By Patricia Wilson-Smith
Four years ago, a group of eager political newbies met to discuss what they could to do make a difference in a campaign for a man who was then, little known to many in the black community, and who the media had given little more than a cursory glance as it laughingly dismissed his chances of mounting a serious challenge against the great “Clinton political machine”.
Those women gathered in my living room, shared stories about their belief in then Senator Obama, and marveled over the passion and intellect evident in his then brand new book, “The Audacity of Hope”. They discussed the Senator’s chances, and complained about how the media had all but written off the black female vote as good as gone, likely belonging to then primary challenger Senator Hillary Clinton.
Amazingly, and for the first time back then, the black female vote was regarded as important. The media was giddy over the conundrum – would black women vote with their gender, or with their race? Would the black community’s long love affair with Bill Clinton influence whether or not they would vote for Hillary? Could a young Senator with limited experience and a name that conjured up images of Muslim extremists, have any hope of swaying the black female vote, or any female vote for that matter, to garner an upset against an American political powerhouse?
Those of us who gathered in that room that day were determined that he would do just that. We wanted to prove to the media and anyone else who would listen that their were, even back then, a contingent of black women who were absolutely, positively convinced that Senator Barack Obama was the best choice to lead the nation into the future. And it was then that “Black Women for Obama” was born.
Black Women for Obama became more of a cookie-cutter volunteer workforce than much of a formal organization – we used Black Planet, MySpace, and email campaigns to solicit women in states around the country to join us, take on our branding, and encouraged them to begin to use the tools provided by the Obama campaign to organize around the common goal of promoting the support of African American women as a voting bloc. By doing so, the idea was also to hopefully raise money, awareness, and the consciousness of a lot of black people who just for whatever reason, failed to see the possibilities.
The truth of the matter is, BWFO started with my computer. And this blog. And a avalanche of nay-sayers.
“That man ain’t gon’ win no primary! America ain’t ready for a black president!”
“I can’t vote fo dat man – if he get elected, somebody gon’ kill him! He got kids!”
“Giiiiirl, you wastin’ yo time AND yo vote! No WAY that man gon’ get elected president!”
And that was all just from my elderly mother. Many of my friends and family echoed the same sentiment over and over again, proving to me that a group like BWFO was needed more than even I could have imagined. We were needed, for example, to go to South Carolina, where the working-class blacks, who lived in rural neighborhoods where cable news network access was scarce, and where many of them didn’t even know who Barack Obama was, to spread the word about his candidacy, and answer questions about the man. It didn’t matter that in 2004, he’d headlined the Democratic National Convention, introducing Senator John Kerry, and launching his own political star into the stratosphere in the process. These people were so unaware of him as a political figure and presidential candidate (and so programmed to support the Clinton’s), that the first signs that begin to appear in the cities and towns of the state all read, “Barack Obama for President 2008″, as if the office for which he was running needed to be made patently clear.
The Obama campaign knew they had an uphill battle ahead, and called on Black Women for Obama early to board vans from Atlanta, to go to South Carolina during the hot summer of 2007 to help knock on doors and talk to people about who Barack Obama was and what he stood for. We cooked a massive meal for dozens of the volunteers that showed up in Raleigh, South Carolina back then, and drove vans around the city, helping canvassers to hit every neighborhood on their voter lists.
Later, when Senator Obama prevailed in Iowa and the media and the world began to take notice, we expanded our presence into state after state, recruiting ordinary women just like me to step up and dare to lead a small part of a movement that would eventually result in one of the greatest historical events of our lifetimes – the election of the first African American man to the highest office in the land.
Now, it’s time to do it again. With the formal announcement of his re-election bid today, President Obama has put out the call to his volunteer corps, those men and women, like me, who for a time in 2007 and 2008, gave it all we had to see that Senator Obama would become our President. And as one who was there from the very beginning, one who has watched with glee his transformation from candidate, to President-elect, to embattled-Commander-in-Chief – I can tell you that I am even more excited now to play a part in getting him re-elected than I was the first time around.
For sure, it will be a different experience – a primary fight, the novelty of helping to elect the first black president – gone. What replaces it, though, is the sure knowledge that the man we elected the first time, can stand cool, calm, and collected while taking the worst political pummeling in history, through two wars, a near Depression, and while a new and ominous political force, the Tea Party, continues to rear its ugly head. President Obama walked into office with every conceivable odd against him, and not only bucked the odds – but beat them.
Health Care Reform. Equal pay for Women. New consumer protections. Increased support for education. Effectively ending the Iraq War. Enacting policies that saved the economy. The list could go on for ever – as an original supporter, volunteer, and yes, delegate, I am happy to report that for me, that ‘hopey, changey thing’ is working out incredibly well. For me and for the American people.
So it’s time to put on the political boxing gloves again, and start making some calls to the old BWFO crew. It’s a new day, and there’s a new fight to wage. I for one, can’t wait to have Obama the candidate back – we need his inspiration, and his energy. We need to flood the airwaves again with throngs of people who still want more for their futures and their children’s futures than the Republicans are willing to give, and who understand that though his term hasn’t been perfect, he has stood up to some incredible challenges, and beat them all back. It’s time to blanket our cities and our countries with the message that I hope will resonate throughout 2011 and beyond – “Yes we did, and yes we will”. Join the fight with BWFO, won’t you?
I know one black woman who will. My mother, a product of a share-cropping family, a woman with a 10th grade education, is now the most ardent Obama supporter there is. At the age of 77, she got to see the first black man elected President of the United States, something she was sure would never happen in her lifetime. I’m thinking, with she and I, and black women around the country working it out together, we might be able to go two for two.