I will never forget the night of November 4th 2008. I watched the election results with one of my best friends, a buddy I met in seminary. I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having recently dropped out of my Ph.D. program in Boston. It was a low time in my life but the moment Ohio was called for Obama, all was joyous. Having grown up fully aware of the reality of racism in America, I was witnessing the unthinkable- a black family would be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That joy exceeded the simplicity of your candidate winning. For black folks, there are no words that could ever begin to convey what that moment was like.
The night of November 6th 2012 was similar but in many more ways different. For some reason, the victory I was most elated about was that of Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor turned financial reform champion and advocate for everyday people. It was her zeal, early on, in advocating for a new federal agency devoted to protecting consumers- everyday people like you and me- that caused me to become enamored with her. It was the strong opposition financial institutions had to her potential appointment to lead the new agency that caused me to fall head over heels for her. When addressing rugged individualism and fictional benefits of corporate greed, Warren said:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
It remains to be seen whether Warren can be that kind of leader once in office. Some might argue that having gotten this far in electoral politics is an indication that she won’t and that she’s already been bought off. Either way, it was my hope on November 4th 2008 that President Obama would be that type of leader. While I have several disappointments, most of my anger was always targeted at a congress- Democrats and Republicans- that tended not to deviate from a corporate agenda, regardless of the effects on the population. I’m sure that the President could have done more absent of that.
On November 6th I was conscious of all these things and that with either candidate, corporate interests would win that evening. I was aware that the interests and welfare of the population would ultimately be secondary to those of corporate shareholders and short term profits. I knew that we would continue to move closer to the cliff of environmental catastrophe and more and more we would continue to be a business-run society. Even so, part of me would have been crushed to have seen Romney win. I say that because all those horrible scenarios I just mentioned would have been hastened by a President Romney. I also say that because had Obama been defeated, I can’t help but think it would have been due in large part to the same type of spirit that led students at the University of Mississippi to riot and openly spew racist sentiments after learning of the President’s re-election. I didn’t want that to be true (consciously) of the majority of the country.
The President’s re-election means many things to me and I carry a certain ambivalence Yet he is my president. He belongs to me in a way that no other President has or could have. Some may deny it but as a black man, this means something so much deeper to me.