When I turned 18, the first thing that I did was register to vote. I did it because when I was maybe 9 years old, I checked out a book titled “Fannie Lou Hamer” written by June Jordan from my local library. It was not until much later that I would learn who June Jordan was. But at 9 years old, I met Fannie. She became one of my first touchstones and continues to be an inspiration. Yesterday, I voted early in Chicago. Every time I have cast a ballot since I was 18, I say a prayer of thanks to Fannie. It’s a tradition.
My politics are complicated and hard to describe. I am further to the left of most people who consider themselves to be Progressives. Yet I find most of the people who should be my natural allies insufferable and usually joyless. So I tend to avoid gathering or building with them.
I have assiduously avoided all discussions about politics during this election cycle with some of my closest allies. This is mainly because I am profoundly bored with the various critiques of President Obama and of electoral politics more generally. Let me be clear, I don’t care if people criticize the President or electoral politics. In fact, these are good things to do. I, however, don’t care about people’s critiques and I am sure that no one is interested in what I think about the President either.
I never thought that President Obama was a radical. I knew that he was a Centrist Democrat. I don’t feel “disappointed” in him and I don’t feel duped or lied to. I appreciate the progress that has been made over the past 4 years on some issues like Health Care and Civil Rights. I am glad that he has appointed some competent people to the Supreme court. I abhor his targeted killing of innocent civilians through the drone program. I want him to end the war on drugs. I want him to stop encouraging the privatization of public education. I can go on but I won’t. It’s unnecessary and pointless.
I don’t subscribe to the view that President Obama is the same as George W. Bush or Mitt Romney. I find statements like these ridiculous and the people who spew them to be unoriginal. I don’t expect anyone with my political orientation to be elected as the President of the United States like ever and that’s OK with me. I am perfectly happy with my role as an outside agitator rather than as an inside political player. This is as it should be. Barack Obama’s re-election offers people like me more room to organize and to press our demands. This will not be the case with the election of Mitt Romney. I believe that the issues that I care most about have a better chance of being advanced if Pres. Obama is re-elected. I believe in incremental progress over stagnation or reversal. Fundamental social transformation is a long, hard slog. People only stick with it if they can see some progress being made. That’s been my experience as an organizer.
As a Black woman, I am cognizant of what it must be like to be the first Black President of the United States. For this reason, my respect and empathy for Barack Obama are immense. In this, I fully embrace an essentialist view of race. I don’t think that people who aren’t black can understand what I mean. I also don’t claim that all black people feel the way that I do. I just think that my blackness, in this case, gives me a particular ability to empathize with Pres. Obama’s first-ness. The level of hatred and opposition that he has faced from white people in this country has been overwhelming. Just a couple of days ago, I read an article by the AP that suggests that animosity and racism against black people is at its highest level in years. It is in this environment that Barack Obama is governing and I never forget that. Throughout these past 4 years, he has conducted himself always with dignity. I am always reminded of Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” every time I watch the President on TV. Only Black people in this country can truly grasp the meaning of those words.
So I cast my vote for Barack Obama yesterday and said a prayer of thanks to Fannie.