By Patricia Wilson-Smith
It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. The sky was brilliant blue, and the only way you knew it was December that day was because, well, you just knew.
I waited around for my assignment outside of Columbia’s Williams-Brice Stadium along with the rest of the volunteers from Atlanta that had rode on the van I had commandeered on behalf of the campaign. The truth of the matter was, it didn’t matter to us what we did to help; we were there to be part of history.
The campaign had been forced to move the event that some were calling “The Big O” from it’s original location to the huge college football stadium after tickets for the original venue were scarfed up after only three days. It was clear to most that South Carolina planned to come out in huge numbers to see a famous talk show host named ‘O’ , but that they would also be there to find out more about Senator Barack Obama and what he’s all about.
And that was amazing enough, you see – if you know like me and a lot of other volunteers in South Carolina know, you know that not so long ago, not very many ordinary people in The Great State even knew who Senator Obama was, let alone that he was running for President. It would take campaign offices and personnel, stationed strategically all around the state, working side by side with volunteers from neighboring states, all tirelessly stumping to get the word out about the Senator to make the difference. And on that exhilarating day, on the 9th of December, all the work of those faithful foot soldiers had paid off.
There were thousands upon thousands of people, lined up around the block long before doors were due to open, there to witness what would turn out to be an historic event – the day that Oprah Winfrey, a cultural icon who until then had never formally endorsed a political candidate, had came to speak to South Carolinians about why she had chosen to break her self-imposed political silence for Barack Obama, and noone else.
Amazingly, since Oprah has been out on the road with Obama, some of her ‘devoted’ fans have taken to castigating her on her website. She’s suddenly being accused of ‘playing where she doesn’t belong’, and ‘forcing her political will down the throats of her fans’. Those who make these baseless accusations do so mainly because they have somehow come to believe that the only reason Oprah has chosen to back Barack Obama is because he’s black. Incredible.
Only those who refuse to see the deeper meaning in an Obama presidency would cheapen what Oprah did that day in Columbia and before in Iowa by saying that she’s only endorsing Senator Obama because he’s black; Not only does such an inference cheapen the importance of that day, but it also belittles the work that Senator Obama has done, the man that he is, and the President that he is destined to become. It also says some pretty unfair things about Oprah Winfrey herself.
The most prevailing quandry created by the Obama candidacy is the dichotomy it exposes regarding race relations in America. I’ve said many times in this forum that as a black woman, I have repeatedly been accused of supporting the Senator because he’s black; I’ve heard other blacks criticized for not supporting the Senator even though he’s black. It’s positively mind boggling – at the same time, Senator Obama has been called ‘not black enough’ to win the support of African Americans, and ‘not electable’ in the eyes of mainstream America. His bi-racial heritage has been criticized as proof that he could not possibly understand the African American condition, and held up as proof that he alone is uniquely qualified to understand the changing face of America and our place in the world.
Even our black leaders dare to rob him of his ‘blackness’ in favor of a man who is not black, was not the ‘First Black President’, could never be black, and who only garners the ridicuous comparisons to black Americans because he’s been so vilified by what most consider his unacceptable behavior in the White House. No need to say his name.
And so a man like Senator Obama who has by his ability to unify across racial and political lines in his campaign, already proven that we have made truly historic gains in race relations in this country, has also by doing so, shone a bright and blinding light on how far we have yet to go.
So what then, of the over 30,000 mostly African Americans, who stood patiently in lines that snaked around the stadium to see the most famous black woman in history, talk about the only African American in history who has a real shot at becoming the leader of the free world?
I thought of them all as I stood a few feet from the stage and surveyed the assembled croud; they sat mesmerized as first Michelle Obama, then Oprah Winfrey, and then Senator Obama himself offered words of hope for the nation and the outcome of the election. I smiled at the sea of faces, as Senator Obama painted a vivid picture of what the future could hold for our country, if we dared to believe. And before long, I began to realize that because of Senator Obama’s strength, because of he and Michelle’s ability to push past the naysayers, the race-baiters, and the discouragers, what I was witnessing was a true and earnest turning point for South Carolina and for America. I was witnessing the dawn of a new era of politics that if allowed to take root, would once again respect and uphold the idea of government for the people and by the people, and that if allowed to flourish would uplift and include instead of tear down and exclude.
Just like everyone else in the stadium that day, I was there to hear the man whom I believe is truly the only one who has the vision, the strength of character, and the sound judgement to be the next President of the United States. But I also noted with pride that in some way, I had played a small part in helping to get those people to that place, with my phone calls, my endless blogging, and my crowd control skills :). I had been part of an amazing team that day that through our collective belief in the audacity of hope, had helped to make that day possible.
So as I stood mere inches from Senator Obama and Oprah Winfrey as they enthusiastically shook the hands of those in the crowd, all I could think was, “How cool is this?”. And “God Bless America”.