In anticipation of President Obama’s State of the Union address, in this election year, I find myself thinking back to February, 2007, when he announced his candidacy. I was almost 55 years old and had never participated in a campaign. I had just finished his book Dreams for My Father and mailed my copy to my good friend in the next state, apologizing in advance for the abundance of highlighted passages and underlined words.
Many speak of his rhetoric and his messages, but it was what he represented to me that made me look for a group to join to help with his campaign in the state. He represented to me, not a black man running for President, but a man of color, someone who looked liked me, running for President. I dare say, if he had been Republican, I would have considered voting for him. I realize this is not a well thought out analogy of his elect-ability or even his ability to make a difference once in office, but it came from years of never seeing a face that looked like mine, leading a country that is full of faces that look like mine. Irrational, to say the least, but gut-wrenchingly true.
I went online and found a group through Meetup, Triangle for Obama. It was having its kickoff meeting near the RBC Center and my friend Sheila and I went. Sheila was also my co-worker and had given me a copy of his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. She, like me, felt compelled to participate in what we felt would be a historic election year, whatever the outcome. I remember, that it was a great kickoff meeting, with two serviceman who had driven from Cherry Point and one man who had driven from Asheville there. It was the beginning.
In the following months, I walked the streets of Raleigh near NC State, knocking on doors of people who did not even recognize his name. I actually had one person ask me “that’s the black guy with the funny name, huh?”. I attended the meetings at Zydeco, absolutely loving the “movement” feel to gatherings and events.
I became a CNN junkie, (but now am addicted to MSNBC coverage thanks to that friend in Virginia that I sent my book to) watching the pundits pick apart his speeches and performances at every turn. I rearranged my schedule to watch the debates, taking notes of my husband’s objections over the President even being in contention for the Democratic nominee. My husband was for Hillary, and he is lucky I didn’t stab him with my pen on some nights. ( I had told him, if she won the nomination, I would campaign for her, it was about the Party). But, we were a microcosm of our Party. “It’s not his turn”. “He will do more harm than good for Black people”. “He has no friends in Washington, and by the time he gets there, he will have alienated any friends he does have”. It was my father who delivered the harshest assessment back in 2008…”I fear he is neither a warrior, or a statesman”.
I had joined Triangle for Obama because I worked in Raleigh and wanted a group I could participate in that was close to work. After the President won the nomination, I went to work in my county, Granville. Our campaign office was rented to the county party by a stanch Republican. Outside the bay window where I did my phone banking was a sign in support of McCain. Everyone that came from UNC or Raleigh to help knock on doors, got a good laugh out of that. In the end it didn’t matter. Not the campaign tactics, not the polite and not so polite people whose doors you knocked on, or homes you called. Mind you, I was working off lists of registered Democrats in the County, not the opposition, and I would get snapped at or hung up on, or cussed out. It was a life lesson and an object lesson. You can’t expect people to make informed decisions when they are governed by a thought process you have never lived, nor could you understand. It did not matter in the end, because when Barack Hussein Obama was elected President, I knew the fight had only just begun.
I am third generation American of Mexican descent. My mother’s people are from the part of Mexico that became Texas. My father’s people missed the inclusion, by the boundary that we know as the Rio Grande. I grew up in a military home. I have lived in a third-world country. I am married to a Marine and one of my daughters is in the Navy, as was my dad. I have seen the face of discrimination, here and abroad. I understood what the First Lady meant when she said on the campaign trail, as an adult she was never more proud to be an American.
I felt the same way when the President was sworn in. I felt it when former President Bush was standing at Ground Zero. I felt it when the President took out Bin Laden. My father called me and said “He proved he was a Statesman, and now, he proves himself a Warrior”. High praise coming from one of “God’s chosen” a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer. I am proud of this United States of America, my country, my President, our military, my countryman. For only here, in this country, could someone who looks like me, stand before you…