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Todd Gitlin: 'There was always a constructive ambiguity about Obama'

Todd Gitlin discusses Obama's legacy, Donald Trump, and the future of Bernie Sanders’ movement.

Todd Gitlin
Todd Gitlin Benjamin Ramm
28 June 2016


What happens to a dream deferred?
                                                            (Langston Hughes)

Todd Gitlin is one the most astute analysts of progressive politics in America. He is the author of a dozen books exploring the rise and fall of radical movements, including the New Left and Occupy. His writing is rooted in a lifetime of activism: between 1963-64, Gitlin was president of the Students for a Democratic Society, and he helped organise the first nationwide march against the Vietnam war. He has written at length on the role of the mass media, and is professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University in New York City.

Our discussion focused on the relationship between ideology and electability, and a perennial question for the left: how does grassroots ‘outsider energy’ engage with ‘insider politics’? In other words, what price are progressives willing to pay for power? Gitlin is illuminating on how movements evolve and morph, and how dreams deferred are revived in different guises. This issue is now particularly pertinent for the supporters of Bernie Sanders, and for the activists of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.

Gitlin is also insightful on Black Lives Matter, on the Republican Party’s nativist populism, and on Obama’s legacy. Speaking of how Obama’s own grassroots movement dissipated, he identifies the decision “not to be a transformational president but rather a transactional president. There was always a constructive ambiguity about Obama, partly in the minds of supporters, who fancied that he would be the incarnation of the mobilisation; but it was partly in his own nature, too”.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

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The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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