Yes we did

by Ayoola Mitchell

voter-registration-youth-west-oakland-community-collaborative, Yes we did, Local News & Views Not long after Barack Obama was voted the 44th president of the United States, a very interesting question was posed to me. My husband, Larry Mitchell, a prolific writer and thinker in his own right, commented on not having read anything profound or of intellectual depth pertaining to Obama’s victory. We have all heard those close to us, he noted, those famous and those not so famous utter the same sentiment, “Not in my lifetime did I think …” He then asked if I thought that we, as a people, were so mentally defeated that we never thought an African American could be elected president.

The term “mentally defeated” I found to be a very interesting choice for analyzing the why behind the sentiment so commonly stated. As I began to ponder my own perception of why I thought I would not see it happen, I began to look at the contributing factors to how “Yes we can” became “Yes we did.” Three distinctly different factors, together, contributed to Obama’s victory, yet separately they would not likely have produced the same victorious result. Those factors, which I call The Party, The Candidate and The People, illustrate “how we did.”

No one will doubt the significant role our economy played in the election. We faced the highest unemployment rate in years, homes were foreclosing at the highest rate ever and the stock market was declining on a daily basis. There were the two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, in which day after day had become year after year. Countless lives were being lost. The cost in American soldiers’ lives and the financial cost were beyond the imagination of even those who initially supported the military action. And there was no end in sight.

Lastly, there was Sarah Palin. A virtually unknown who at first glance appeared to be a clever choice by McCain soon became a joke to Democrats, an embarrassment to the Republicans and a very frightening glimpse at who could be president. Her lack of definitive knowledge of the role of the vice president and her belief that she had foreign policy experience because of Russia’s close proximately to Alaska raised questions about her capability. She really brought to the forefront of American’s mind McCain’s age and health. She could conceivably be president. This had to have even the most loyal Republicans and racist Americans thinking that the intelligent, educated Democrat was the better choice even though he was Black.

This was the contribution of The Party, The Republican Party.

julian-bond-martin-luther-king-vote, Yes we did, Local News & Views Barack Obama’s contribution was he was a politician who focused on the issues that were pertinent to all Americans. He spoke in a language which was inclusive: “we,” “us,” “the American people.” He is a politician who is a Christian, not a preacher turned politician. He was a man running for the presidency who happened to be African American. He was not an African American man running for president.

Obama ran a campaign that was about America, where we are and where we need to go, together. Even when his opponents got personal, he stuck to the issues and their records. The only time he stepped outside of that lane was when one of his opponents said something negative about the love of his life, Michelle. At that point he made it clear, chivalry was not dead. Basically his response was you can say what you want to about me, but my wife is off limits. Women loved it and men respected it. He said it, he meant it and he got right back to the issues. The fact that no one ever said a disparaging thing, publicly, about Michelle Obama again gave Obama’s voice, leadership, word and credibility more power.

Barack Obama is intelligent, articulate, educated, charismatic and handsome. He is representative of an American. Not a black American, not a white American, not a Hispanic or Asian American, but of an American. And his story is an American story of struggle, determination, hope and success. Lastly, Obama, as an African American man, was, unlike other African American men, not a threat. White people felt safe and confident that despite exchanging the bowling alley for a hoops court, he was not going to get to the White House and change the very things the status quo love about America.

This was The Candidate’s contribution.

Lastly there was Vinnie and them. I have a 22-year-old son who has never had an interest in politics. In his experience as an African American male, he has seen more friends die in 22 years than I have in my 46 years. He and a lot of his peers have experienced the attitudes and prejudices of Americans who believe they know all about them because they’ve seen the media’s depiction of his generation. His generation was the self imposed disenfranchised. However, when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, they began to embrace the possibility of change they could believe in.

They came alive and began to register to vote in record numbers. But it didn’t stop there. They became their brother’s keeper in making sure that all their pot’nas registered to vote. They texted, they myspaced, they facebooked, they put the word out. They made it uncool to NOT be registered to vote.

They disseminated information. When they learned that felony convictions did not automatically preclude you from voting, they told everybody. An entire sub-group who had believed they were disenfranchised registered. And then on that Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, they voted. They voted in record numbers. When I think of the number of blue jeans, white tees and sneakers casting their votes, I can’t help but get teary eyed. When Vinnie came to work with the sticker of the American flag that read, “I Voted,” I felt proud. I felt this really was a change we could believe in on so many levels.

This was The People’s contribution.

As I reflected on how “Yes we can” became “Yes we did,” I thought about these distinctly different factors which contributed, significantly, to Obama’s victory. The Republicans’ recent past and present – both their candidate and campaigning – was no longer acceptable to even those who had once supported it. Barack Obama was America’s candidate because he represented regular Americans. Not perfect but striving to be the best husband, father and man. He did what not many others have done. He made the American people believe that together, we can evoke change; together, we can make a difference. He brought together a nation, even Vinnie and them.

ayoola-mitchell-web, Yes we did, Local News & Views Ayoola Mitchell, is founder of educate2elevate, an organization committed to working with inmates and their families to maintain healthy relationships and reduce recidivism. Contact educate2elevate by writing to 3710 Lone Tree Way #212, Antioch, CA 94509 or emailing Ayoola’s husband is Larry Mitchell, longtime friend and contributor to the Bay View. He can be reached by mail: Larry Mitchell, D-63937, P.O. Box 715971 FSP, Represa CA 95671.