“What Can I Do For You, Mr. President?”*

In February, 2007, I joined Triangle for Obama, a group in Raleigh,  to get involved in the campaign.  I went door to door near the NC State campus.  I met folks in downtown restaurants, private homes and storefronts.  I worked registering voters and phone banking.  That summer, after some lackluster speeches and issues with Hillary Clinton, I felt as if Candidate Obama was hitting a plateau, he seemed less energetic, a little flat.  Determined to hear the candidate in person, I went to North Carolina Central University with one of my co-workers and dear friends. Standing for three hours, one row back from the rope row, that late fall afternoon, I remember thinking; I had not been this weary in a long time.  As the fourth hour began, Candidate Obama finally strode up to the platform of this outdoor stage and I listened to his speech.  To this day, I could not tell you much about the speech, except that it sounded a lot like the one I had heard on TV, given in other states, to other universities or colleges.  It wasn’t particularly personal, nor was it ground shaking, but I got to hear it, I got to see him, and when he finished, I got to shake his hand.

November 2007 – North Carolina Central University

I have told anyone who asks, or who will listen,  over these few years, about the reason I volunteered for the President’s campaign. He was simply the first candidate to even remotely look like me, but even as important, was that his background was similar to mine; his struggle with his ethnic identity similar to mine.  I believe that his experience growing up, shaped his view of middle-class America and sharpened his focus to guide the Country forward to a stronger, educated, opportunity-rich America.  Not as it “used to be”, because I knew, as a Nation, we were not going back…we were going forward.  To do that, would require everyone working together, reaching across the proverbial aisle, reaching back, and pushing forward.

Souls to the Polls, Oxford, NC

Well, that was my idealism and has become my conviction,  even in the face of door to door rebuffs here in the small North Carolina community I live in, or curt responses by non-supporters on the phone in this state and others.  Even in the face of my husband, also African-American and a Marine, who was born and raised in the city of Blood Done Sign My Name**, who sat on a ridge as a six-year-old, watching young goats jump from one car to the next, outside the nearby church.  When the church members exited their church, saw this spectacle, and the boy watching; reported this incident to the farmer who employed my husband’s father.  This farmer told my husband’s father that at the end of the season, he and his family would have to leave his farm.

This event and others informed my husband’s belief that once in office, President Obama would not get an opportunity to do the work he wanted or needed to do, because resistance to his Presidency was going to be full-blown and full-throated.  I remember when he was elected and my husband, my friends and I watched him and his family in Chicago, and I thought; “now the fight really begins”.

A fight with Congress, with the Supreme Court, with his own party, the President is just weeks away from re-election, or the lucrative talk circuit ala Bill Clinton.  The Nation has forgotten 911, the New York has forgotten 911, as former President Bush stated that Bin Laden capture was not a priority, as the world watched as Bin Laden would rattle us with his video-taped appearances, forever looking like he was not the most hunted man in modern times.  Because I don’t believe he was.  When President Obama announced he had ordered the Navy Seal operation to get Bin Laden, I know the Nation was grateful, you heard it, you felt it, you saw it.  Which is why I don’t understand the former Seals trying to discredit this incredible accomplishment.

I have been unemployed for nineteen months.  While looking for work, I renewed my efforts to get involved locally.  I went to County Democratic Party meetings, got involved in some local elections, and volunteered as vice-chair of my precinct.  I struggled to learn Access so I could do bulk mailings, and was successful.  I no longer receive unemployment benefits, so I cannot drive to our campaign office to help with phone banking or register folks to vote as often as I did during the 2008 election.  Nor can I donate to the campaign as I did when I was working.  We’ve had to tighten the budget up.  Thanks to technology, as I continue my job search, I am phone banking from home and participating in a letter writing campaign on the issues.  It is the least I can do.

Local District Debate, Oxford, NC 2012
In The Best and the Brightest*, Joseph Swidler, Fed chair of the Power Commission was very unhappy with President Kennedy because the President’s focus was on foreign affairs “…Kennedy needed the co-operation of men like Sam Rayburn and Senator Robert Kerr.  The price they exacted from the President was at the expense of the Federal Power Commission…  He would tell friends of how he set out from his office for the White House to let the President know just how bitter he felt, with thoughts of resignation flashing through his mind.  On the way he would think of the President’s problems: Berlin.  Laos.  The Congo.  Disarmament. The Middle East. The foreign aid bill.  Khrushchev.  All those burdens.  And minute by minute as he approached the office Swidler felt his anger lesson, until by the time the President’s door opened, he heard his own voice saying: “What can I do for you, Mr. President?””

Each and every one of us know the burdens of this Presidency, those that came from the former Administration, as well as, those that have developed in the last three and a half years.  They are problems never faced by a President in my lifetime.  They took a couple of generations to develop and our President informed us early on, that it would take more than one administration and maybe, even more than one President, to resolve them.  Outsourcing.  Economy.  Healthcare.  The Banks.  Wall Street.  Congress.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  Iran.  China.  Europe.  Veterans.  Education.  All those burdens.  Each of us should be asking Swidler’s question: “What can I do for you, Mr. President?”.

Only in America…DC4

*The Best and The Brightest, David Halberstam

**Blood Done Sign My Name, Timothy B. Tyson

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