African Americans Turnout Will Determine History
By Kenneth Miller, Sentinel Managing Editor
By Evan Barnes, Sentinel Staff Writer
It’s happening from the stone mountains in Georgia to the snow capped Rockies of Colorado, in Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, the sunshine state of Florida and the coastline of California.
African American voters are registering their votes for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama in record proportions that could lead to the first Black president in the history of America on Tuesday, Nov. 4.
Obama’s candidacy has galvanized a political arena that until 1965 would not allow for Blacks to participate in the South without severe repercussions and his election could be the lightning rod to ignite racial unity among legions of Americans.
As both Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain campaign tirelessly during the final days leading up to the election, generations of Blacks, the sons and daughters of slaves, sharecroppers and cotton pickers have discovered a common ground with their collegiate children and grandchildren to elect a man who could be caretaker of the highest office in the land.
What once was not even a far fetched dream is now on the door steps of reality in an almost surreal episode that would elate former Black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and Thurgood Marshall.
It is a growing phenomenon that few can explain. Blacks who have been eligible to vote but have never done so are rushing to the polls and elderly seniors who have long since lost confidence in the democratic system have been inspired to participate again.
Regardless of what happens Tuesday, this is partly why Obama’s campaign will go down in history for more than just potentially getting the nation’s first African-American elected as president
It’s a campaign run and organized unlike any before it—one that has taken full advantage of technology and a public hungry for something different than what they experienced under the current administration.
It’s also one that has relied more on volunteer energy and private donations, the latter as a result of Obama’s decision to eschew public financing, the first presidential candidate to do so since its implementation after Watergate.
The campaign has raised over $600 million—more than the combined amount President George Bush and John Kerry raised in 2004—and nearly half has come from small donations under $200 by citizens. Of the $150 million raised in September, the average donation was under $100.
Volunteers have also driven the groundwork of the campaign, making phone calls and planning events. In California alone, there are only 15-22 Obama staff members—eight of whom are the regional field directors. The rest of the work is done by as many as 6,200 statewide volunteers looking to serve in any capacity.
Like other offices around the country, the South Los Angeles office at 5444 Crenshaw Boulevard has a diverse group of volunteers who work non-stop on the phones or man the store.
It has only been open for under a month, but based on word-of-mouth, radio spots and curiosity of people passing by, the office averages around 90 volunteers during the week and over 100 on weekends—some of whom work 12 hours a day—while making thousands of calls daily.
For many, this is their first time being a part of a campaign and the first time they feel compelled to be a part of this movement.
“They have never felt a reason or saw a conduit by which to get involved before,” said Dr. Lauren Brown, one of four who helped start the office.
They come from Norwalk, Manhattan Beach and the San Gabriel Valley as well as closer cities nearby, but all of them are driven by the same goal—get Sen. Obama elected and convince voters in battleground states such as Nevada and New Mexico to support their candidate.
On weekends, their dedication is to the point where they use their cell phones to make calls, finding convenient ways to get the job done if all the phones are in use.\\
The only staff member is regional field director Greg Akili, who offered a three-part reason behind the success of the campaign. Barack Obama’s inspirational message of hope and change; his supporters’ belief in themselves and the decentralization of the campaign allowing more ways to get involved; and the combination of political and community organization working together for the firs time.
“This campaign has set the standard for national and local campaigns in the future,” Akili said, who has been a part of four of the last five Democratic presidential campaigns, “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
The level of volunteerism spans all ages and races who find themselves watching MSNBC, CNN and Fox News like never before and it’s a groundswell than have several different roots.
Much has been said about Obama’s support among the 18-35 year old demographic and with college students casting their first vote, they have found their voice in a candidate who they can relate to.
“He’s down-to-earth and listens to some of our music,” said Travis Rawls, an 18-year-old student at West LA College who will cast his first vote for the Illinois senator.
Rawls referred to the fact Obama has mentioned that rappers Jay-Z and Ludacris among the artists in his I-pod—an eclectic list that includes Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen. The fact that he uses an I-pod is a symbol of the cool that many see reflected in their own lifestyles.
As he talked with regional field officer Kevin Brown about the importance of voting and the history behind it, Rawls spoke of the pride behind his decision as something he could tell his kids about.
“It’s a historical event,” he said.
Many of Rawls’ friends share his eagerness and so do other young people who have entered the political arena for the first time. The campaign has not just provided them a chance to get their feet wet but also a chance to assume leadership roles and put their energy to use.
Most of them have used social networks like Facebook and MySpace to not just stay connected in groups supporting Obama but via his campaign page, they can stay informed on the latest news.
While candidates have utilized the Internet since the 1996 presidential campaigns of President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole, the Obama campaign has used it to an unprecedented level.
On Facebook, his campaign page has close to 2.3 million supporters, nearly four times as many McCain’s page (just over 606,000). It’s become a resource where they can receive daily updates from the campaign.
In addition to www.barackobama.com, the campaign has established another website, www.my.barackobama.com, which allows people to not just become part of a community but gain tools to contact undecided voters or plan their own events.
Over 1 million people nationwide have signed up because they believe in not just his message, but because they feel inspired to go beyond what they can do.
That, ultimately, is the reason that this campaign will be remembered for far more than just potentially helping Barack Obama make history on Tuesday.