by Janice D. Williams-Myers
What strikes me about the “Obama Phenomenon – this Movement,” is what I remarked to a young skinny white kid back in Iowa during the Kerry presidential campaign in 2004 when we both worked to get him elected. Back then as now with the Obama campaign, my work was through my union, 1199/SEIU.
I remember the kid was wearing high top snickers and sobbing because we, the Democrats, had lost the election. As a way to comfort him I said: “you have worked so hard, and without a doubt you will use the tools we used in this campaign in 2008.” I knew then, because of his enthusiasm and excitement, he would be back at it in support of the democratic candidate in 2008. So, like that kid, I and a rainbow of supporters are back at it, and we used those tools during the primary, and will use them again in the general election campaign.
My Obama volunteerism took me to a few cities in four states: Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. What was disheartening and uplifting at the same time was on the one hand the extent of economic blight in cities like Gary, Indiana and Milwaukee, both with high unemployment, especially among Black males. On the other hand there was high enthusiasm and momentum among Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and Asians for Barrack Obama. For them he was the one needed in the White House to turn the country around and put people back to work.
Of all the encounters two stand out for me, Milwaukee and a suburban community outside of Philadelphia. In Milwaukee, which has the 2nd highest unemployment rate for Black males, we were met with brutally cold winds, deep snow and icy walks and steps, and I destroyed a pair of shoes while discovering the convenience of hand warmers. People were very warm and excited about voting for Barack Obama. On one of those cold days I met a young black mother with her three toddlers in tow. I intro-duced myself and reminded her that the polls were scheduled to close in one hour. She asked her toddlers to tell me where they were going, and in unison they shouted, “Obama”! It brought tears to my eyes…
In that Philadelphia suburban community, Angie, my support, and I canvassed, what appeared to be, a fairly affluent development. An elderly, white gentleman, whom I will refer to as Robert, asked us what we were doing there. I responded that we were there to ask him if Barack Obama could count on his vote on primary day. His response was: “I am not sure.” I then countered: “Do you have any children and grandchildren?” He answered “yes.” To which I stated: “Mr. Brown, you and I have has ample opportu-nity to do the right thing and we failed. We need to allow our children or grandchildren to correct what we messed up.” He responded by saying that he “did not think about it like that; and please call me Bob.”
As Angie and I canvassed the rest of the development, Robert drove up and pulled out a photo of his grandson and stated with a sense of pain. “Oh, by the way, I have blad-der cancer and I will not treat it…but I am going to vote for Obama.” Tears came to our eyes, while we embraced as we prepared to depart.
So we continued to knock on doors, make phone calls, stuff envelopes, pass out leaflets, cut turf, as we will do in the general campaign, and all while enthusiastically and with high excitement doing our part to get out the vote for Barack Obama. With just four and half months to go, it looks like all of us will be able to say triumphantly: Si, se puede (Yes, We Can!).