by Hazel Trice Edney
Washington (NNPA) – In perhaps the most candid direct message to Black people since his Democratic nomination, then Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, on election eve Monday, credited Black voters for his historic political rise, promising to make a difference in their lives if elected.
“Everyone under the sound of my voice understands the struggles we face. Everyone understands the fierce urgency of now. You all know what’s at stake in this election,” Obama said in a live telephone conference with Black leaders Monday morning. The “listen only” call included a spectrum of speakers, including civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery, Oprah Winfrey, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn.
Obama listed a string of issues disparately faced by African-Americans, including the struggle to recruit good teachers and the struggle against under-funded schools, double digit jobless rates and having to work two and three jobs to make ends meet.
“I mention these issues because this community, our community, the African-American community, during these challenging times, suffers more than most in this country,” he said. “Double digit inflation, double digit unemployment, stagnant wages, our kids are more likely to drop out, more likely to be in jail, more likely to die. We’re going to have to do better. And if we continue the momentum we’ve seen across this country over the last several weeks, we can do better.”
Obama credited his success in key states to the record turnout of Black voters that had already participated in early voting. Pollsters show near Black solidarity behind Obama about 95 percent. “We’ve seen record turnouts for early voting among African-Americans in states that have not been in the Democratic column for a generation,” he said. “States like Georgia, where we’re seeing lines going around the block, people waiting for four, five and eight hours.”
‘(T)his community, our community, the African-American community, during these challenging times, suffers more than most in this country,’ Obama said in an election eve conference call with Black leaders. ‘Double digit inflation, double digit unemployment, stagnant wages, our kids are more likely to drop out, more likely to be in jail, more likely to die. … (W)e’re going to change this community.’
Also citing historic get-out-to-vote efforts in North Carolina and Virginia, Obama said, “Our campaign is alive and thriving in all of these states as well as Florida and Ohio, And mainly it’s because of an energized African-American community. You have done this. Through your hard work, your commitment to this movement, you have forever changed the political landscape of this country and we have to keep working to keep up the enthusiasm. We’re seeing things like we’ve never seen before.”
In a euphoric moment, Obama, running comfortably ahead of his Republican opponent Sen. John McCain in most polls, imagined how a Black family in the White House would change America beyond public policy. “I’m convinced that not only are we going to change this country, but we’re going to change this community,” he said.
“We’re going to change our sons, our daughters, our grandchildren, how they look at themselves. We’re going to transform barriers in the world. We’re going to change the hearts and minds of people around the world. That’s a powerful thing. That’s more powerful than any policy out there and any governmental program,” he said.
He described his family in the White House. “I can imagine Malia and Sasha running on the South Lawn and Michelle with her elegant self. And I say to myself that that’s the kind of signal that will indicate that change really has come and that America has moved beyond the shadows,” he said. “I hope all of you guys feel that same excitement and that same soberness. And I hope that in the next 36 hours, we do everything in our power to make sure that we bring this reality about.”
Recalling the civil rights movement, Obama says he owes the Black community. “There’s a lot of debts that are out there, a lot of obligation that I feel toward people who sacrificed far more than I did,” he said. “A lot of people who preceded us, people who came before us and maybe didn’t think they’d ever have an opportunity to vote, much less see an African-American run for the presidency of the United States.”
Nearing conclusion, he recalled how far his campaign has come over the past nearly two years. “You know what they said last year. They said the country wasn’t ready for this. They said we should wait a little longer, work a little harder. We didn’t wait. We seized the moment. But we did work harder. Now we’re here at the precipice of one of the most extraordinary moments in our nation’s history at a time when we need to rejuvenate our faith in our country and in ourselves.”
Hazel Trice Edney is editor-in-chief for NNPA, the Black Press of America, www.BlackPressUSA.com.