By Kenneth Miller, Sentinel Managing Editor & Evan Barnes and Jennifer Bihm, Sentinel Staff Writers
Barack Obama lifts a nation and the world with his historical presidential victory
In Kenya his family members were cheering and dancing. On the streets of Crenshaw Blvd. cars honked horns, in Nevada supporter Yvonne Wheeler cried, in Chicago nearly one million people erupted with joy on Tuesday Nov. 4. And a sigh of relief could be heard ‘round the world as America turned from its ugly past against African Americans to a glorious page, resoundingly electing Illinois Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States in a historical landslide election.
“Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled, Americans have sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of red states and blue states,” he said during his victory speech. “We have been and always will be the United States of America.”
The son of a Kenyan father and a White mother from Kansas fueled a political movement that has united a divided nation on the brink of a recession, an eroding housing market, a climbing unemployment rate and fighting two wars one in Iraq and another in Afghanistan.
The election itself was historical on more than just the fact the 47-year old Illinois Democratic senator became the first Black elected to the most powerful post in the world, but powerfully stunning in that a record number of nearly 100 million flocked to the voting booth in every pocket of America. It was a campaign that changed the political game in not just its candidate but how it was run. With Obama being the first candidate to forego public financing, the campaign raised more money than any in history based largely on private donations from citizens. It was also one that saw volunteers drive this election like never before. Thousands of everyday citizens around the country donated their time and effort to be a part of history in whatever capacity they could serve.
Obama claimed victory with a heavy heart having just lost his grandmother who died the day before the election. But that moment was a dream for many who thought they would never see it come true. It was for Black baby boomers that came of age during the civil rights movement and remembered segregated restrooms, water stations and entrances to businesses. It was for voters in their 70s to their 90s and even those 100 years and older who saw a reason to hope and dream again in the twilight of their lives.
Longtime community activist Lillian Mobley is one of those voices who felt nothing but pride for this historic moment.
“Tonight, I waited with great anticipation for this wonderful experience. It’s something that I feel I have waited a lifetime for,” she said with tears welling in her eyes.
It was for people like Victoria Christensen, a 27-year-old carrying on the legacy of her family who worked in the fields of Mississippi.
“My mother picked cotton in the summer for 25 cents and my grandmother cleaned hotels for $5 a week among other things,” Christensen said, adding that African-Americans have broken their backs over the course of history to help get to this moment where the country elected a Black male as president.
52-year-old Linda Williams also came with her story of legacy as she, Christensen and others passed out water bottles and fresh baked cookies to voters waiting in line. “This is something my mother didn’t live to see and I know she would cherish this moment,” Williams said. “It was a duty and obligation to help my folks today.”
It was a moment that drove people around the country to celebrate. They had seen what was considered impossible and Christensen summed the feelings of millions who waited for Tuesday to happen. “You can never say never to me,” she said, “I see “never” right now.” “Growing up in the segregated south I never thought I would see this day,” added Wheeler via telephone.
President of the Los Angeles City Council Eric Garcetti has been a staunch supporter of Obama from the very beginning and on that fateful evening when years of racism came crashing down.. “It was unadulterated joy and sadness for everyone before him,” he explained. “The moment that California put him over the top I realized that politics does not have to be cynical. I saw in him as somebody who is the guy to lead us out of despair that we’ve been through these past eight years.”
“Tonight we have witnessed history. President elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office next year as our 44th President of the United States. This is a day to celebrate and to move forward together as one America determined to turn the page of history,” said Donna Brazile, Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute (VRI) and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and CNN political analyst.
California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass was among the first local politicians to endorse Obama and has been a crusader for next term president throughout a brutal Democratic primary and the general election.
"I just feel that it was a glorious night and for my life it was a culmination of 40 years of activism. I guess the only regret that I have is that my parents, my daughter and my son-in-law were not here to share it with me, but I think it's an incredible celebration of what is possible in our country," poignantly stated Bass.
“I never thought that I would see this day in my lifetime,” said longtime community advocate and Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell Sr. “Right now I am so overjoyed with emotions for the many who have paved the way for Barack Obama with their courage, blood, sweat and tears. The responsibility bestowed upon him is a great one for which he will carry with dignity and humility that will make all of our sacrifices not in vain.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson who became the first Black man to seek the presidential office wept openly when the electoral votes were calculated securing an Obama victory.
“It’s a moment of great joy and achievement,” Jackson told the Sentinel Tuesday night. “Barack ran the last lap of a 54 year [Civil Rights] struggle. Now he will have a chance to lead the whole country in a better direction. But first, Jackson warned, President George W. Bush must be stopped from “emptying the treasury during his last 100 days so that Obama’s first 100 days can be successful.”
The Bush administration has already spent half of the funds from a $700 billion bailout package on failing banks, funds Obama said he would use as part of his economic improvement plan. That plan also involves creating “five million new, high-wage jobs’’ via renewable energy industries, and about two million more by way of rebuilding and improving schools and infrastructure around the country. He also mentioned a stimulus package to the tune of more than $60 billion, helping trembling homeowners and a increasingly unemployed middle class strapped for cash.
“When we grow the economy from the ground up, then everybody does better,’’ Senator Obama told supporters in Ohio Sunday.
Getting his health care plan off the ground will also be a challenge. He said he wants to help the almost 50 million Americans without health insurance get coverage mainly through employers who would either have to contribute to a healthcare fund or provide insurance themselves offered it.
Despite these challenges euphoria surrounding Obama’s victory may carry well beyond his swearing in ceremony in January.
“We have finally taken a step in the direction of Dr. King’s dream. I am so grateful to God that he afforded me the opportunity to live this long,” said California Assemblyman Herb Wesson
“He makes me proud to be an American for the first time in my life,” said Sentinel CEO Danny Bakewell Jr.
“I hope it changes the paradigm for African Americans in this country and that we can be judged by the content of our character, work ethic and our abilities,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry.
Obama is the first U.S. president to win more than half the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.