Longtime civic activist Marshall Ganz told Bill Moyers on Friday that President Barack Obama’s charisma during his first electoral run might have contributed to a misreading of the circumstances he encountered in his first term.
“I think there’s plenty of responsibility to go around,” said Ganz, who took part in both the Freedom Summer movement in Mississippi in 1964 and Cesar Chavez’s campaign with the United Farm Workers eight years later. “I mean, I think there was too much readiness to just leave it up to Obama. And I think that those of us who wanted to do more about economic justice and immigration and climate change needed to do more.”
Ganz also recounted the link between Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan, “Yes We Can,” and Chavez’s “Sí Se Puede,” which was coined during the fight against an Arizona law barring farm workers from organizing and boycotting.
“We got there. And went out talking to people,” Ganz explained. “And [fellow activist] Dolores Huerta actually came back. We were meeting in a hotel/motel room. She said, ‘I’ve been talking to all these everywhere. And everywhere I go, people say, “‘no se puede,’ ‘no se puede.’” She goes, ‘Ah, you can’t do it. You can’t do it, you know? It’s just too, you know? And we got to, we got to answer that. We got to say, ‘si se puede.’ And so that became the slogan in that campaign was ‘si se puede.’ Yes, it can be done.”
Hearing Obama use the English translation of the phrase, he said, raised his supporters’ hopes about his ensuing presidency.
Watch Ganz recount his journey in activism and discuss what needs to happen for reform in the future, posted online on Friday, below.