HERB BOYD and CURTIS SIMMONS | 1/18/2012, 1:12 p.m.
After more than two years in office, the first president of African descent finally made his way to the historic cultural and intellectual center of Black America, Harlem.
And for many in the Harlem community, his visit was nothing short of a big letdown.
The president made two stops: at Harlem's new "it" spot the Red Rooster (a restaurant), and at the always tony Studio Museum of Harlem (the place that is the beneficiary of a favorite charity soiree of the up-and-coming and arrived Black professional class of New York City).
But the DNC events in Harlem saw few Black professionals or members of the Harlem establishment at last night's events. While Harlem's Black politicos were well represented at the Studio Museum, and the president gave shout-outs to Rangel, Dinkins, Perkins, Wright and Dickens, a casual scan of the audience showed that between 80 and 85 percent of the audience was neither African-American nor Latino, the core of the Harlem community.
"I was thinking we would see more of the community and community leaders," said State Sen. Bill Perkins. "These seem to be the early money people, the financial supporters," he said.
Earlier in the evening some 50 people (one observer estimated there were four of five Black guests) forked over $30,800 apiece to attend the Democratic National Committee's fundraiser at the Red Rooster. A block away, more than 200 demonstrators braved an icy windchill factor, many of them unemployed or barely earning in a year the amount requested for one night in Obama's Harlem venture.
"War is real. This is our wakeup call," charged longtime activist Nellie Bailey, who is steadfastly opposed to gentrification in Harlem and Obama's intervention in Libya. "We want money--not for war, but for our children, our seniors here at home."
Bailey cited that Obama had given $60 million to educator Geoffrey Canada to build a charter school in the middle of the St. Nicholas Houses as part of a $100 million development project. "Sixty million dollars when our public schools have no materials, no supplies," she said.
"They have instituted a no-fly zone, but the [NATO coalition] continues to run interference for one side," said Professor Bill Sales, referring to the military intervention in Libya that has nullified Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi's warplanes and his air defense and severely hampered his ground forces. "And we know that NATO and the U.S. are inseparable."
Dr. Sales said, "We must hold Obama accountable," and this was the message he concluded with as he handed the bullhorn to City Councilman Charles Barron.
"Obama is wrong...U.S out of Libya," Barron chanted, and the crowd joined him for several minutes as huge dumptrucks positioned themselves along 125th Street where vendors are normally stationed. "We did not elect Obama for him to bomb Africa. We elected him to stand up like a man against the forces of imperialism."
Barron was also concerned about the rebels in Libya, mindful of the machinations of the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA. "Even the African Union advised Obama to get out of Libya," Barron continued. He was adamantly opposed to AFRICOM, which is essentially a combination of the CIA, the Defense Department and the Pentagon in Africa. On its website there is a plethora of information about Africa, particularly on Libya.
Willie Jones, who came all the way from Brooklyn to see what was happening, was also disappointed. "I think it's an insult to our community and its people to have an event here and charge such a huge amount of money to attend. When is Obama going to walk the streets here and greet the people like he does at other places? It's a shame, and that's all I got to say."
Jones's friend, who didn't want her name mentioned, agreed. "I do believe Barack has lost his mind," she said, pulling Jones to move on.
Perkins put into context how many long-term community folks see both the Studio Museum and newcomer Red Rooster as venues. "These spaces are not exposed to the people of Harlem," he said. "They are spooky for people concerned about gentrification," he said.