi-faceted process. San Jose’s policy for renaming streets dates back to 1972, and purposefully enforces a “heavy burden and strict criteria” to combat potential disruption to existing businesses, the post office and the public, as well as avoid removing significant names of historical meaning.
While Barack Obama Boulevard was eventually streamlined as a minor right-of-way, the people with the most access and power to classify streets in 2021 are often real estate developers constructing new paths.
Recent examples are Chastain Way and Wondo Way, immortalizing the local soccer phenoms around the Earthquakes’ 2015 stadium. But as both the real estate and development industry heavily skew white and male, who has the access and power to name the newest streets in a city as diverse as San Jose?
The answer may lie just a mile southwest of Barack Obama Boulevard, where a proposed residential complex in Downtown San Jose called “The Ohlone" is named after the people aboriginal to the San Francisco Bay Area.
While blueprints slowly mosey through City Hall, two slivers of pavement around the San Carlos Street property—Van Every Way and Swenson Drive—have already memorialized its developers.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), the remarkable Black playwright, novelist, anthropologist and filmmaker popularized the saying “All my skinfolk ‘aint kinfolk,” a way of indicating that shared race or ethnicity does not necessarily imply shared values or outlook (http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/ 2020/02/what-african-american-saying-all-my_15.html). Later that century, Dr. King admonished us to pay attention to the content of peoples’ character, their values and ethics and not to be fooled by the color of their skin.
Thus, there is a difference between Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Judge who fought for civil rights and equal protection for Blacks and all people his whole life and Clarence Thomas, the second Black judge on the Court who has consistently opposed affirmative action, opposed abortion as a right, opposed federal protections for LGBTQ persons and supported military commissions established by President G.W. Bush without congressional authorization (https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/thurgood-marshall?li_source=LI&li_medium=m2m-rcw-biography; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Thomas).
Likewise, Condoleeza Rice and Angela Davis are both Black women public intellectuals born in Birmingham, Alabama. Do their identities or outward appearances tell me which one was a main architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003—and, therefore, a war criminal—and which one has actively opposed U.S. imperialism and engaged in international solidarity movements nearly all of her adult life? These differences matter a great deal to everyone, especially to Black people who endure the brunt of economic, political and social inequalities in our society.
By these criteria, naming a street in San Jose after Barack Obama is an affront. To honor a politician who studiously used his connections to wealthy and powerful Chicago elites to build a political career to serve those same elites, while chiding and chastising Black Americans’ (and others’) economic and social demands would be a grave injustice (https://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/us/ politics/11chicago.html; https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-obama-deception-why-cornel-west-went-ballistic/; https://thehill.com/video/administration/183737-obama-to-black-caucus-stop-complaining-grumbling-crying; https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transcript-president-obamas-speech-on-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-march-on-washington/2013/08/28/ 0138e01e-0ffb-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html).
How are we enriched or how is our city distinguished by honoring a man who brokered his identity to further the neoliberal nightmare in which we have been living for nearly half a century (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot)? Just consider the depths of depravity to which that administration descended and the sophisticated deceit in which it engaged, with the connivance of the corporate media and the elite “liberal” class:
1. The Obama Justice Department gave a free pass to Bush administration officials involved in corruption and crimes, including torture (https://theintercept.com/2018/10/09/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-bush-administration/) while embracing Bush’s “state secrets” privilege to block torture and rendition victims from seeking legal redress in the courts;
2. Obama, despite his campaign rhetoric, did nothing to reduce the corrupting influence of money on politics (https://theintercept.com/2016/02/10/obama-celebrates-nine-years-of-doing-nothing-about-money-in-politics/);
3. The CIA assessed Obama to be just the right politician who could appeal to European citizens and governments to promote and solidify their support for the war in Afghanistan in particular. European leaderships, after eight years of Baby Bush’s war-mongering, expected Obama to draw down the conflict in Afghanistan in particular where European (NATO) soldiers were also fighting and dying. Instead, Obama used his appeal with the Europeans to promote the continuation of the longest war, that Biden is now bringing to an end (https://greenwald.substack.com/p/a-long-forgotten-cia-document-from);
4. Obama’s Defense Department accelerated assassinations of alleged “terrorists” using drones (including at least one U.S. citizen) while expanding the geography of U.S. live fire military operations from two countries to seven. The military under Obama was so violent and aggressive that at one point in 2015 they actually ran out of bombs to drop (http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/ 2009/02/09/state_secrets/print.html; https://www.wired.com/2012/09/bush-obama-war-on-terror/; https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-na-pol-obama-at-war/; https://www.cnn.com/ 2015/12/04/politics/air-force-20000-bombs-missiles-isis/index.html);
5. U.S. arms sales abroad more than doubled under Obama led by sales to Saudi Arabia in support of their aggression against the Yemeni people (https://www.defenseone.com/business/2016/11/obamas-final-arms-export-tally-more-doubles-bushs/133014/);
6. The Obama Department of Justice under Eric Holder did not prosecute any Wall Street executives for their roles in crashing the financial system that precipitated the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Rather, the administration bailed out banks, lied to the public about prosecuting bankers’ illegal activities, refused to implement promised reforms and covered up the crimes of these same bad actors. Furthermore, the administration adopted policies in the midst of the Great Recession that actually helped gut home ownership, especially among Black households (https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/28/obamas-big-lie/; https://thehill.com/policy/finance/ 248336-white-house-distances-itself-from-glass-steagall-push; https://www.huffpost.com/entry/eric-holder-banks-too-big_n_2821741; https://jacobinmag.com/2017/12/obama-foreclosure-crisis-wealth-inequality);
7. Obama backed down without a fight in addressing income inequality in the U.S., something he described as an existential threat to the country and that had intensified in the Great Recession of 2008-2009 (see first three minutes of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfgSEwjAeno);
8. Despite his campaign promises and considerable financial and political backing from organized labor, neither Obama nor his Labor Department lifted a finger to advance the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would have enhanced the ability of workers to join unions and that was passed by the House in 2009, even though he pledged to do so in his 2008 campaign (https://web.archive.org/ web/20090910083515/; http://www.barackobama.com/2008/ 04/02/remarks_for_senator_barack_oba_3.php; https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/09/ AR2010020902465.html; https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ abandoning-efca-is-obamas_b_414209);
9. The Obama administration was deliberately and intentionally weak on environmental protection and mitigating climate change impacts, while pushing the largest increase in fossil fuel production in the modern history of the U.S. While mainstream media deliberately obfuscated the administration’s policies, in 2018 Obama publicly bragged about his role and responsibility for the surge in climate-destroying fossil fuels production (https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/4/28/15472508/obama-climate-change-legacy-overrated-clean-power; https://money.cnn.com/2016/07/21/investing/trump-energy-plan-obama-oil-boom/index.html; https://money.cnn.com/2015/01/28/news/economy/obama-oil-boom/index.html; https://apnews.com/5dfbc1aa17701ae219239caad0bfefb2);
10. The Obama administration deported an annual average of about 383,000 persons–mainly Hispanics/Latinos–from the U.S. during 2009-2016, about 18 percent more per year, than Trump during 2017-2020. Many deportees had violated no domestic laws and were tax-paying workers. Furthermore, the Obama administration engaged in significant family separations as part of its deportation program (https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2019/table39; https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/the-deportation-machine-obama-built-for-president-trump/; https://theintercept.com/2017/05/15/obamas-deportation-policy-was-even-worse-than-we-thought/)
Obama’s associations, affiliations and allegiances have always been to elite centers of power, initially in Chicago, but later on a much broader, national level. To suggest otherwise is a conceit promoted mainly by wealthy White liberals who, through support for Obama and elite Blacks like him, can both assuage guilt while cynically using Black identity to further their own ends.
If we must name a street after Barack Obama–rather than, say, Harry Edwards (https://www.sanjoseinside.com/news/san-jose-boasts-of-role-in-1968-olympic-protest-yet-ignores-racist-origins-of-iconic-moment/)–we should have found one in a wealthy neighborhood that is short, narrow and terminates in a dead end. Only such a road would truly reflect such a paradoxical and myopic figure.
Such a woke moment!
As much as it hackles many, Obama was as about a Republican President as any.
Pro Real Estate
Years late, it hasn’t gone unnoticed
Econoclast can you expand on that please?
JohnG, What? are you asking for another 3 or 4 part series of Marxist propaganda titled:
MODUS OPERANDI: blah, blah, blah?
Just trying to help him fulfill his communist egghead destiny. With enough material he can compile his own Das Krapital.
The ECONOCLAST says President Trump was a better President than Obama.
Average folks already know that, it’s only the self-appointed know it alls that comprise the Media Borg who believe otherwise.
It’s not clear what Smokey has been smoking (but he might send some this way for “closer inspection”). Not only is Smokey lost in the fog of his own smoke regarding what “average folks already know” about Trump and Obama (https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000172-3156-d57a-ad7b-7f77906c0000&nname=playbook&nid=0000014f-1646-d88f-a1cf-5f46b7bd0000&nrid=0000014e-f115-dd93-ad7f-f91513e50001&nlid=630318), but he has misinterpreted Econoclast.
Econoclast notes that the Obama administration’s monumental, intentional and criminal failures with respect to the fallout from the most serious socio-economic crisis (2008-2011) since the Great Depression–as well as other shortcomings–laid the basis for a billionaire buffoon–aka Agent Orange–to move from the penthouse to the White House in 2016. Econoclast further suggests that the Republican Party, the vehicle used by Cult 45 to get to the top, has for a half-century been engaged in what can only be described as a homicidal/suicidal trajectory in both rhetoric and action.
In legal terms, the Republicans have been involved in the equivalent of first degree murder in which there is premeditation and/or extreme cruelty and in which especially vulnerable people are victimized. Wars of aggression (e.g. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Iraq), encouraging fossil fuel corporations to literally pollute and destroy the biosphere and those living in it, the violent repression of oppositional movements and groups and the incarceration of millions of poor and working people, the deregulation of food supply and pharmaceutical businesses and the weakening of environmental protections, etc. have produced and are producing deaths and injuries in the millions.
The Democrats, for the most part, have been key partners and accomplices of the Republicans at every step. But they have also have been perpetrators of second degree murder, i.e. intentional killings that are not premeditated, and some killings that result from conduct so reckless it shows grave indifference to the sanctity of human life or the welfare of others. In addition the Democrats over the past half-century have been engaged in involuntary manslaughter, i.e. injury or death by means of unlawful, reckless, or grossly negligent actions resulting from a failure to perform a legal duty expressly required to safeguard human life (https://murphylawoffice.org/john-murphy-law-office-blog/77-what-s-the-difference-between-homicide-murder-and-manslaughter.html; https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/murder-vs-manslaughter).
That’s the long and short of it, Smokey.