The Re-Birth of Black Women for Obama

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.

Posted in Did You Know? | 2 Comments

Health Care Reform: Now!

Health Care reformBy Patricia Wilson-Smith

It’s been a long time since I lent my voice to any debate. Life has taken some twists and turns, and I’ve been busy holding on for dear life. But it’s time to blow the dust off my laptop.

I’ve kept a keen watch as the health care reform debate has raged; I’ve watched earlier on as the Democrats did everything they could to woo the likes of Olympia Snowe, who of course supported health care reform just long enough to vote it down once the Senate bill was up for a vote. I’ve watched as the large insurance companies skillfully rallied the well-meaning, but sometimes painfully ignorant radical right to protest in very ugly public ways against reform, screaming and yelling at the tops of their lungs for “the government to keep its hands off of Medicare.”

And I’ve even watched President Obama try with all his might to take a bi-partisan approach to reforming health care, over and over again, reaching out to one Republican or another, only to hit the brick-hard wall of truth that is the right’s complete inability to see beyond their political aims. And I’ve watched the media, who in their zeal to report on each new development, gave voice to the legions of morons around the country who educate themselves by watching 30-second soundbites on cable news, while thousands and thousands of people struggle or die because this country is too consumed with the spectacle of the debate to just get this right.

I’m sick and tired of this. I want health care reform for this country and I want it now! I don’t have to tell anyone this, but it bears repeating – we are the only western nation that does not provide some form of universal health care for its citizens, and that fact alone should be enough to warrant a change. The problem is, those who oppose health care reform have done a masterful job up to now of scaring the bejeezus out of the American people with stories of ‘health care rationing’, and ‘6-month waits’ for treatment. Even though the facts just don’t prove these scare tactics out.

I recently visited London, England and spent time with my husband’s lovely family. I had a blast – I sat around the dinner table with cousins, and nephews, and uncles, and we laughed about the differences in life in the United Kingdom and the States. Mostly, we joked about innocuous things like our use of the word ‘cookie’ and their use of the word ‘biscuit’; how we call the storage areas in our cars ‘trunks’, and they call them ‘boots’; we even joked about how the U.K. really has no concept of an SUV because their streets are too narrow to accommodate them.

But when the talk turned to health care, things toned down a bit. I asked the questions I’d been dying to ask since this debate first begin to rage in this country, when lawmakers were warning us not to look to England’s National Health Care System as a model for care here. I asked them – “are you guys happy with the level of care you get under your system?”

The answer I got was a resounding, “yes”. And what’s worse, because they have access to the very same cable stations that we do, they get to see the lies and misrepresentations being regularly disseminated in the American media, and they’re dumbfounded. For the most part, they are perfectly happy with the level of care they receive, accepting of the level of taxation it takes to support the system, and had no horror stories to tell about long waits, poor care, rationing – nothing.

In particular, my mother in law recently had heart bypass surgery to clear up a blocked artery. She raved about the experience – how she visited her doctor when she wasn’t feeling well, how quickly she was diagnosed, and how even more quickly she was admitted to the hospital and how well she was treated. The whole experience of discussing England’s health care system with my new family left me confused, and aware that I had bought into the lies more than I’d realized.

According to Wikipedia, an independent survey conducted in 2004 found that 92% of British hospital inpatients were satisfied with the level of care they received; 87% of outpatients were satisfied with their treatment. If you don’t trust Wikipedia, how about Gallup? In March of 2009, Gallup reported the results of a survey of residents of OECD nations, and guess what? The United States lags behind the UK in overall satisfaction with our respective health care systems. Let THAT one sink in.

And so I have no choice but to believe that the vehement opposition to either a truly universal single payor system, or its weaker younger brother, the public option, is the evil creation of health care lobbyists and the pathetic members of Congress who would rather continue to align themselves with their benevolent benefactors than stop the carnage that is being caused by our current health care system. I am no expert when it comes to these issues, but I don’t exactly hear anyone disputing the fact that each year 45,000 Americans are dying simply because they’re uninsured. And it’s an undeniable fact that millions of Americans each year are being driven into bankruptcy because of out of control costs, while greedy insurance companies yank their coverage just when they need it most to maximize profits and secure the bloated bonuses going to their inept CEOs. My mother was one of those people who was driven into bankruptcy by medical bills. After decades of working hard and taking care of her family, she had to suffer the humiliation of declaring bankruptcy all because our country won’t do enough to provide for it’s citizens. It makes me sick to my stomach.

So it’s time stop talking about this now, just as President Obama says. There’s too much at stake – too many lives, and I believe the future financial viability of our nation. When President Obama and other Democrats say that our current health care system is not sustainable, I believe them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. People are using Emergency Rooms as last-chance health providers, often when they’ve neglected their health for so long, there’s nothing that can be done for them. Employers are gearing up to begin shifting more health care costs to already cash-strapped American families, and the cost of health care has risen 2.4% faster than the GPD since 1970. Our system is a freight train running down hill, and it’s time to stop it.

We have a unique opportunity right now, today. We can either keep walking around like zombies, acting as though we’re powerless to get anything done, or we can drop everything for five minutes, get off of FaceBook or Twitter, or whatever our social network of choice is and call our representatives and DEMAND that they pass a bill now! I’ve had it with this crap! We need to extinguish pre-existing condition denials now! We need to insure the 30 plus million Americans who have no insurance now! We need to ease the financial burden on American workers, the elderly, and we need to do it now! If you do nothing else today, call your representative and tell them – we’re tired of the games, we’re tired of the political spin, we’re just plain tired! Pass the friggin’ bill already! DO IT NOW!

To find your representative, visit the site below:

https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

It’s crunch time. Blow the dust off YOUR laptop or telephone and make your voice heard.

Posted in ABC News, Commentary, Did You Know?, Healthcare, Healthcare Reform, Issues, Politics, Poverty | Tagged | 3 Comments

Yelling Fire in a Racist Nation

racism

By Patricia Wilson-Smith

I must admit – I have largely been sitting on the sidelines since the election of Barack Obama over seven months ago.

Be it because of election fatigue, or because of being just plain stunned by the sheer enormity of the event, I haven’t lent my voice to a single policy debate, or any other issue since long before the election. With all of the house parties, phone banking and canvassing behind me, I figured it was time for me to hang up my digital bull-horn and take up another, less taxing hobby.

No hobby to speak of yet, but I have enjoyed watching the evolution of Barack Obama from little-known U.S. Senator to Leader of the Free World, though watching him become President was very different than watching him as he executes his duties in office now. During the campaign, I felt closer to the action, having served as a member of the Women for Obama National Leadership team, where I was privileged to participate in a conference call where the now President was the guest speaker, and during which he thanked us for our service. Now of course, he’s a million light years away from that conference call, and can be found at any given time bounding down the steps of Air Force One, with Michelle in lock step. He has taken his place in history, while those of us who fought so hard for his election look on in wonderment.

And look on I have. I’ve been blown away by the meteoric rise of my favorite candidate, by the sudden national fascination with Michelle Obama, and by the endless curiosity for their two young daughters, Sasha and Malia. I’ve been captivated by the overseas press, and what his election has meant to the world. I have reveled in the media coverage of hip White House events, and date nights, and laughed at the Republican attack dogs as they scramble to find a way to tarnish the image of the man or refute his policies. Up to now, it has been easy for me to just kick back and enjoy the show, content in the knowledge that in some infinitesimal way I played a part in making it all happen. Easy that is, until yesterday afternoon, when I heard something that made my blood run cold.

I was listening to the “Neal Boortz Show”. a nationally syndicated talk show hosted by a right-wing, Fair Tax proponent masquerading as an independent thinker hiding behind the Libertarian Party. He was taking calls from listeners who wanted to comment on the Holocaust Museum shooting, and the racism, antisemitism, and intolerance that the heinous act had once again brought to the forefront of our national psyche. I joined the show just as Neal was about to take his next call.

It seemed like a typical call at first, until the caller, quite obviously an African-American male, said in the most chillingly-matter-of-fact way imaginable, the following (paraphrased):

“Someone WILL assassinate Barack Obama. And when they do, it will be because of people like you [Boortz], Rush, and Sean Hannity spreading your hate speech on the airwaves everyday. It will happen, and the sad part is that it will take that tragic event for the American people to finally take steps to get you and others like you off the air for good.”

I was astonished – the caller wasn’t yelling, he wasn’t agitated. He was as calm and as cool as could be. And though his admonishment of Neal sent shivers up my spine, I don’t know which was more chilling – the man’s statement, or Boortz’s swift dismissal of it. He didn’t even acknowledge what the caller said. Not a word. All he offered was a “thank you for the call” and then he was on to the next order of show business.

I have always been a news and talk radio junkie. I’m a life-long Democrat of course, but I’ve always prided myself on my ability to listen to opposing viewpoints, sure that even though many of those who spouted what I thought of as spastic inanities were dead wrong, they at least did so with love of country and what was best for it in mind. I’ve never felt fear over what I’ve heard coming from Neal, Bill, Shawn, and their ilk over the years, not even what I’ve heard from Rush, because I’ve always understood that their views come from their unique perspectives on the world, their experiences and their personal (all be them flawed) opinions.

The problem is this – since the election of Barack Obama, the rhetoric of all these men has taken on a dark and disturbing tone. They have, along with Michael Savage and many other popular conservative talk show hosts, gone mad as a collective quite frankly, and the result is the American public being treated to a daily dose of some of the most outlandish and destructive hate-speech ever to be spewed by ones with such popularity and reach.

It was, for example, Fox News and Bill O’Reilly who over the last several years, and on at least 28 different occasions, reported on George Tiller, the abortion doctor who was recently gunned down while attending church services in Wichita, Kansas by a known anti-abortion extremist. O’Reilly was relentless in his attacks on Tiller, regularly and openly calling him “Tiller the Baby Killer”, calling for the citizens of Kansas to “stop him”, and practically characterizing him as a crazed maniac thirsty for the blood of the unborn.

And then there’s Conservative author Bernard Goldberg, whose book “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America”. featured a list of both liberal and conservative notables who in his opinion are to blame for all that is wrong in America. His book sales likely got a nice boost when James Adkisson, an unemployed Vietnam Veteran with substance abuse problems informed law enforcement in a note that it was indeed his intention to kill “every Democrat in the Senate and the House”, and “everyone in Bernard Goldberg’s book”.

And just this week, Shawn Hannity purposely mis-characterized a specific portion of President Obama’s now historic speech from Cairo to the Muslim world, as “giving voice to 9-11 deniers”. Never mind that in order to make the case, Shawn and Fox News had to cut a paragraph of his speech in half, being careful to play the half comment in a way that supported Shawn’s assertion. I saw the entire speech – President Obama was crystal clear in stating that the death of almost three-thousand Americans that day was fact, not fiction, and yet Hannity and Fox News chose to do a hatchet job on the video clip in order to mine material that could be used to get a rise out of his audience. In the face of growing support for the President’s Mideast policy, all Fox and Hannity can do is resort to out and out lies and misrepresentations. A more blatant or clearer case of calumny I’ve never known, and yet not only is this kind of thing now the norm over at Fox News, there is a constant flow of it seeping from the mouths of all of the aforementioned talk show hosts, who regrettably all still enjoy amazing popularity.

It simply cannot be denied that in the wake of a contentious primary election, during which Republican rally-goers could be heard yelling “Kill him!”, and “He’s a terrorist”, that there are those in this country who wish to do the President harm. And in the wake of the murder of Tiller, the recent shooting at the Holocaust museum of guard Stephen Johns (a black man), and the sharp increase in the number of threats against President Obama, it is clear that somewhere, somehow, the seeds of hatred and intolerance are being sown. And watered, and fertilized, and encouraged to bear fruit.

It all hearkens me back to the early days of the campaign, when so many of my black friends and family openly expressed their fears for then Senator Obama’s safety, going so far as to say that they would not vote for him for fear that he would be assassinated. I was never one to let this particular fear sway me, and I was quick to point out to them that withholding a vote for Obama on this basis was akin to wishing the Civil Rights Era had never happened if we could just get Martin Luther King Jr. back. It’s not that I didn’t share their fears, it’s just that I had a strong conviction, and a desire for the kind of change I felt President Obama would bring. And I didn’t let myself think about what the election of the first African-American to the presidency would mean to the national discourse between liberals and conservatives, because I knew that it was inevitable that conservative talk radio would bring trouble down on the head of whomever was elected to office as long as they were a Democrat.

But even I wasn’t prepared for the noise level that has ensued. Glenn Beck, who I am now ashamed to admit, was once a favorite of mine, has turned into the talk show equivalent of a paranoid wilderness dweller, hoarding freeze-dried food and broadcasting messages of doom from an old CB radio to anyone who will listen. And Michael Savage, who’s anti-everything hate-speech has become so pronounced in recent months that even the government of Great Britain has labeled him an ‘agent of extremism and intolerance’ and blacklisted him along with 22 others, banning him from entering the country. You need only watch the nightly news to get an endless barrage of misstatements, exaggerations, and yes, doomsday pronouncements of the demise of the United States at the hands of Barack Obama, that it is no wonder the Secret Service can hardly keep up with all the threats.

In this country, we have a bad habit of taking what is good and noble about us, what our founding fathers wished for us, and turning it into a scourge. We trumpet our freedoms, to worship as we please, to pursue our dreams, and to say what we feel, and yet seek to silence those who would dare say we are not a Christian nation, question the legitimacy of the birth of a great leader, and use the public airwaves to deceive and instigate acts of violence. It matters not, for instance, that the First Amendment specifically prohibits the establishment of a national religion, if you say in a public forum that we are in fact not solely a Christian nation as President Obama did in his speech in Cairo, you become fodder for right-wing nut jobs in this country who think it’s okay to kill an innocent man whose only crime was waking up one day and going into a modest job guarding a national monument, while labeling those who strap bombs to themselves and kill buses filled with school children terrorists.

Increasingly in this country, being free really means taking liberties with the ideals upon which this nation was founded. I learned years and years ago that freedom of speech has limitations – that I could no more yell fire in a crowded theater for fun than I could knowingly and purposely promote ideas that are meant to cause harm to others, or that encourage those who would do harm to act. Yet when Shawn Hannity uses his bully pullpit to flat out lie to his audience, or when Bill uses code language to encourage anti-abortionist nut cases to “stop” someone, or when Rush uses his vast influence to cultivate conservative extremism, they all in their own way, do a tragic injustice to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution they claim to love so much.

And so I’ve blown the dust off of my laptop, because it’s time to add mine to the chorus of voices that’s needed to drown out Rush’s and Bill’s and Shawn’s. It’s not enough that we know that the majority of the American people love and appreciate their new President, because these guys are working hard to provide a forum for those in this country who are either still mourning the election of a black man to the highest post in the world, or who in their zeal to ‘save America’ want to be fed a regular diet of garbage disguised as political discourse. It is not to say that Bill O’Reilly should be brought up on charges for the actions of Scott Roeder, or that even if a direct connection could be made between the trash-talk of conservative commentators and people who commit acts of cowardly violence that anyone should be legally culpable but the perpetrators themselves. Nevertheless, yelling fire in a racist nation, day after day, week after week, and year after year should and must have consequences – consequences that it is up to us, the reasonable and fair-minded in this country to dispense.

Posted in Did You Know? | 10 Comments

Barack Obama: The 44th President of the United States

Obama Wins!
By Patricia Wilson-Smith

It happened before we knew it. At precisely 11:00 pm Eastern Standard time, on November 4th, 2008, when we expected to begin hearing more state projections, all of the network and cable news outlets declared Senator Barack Obama to be the President-Elect of the United States of America.

I didn’t do what I thought I would do. I was all prepared to collapse into a fit of tears, to become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all; to feel a huge release from the nervous tension that had been building for the last several days. Instead, what I felt was serenity, a peace that I couldn’t explain. As my family and friends clapped and cheered and cried, I sat to myself, shaking my head at the idea that it could all be over just like that.

There is much to wonder about in what took place that night. What happened to the “Bradley Effect”, or the voters (it was feared) who’d lied to pollsters about voting for Obama and then didn’t? Where was the total desertion of “un-decideds” to the McCain camp that had been predicted by some? It was amazing – there were no states so close to call that the race would linger on for days or weeks. No long lines at the polls, or riots, or voter suppression to speak of, nothing. Just an awe-inspiringly decisive win on the part of President-Elect Obama, including in states that had not voted for a Democrat in several decades.

Even the highly-paid news pundits didn’t know what had hit them. For days and weeks ahead of time, fears regarding the dreaded “Bradley Effect” had been the main topic of many of their shows, and going into election night, it was the one thing that no one was really sure about. I had long ago taken solace in the fact that if the Bradley Effect was in fact a real phenomenon, it would not necessarily be so after 26 years. I was confident, as was Michelle Obama that any such effect would have shown itself in the Primary.

And what of the un-decideds and the ever-tightening race the media warned us about up until the very last moment? CNN’s before and after poll-of-polls results showed that even though some races absolutely did tighten at the end, the polls going into election night proved to be dead-on, primarily because un-decided voters essentially split down the middle in their support of the two candidates.

What about the long, oppressive lines at the polls? The voter suppression fears? Early voting made mince meat of these, in states where early voting was allowed, and in other states, lower than anticipated turn-out helped with the rest. Though it is inconceivable to me that anyone in this country who was eligible would not have been electrified into action by the excitement of this race, the truth is, more Democrats than ever turned out to vote, while fewer Republicans cast votes for their party than in 2004, an obvious reflection on the disparity in excitement levels between the two camps. A concerted effort on the part of both campaigns to monitor the polls for voter suppression and other problems apparently calmed the waters there.

The real truth of the matter is that Election Night 2008 was a brilliant culmination of an almost flawlessly executed campaign on the part of President-Elect Obama and his campaign strategists. We were knee deep in the primary season when I got a taste of how professional and well-run his organization was as a volunteer, and it never missed a beat. It helped as well to have a candidate with the mind and heart to win over Americans from all backgrounds, and untold people from every nation around the world, and whose message of hope and change gave most of us exactly what we needed to hear in some pretty turbulent times. One of the most beautiful things about the celebration that went into the night that night was that it literally took place in concert all around the world – even the staunchest Republican had to have been moved by the sight of the global euphoria, especially from the residents of Kenya, the land of Barack’s father’s birth.

As a black women, it has been almost surreal, watching the nation suddenly become fixated on Michelle Obama, and Sasha and Malia Obama; already so much change, in a country where the disappearance of a small black child or an African-American woman has in the past, garnered almost no national media attention, especially as compared to our white counterparts. Suddenly, what Michelle Obama is wearing is the talk of the fashion world, and where she will send her daughters to school is on the minds of pundits and prognosticators the world over. Everything is changing right before our eyes, and it is a privilege to be able to see it all unfold.

All that is left now is for us to keep up the fight for a truly United States. Electing our first African-American President comes with great responsibility for the black men, women and children in this country. It is not okay to joke about making white people slaves; it is not okay to gloat over Obama’s victory to even our close white friends, because he was not elected by blacks alone. It is, however, the time that we have been waiting for since the beginning of our history in this nation. We can officially close the chapter on systemic racism at the highest levels of government, and focus our efforts on the day to day problems of inequality that still plague our workplaces, schools, communities, and homes.

And we can begin to be the change we need. What would it mean for this country if the legions of Obama and McCain volunteers for that matter, black, white, and brown, were as determined to see that all of our children get a good education as they were that their candidate get elected? What would it mean for us all if that same army of volunteers assisted the elderly, helped feed the sick, aided veterans, and victims of natural disasters?
It would give an already enormously historic event new and lasting meaning. It would usher in a new era of true bi-partisanship and collective support that could get this country back on the road to being the one we once knew, after eight-years of mayhem.

In other words, it would be what some of us fought so hard and long for – the kind of change that President-Elect Obama can believe in.

Posted in Barack Obama, Commentary, Did You Know?, Politics, The Campaign Trail | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

On Obama and Black Boys

On Obama and Black BoysBy Patricia Wilson-Smith

As of this writing, the current national Gallup poll has Senator Obama leading by a respectable percentage; several previously red states are either leaning or solidly in the Obama column, and Senator McCain is fighting tooth and nail to hold on to other Republican strong holds, including his own home state of Arizona. Though most of us are afraid to say so, it appears that we are in fact about to see our collective dreams come true – one that many of us thought could not happen, and definitely not in our lifetimes. We are mere days away from what could be one of the most historic and defining moments in this nation’s history, and as a black woman, it’s been hard for me to know where to begin when it comes to expressing my thoughts about what’s coming. The fact is, the photo that accompanies this article says it better than I ever could, but here goes.

There are so many black women out there who, like me, are raising young black men. Due to a recent marriage, I’m now raising three. And it is as much a sign of how much this nation has changed that in some ways, my three sons are oblivious to the importance of the coming event, as it is an indictment on our society that as women raising black men, we’ve longed for someone, anyone to ease our fears about our sons’ futures and to be the role models that our young boys have so desperately needed for so long. Not that we haven’t had strong models for them at all, but we’ve been hard pressed to find them outside the fields of sports, music, or other areas of the entertainment industry.

I was left alone to raise the only child I’ve ever given birth to when I was just four months pregnant. The pain and fear I felt at the time soon gave way to resentment, and then to a hatred so pronounced that it threatened to swallow me whole. I had tried my best to play by the rules, only becoming pregnant after six years of marriage during which I had begun to think that I was incapable of having a child.

The news of my pregnancy was at once joyous and terrifying, as it became increasingly apparent that I would be forced to raise my son alone. Back then, I could not comprehend how it was that the father of my only child could not understand how much his son needed him, how much I needed him, and the pain of the rejection of me an my son was unbearable at times. It was everything I could do after the birth of my sweet David to will myself on a daily basis to be grateful for the part-time status of his father, and the modest child support he paid faithfully each month. But it was what I had to do, for my son’s sake, and also because a guiding hand, a role-model, a mentor, my son’s father could and would never be.

What was even harder is that it wasn’t long before I realized that I had to find some way to learn to forgive my ex-husband; I eventually realized that he himself was and is a product of a shattered home, and ill-equipped to play the role of father and husband. Raised without his birth father, and ultimately without his birth mother, he had no real guiding hand, no role model of his own to speak of. His was an existence of sustenance only; as a result, he had no foundation given to him in what it meant to be a father and a husband, to raise a black boy in this society, to set and achieve goals, or anything like that. The condition of his life has been one of playing what he’s been dealt, and the result is that though he loves our son as much as he knows how to, he has nothing meaningful in the way of a winning hand to deal my son.

My story is not unique. From the young woman who may have gotten caught after a cataclysmic lapse in judgment, to those who like me, watched their husbands walk out on them after years of marriage, literally leaving them holding a blue diaper bag, many black women have had to come to terms with the idea that we have been left alone to raise little men. As a population, we have allowed ourselves to fall into a cycle of family disintegration that has become all too common place. These days, it’s the African-American kids who live in in-tact two parent homes who are the weird ones. In our communities, having a father who is in the home, productive and engaged has become a novelty. A tragic, gut-wrenching novelty.

But for the most part as black women, we’ve persevered. Doing all that we can to expose our sons to the right influences, to talk tough to them when we need to in their fathers’ absence, and to do and say whatever we can to try to mold them into the men they need to be. Sometimes without the benefit of having had a male role model to emulate ourselves, and all the while praying that OUR sons will prove the ugly statistics that we can’t escape or get out of our heads wrong.

The reality is, the problem is generational, and has its roots in slavery and the systemic destruction of the African family unit as it was when slaves were brought to this country. Many stories of the time tell of how upon arriving on these shores, men were immediately separated from their children and wives, in order to begin the process of degradation and humiliation that would ensure that their spirits would be broken, and that they would willingly comply with their masters’ wishes. It began way back then, and persists to this day because of our inability to re-discover our strong family ties, through the lingering effects of Jim Crow, the confusion of first segragation and then forced desegregation, and the plain old racism and failed attempts at evening the playing field (like welfare, and in some respects affirmative action).

So it was, that we the black mothers of America found ourselves; over the years, frightened beyond all measure that our young men would be sacrificed to the ravages of an unfair justice system, or worse to the violence of the mean streets; or engulfed in the culture of fake opulence and self-degradation that is some rap music, and some aspects of the Hip-Hop culture; or lost and forgotten in an educational system that is tilted towards their white counteparts, and none too anxious to fix itself in order to help to turn the tide of drop-outs and illiterate graduates it produces in startling higher proportions in the minority community. And most of all we were certainly convinced that though blacks in this country have made many strides, there were still some very obvious limits, when on the national stage walked Barack Obama.

Now please don’t zone out on me. I know that Senator Obama is not the second coming, or even the answer to all our problems, but what he is is a shining beacon of hope, and proof of what we’ve all known all along – that black men can be real fathers, good husbands, and strong and thoughful leaders, hard stop. That we are a nation of little budding Obama’s waiting to happen. That with the proper care and feeding, our boys are capable of achieving the unthinkable. The beauty of Senator Obama is that he not only displays these qualities as a legislator and candidate, he displays them even more as a father to his gorgeous daughters and husband to his wife.

And so just like in the photo, Senator Obama, along with every other weight he carries on his shoulders, literally is caring the hopes of the black boys who will soon be men in this country, who generation after generation, have been able to hide their brilliance and potential behind the mantle of hopelesness that said that they could only go so far, or achieve so much. And he and his family stand as the most shining example of a strong family, black, white, or purple that we’ve seen on the national forefront in a long time. It is an astounding feeling, as the final days of the campaign fade away, to look forward to the days after November 4th, when we can all breathe an endless sigh of relief and spend our days reminisicing about the fight. And it will not be lost on any of us what this historic event can and will mean to the young black boys of this country, who after that date, will be able to say with confidence and without hesitation, “one day, I will be President of the United States”.

Look at the picture again. I get great joy in the wide-eyed wonder on my sons’ faces when I tell them that once black kids and white kids couldn’t play together – not totally unlike the giggle I get out of watching them collapse into a fit of laughter when I tell them that when I was their age, we only had four channels to watch on television. One day, my sons, and the boy in this picture will be able to astound their grandchildren with wild tales of a time in our nation’s history when the idea of a black man running for President was laughable – unheard of. And hopefully, they will smile, and take great joy in their chuckles, and marvel at the innocence that comes from being the beneficiaries of the brave and remarkable accomplishments of those who came before us.

Posted in Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Commentary, Did You Know?, Issues, Michelle Obama, Politics, Polls, The Campaign Trail | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Four Days in Denver

The Obama Campaign put together the video below, entitled, “Four Days in Denver”. As many of you know, I was a delegate for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, along with my friend Steffini Bethea. I took hundreds of pictures, and even some video, but the video the campaign has put together gives you an amazing behind-the scenes look at the convention preparations, and also gives you a glimpse at what it was like to be there:

Going to Denver, especially being in Invesco Field on Day Four was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. If you were viewing from home, you knew that something truly special was taking place, but if you were there, in a seat during the proceedings, you couldn’t help but feel like you were part of making history yourself.

Now with only a little over three weeks until Election Day, let us all remember that even in the midst of the worst economic crisis of most of our lifetimes, growing fears about threats from abroad, and in a climate rife with bitter racial tensions, everything that we have done to get to this place has been nothing short of remarkable; everything that Senator Obama has done to bring the people of this nation together, in ways that we’ve never BEEN together has been truly remarkable. and on November 5th, when we awake to the reality that not only have we elected the first African American President of the United States, but that we’ve elected the best leader we could possibly have for our time, we will have much to celebrate. But – we will also have much more work to do.

Denver was amazing. A miracle. History-making. And it was all thanks to the long, hard work of so many of you. Nothin’ left but a countdown!

God bless President Barack Obama!

Posted in Barack Obama, Commentary, Issues, Michelle Obama, Politics, Polls, The Campaign Trail | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Sarah Palin, or The Bad Re-make of ‘Pretty Woman’

By Patricia Wilson-Smith

Ok. Seriously. I was just sitting here on my lumpy couch, minding my own business, getting my steady diet of news about the election, when I saw something that convinced me that either a) I have a brain tumor, or b) someone has punched a hole in the space time continuum. Or both.

Today, at a townhall-style rally with Wisconsin voters, Sarah Palin, the least vetted candidate for high public office in all of history, suggested yet again, that Americans need to get to know the ‘real’ Barack Obama, and that because of his nefarious associations – and this is when I think I felt my brain tumor twitch – Barack Obama would ‘diminish the prestige of the presidency’.

For real, Sarah?

It’s hard to even know where to begin. Matt Damon suggested that this all seemed like a bad Disney movie, but if you ask me, it’s starting to feel more like a bad re-make of ‘Pretty Woman’.

Let me just ask you this – just this ONE question. Would the American electorate have to endure this crap if John McCain had plucked an over-weight, bespectacled white woman out of obscurity, lined her up on stage next to him with her pregnant daughter and newly cleaned-up beau after being unable to prove that he had vetted her in any meaningful way? Would we be forced to suspend disbelief about, oh, experience, and relevence of education to the veep job if Sarah Palin herself were in fact a fat, dumpy, pimply-faced woman, who had gone to 5 different colleges before finally managing to squeak out a degree in Journalism (a profession which she would go on to flame out in before running for Mayor of a town with a population smaller than some college graduating classes)? And if this less than attractive woman was partial to shootin’ forest creatures out of a helicopter and being prayed for by witch-hunting evangelical extremists, I dunno – do you think the situation would be just an itty-bitty bit different?

You betcha, there. My friends to the right of the political spectrum can say what they will – Sarah Palin has mesmerized these otherwise mostly rational Americans who call themselves Conservatives not with her staunch right-wing beliefs or glowing readiness for high office, but literally with a wink and a smile. And she’s done so while being coddled like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, one of the most irritating moves of all time, being spirited away whenever a real journalist or even a college student gets too close to asking her a substantive question. And yet, there she was today, standing before yet another adoring crowd actually asking the question with a straight face – when are Americans going to get the answers they need about Barack Obama?

Man, Sarah – for real?

I have all the answers I need about Barack Obama, Sarah-poo. He’s been deflecting upper cuts and body blows from the media for going on two years now. No, I’m good on Barack. I am however, like many other sane Americans, still curious about a couple of things where you’re concerned, my friend.

Like the whole ‘Trooper-gate’ saga. Of course, since you’ve refused to answer questions about that, I guess I’m what you’d call ‘outta luck, there’.

Okay – well, how about that ‘bridge to friggin’ nowhere, thing?’ I’d like a couple of answers about why you claimed to oppose it when you were photographed wearing a t-shirt saying that you supported it? Any answers on that one? No, I guess not.

Well shucks, let’s see. How about that snarly Alaskan Sucessionist thing – can I at least get a dead-pan denial about that? Hmmmm, crickets on that one as well. Well gosh, darn it!

Alright, missy – what I’d really like to know is why you’re not answering the tough questions that are being posed of Senators Obama and Biden on a daily basis. Heck, even Senator McCain for that matter. It’s the very fact that you, who has been more sequestered from the media than any candidate for the vice presidency that I can personally recall, would actually stand up before crowds of your admirerers and demand answers from Senator Obama, that I’m convinced that we all now live in a world where up has become down. And the beautiful can get away with anything.

Let’s face it – I am a heterosexual woman, and even I know that Sarah Palin is gorgeous. It’s creepy. It is after all, part of our human nature to be drawn towards those things that we perceive as visually appealing, I get that. But to hear the endless drivel, the consistently non-sensical, cataclysmically sophmoric retorts come spewing from Sarah Palin day after day, in some way creates this weird dichotomy of reactions, where you can’t help but think she’s cute, even as you wretch over what you’re hearing.

The whole thing has taken on air of surrealness that I can’t WAIT to see end. Her candidacy, and any gains she has made for the Republican ticket is nothing but a reminder that even with something this important, there are those of us who will always be slaves to our baser selves.

So Sarah – I ain’t made atcha. Lucky for America, your presence is a temporary one, and after November 4th, only the wild animals of Alaska will need fear ‘ya. But until that time, I’d give anything, a lung, a right arm, anything, if you would stop with the Jedi mind tricks – you came along a little late, dear. This country has gotten to know Barack Obama VERY well, which is why he is in the position that he’s in right now, and you’re in the unenviable position of playing attack dog for a man who himself is being dogged by his unpopular policies and a series of gaffes, mis-steps, and straight up blunders that rival any in modern American politics. But hey – you really are goshed darn pretty!

Posted in Commentary, Did You Know?, Issues, Politics, Polls, The Campaign Trail | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment