Tag: President Obama

“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

On Electing a President


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.

Candidate Obama in NCCU, Raleigh, NC November, 2007
Candidate Obama, NCCU, November, 2007

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”.

The Granville County Democratic HQ

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.

Souls to the Polls, Oxford, NC

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…

Souls to the Polls, October, 2008, Oxford, NC