Returning to Harlem this past Tuesday for the first time since his 2008 campaign to become the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama’s presence brought out both the young and more mature.
First, he and his entourage attended the exclusive Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Red Rooster restaurant (126th and Malcolm X Boulevard), followed by another one right down the block at the Harlem Studio Museum (125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard).
Despite catching heat for okaying the recent U.S. military attacks against Libya, Obama used these appearances in an attempt to scrape up $1.5 million for his upcoming reelection run next year.
Thousands of people packed 125th Street in anticipation of catching a glimpse of the man who once strolled the streets of Harlem in anonymity as a student at Columbia University.
. At the same time, a group of over 50 New Yorkers gathered two blocks away to protest the president’s recent war-like actions in Libya, followed by a march condemning Obama’s performance in office.
“This attack on Libya is an attack on Africa,” proclaimed Nellie Hester Bailey, one of the main organizers of the rally. “We must hold Obama accountable!”
The rally was held outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building and created a discernibly tense atmosphere. The crowd chanted, handed out fliers and imparted their views to passersby on the street. They were met with varied reactions as some demonstrators were physically threatened by pedestrians and many were called expletives for disagreeing with Obama.
Along with the NYPD monitoring the event, members of the New Black Panther Party led security for the crowd. Some of the protestors openly voiced their disagreement with the New Black Panthers, which led to quarrels. Yet the main message of the rally was asserted quickly and proudly.
“People voted for you, as a Black man, to stand up to imperialism,” explained Freedom Party member Councilman Charles Barron over a megaphone. “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid, people! If we were really bombing over there because they’ve been killing their own, then we’d have to bomb Israel, then Saudi Arabia and finally America for all those youth that have been killed at the hands of our cops!”
Long-time Harlem resident Eagle Eye Bear Claw Black Brown Buffalo, a Cherokee Indian, displayed a photo of an 800-pound bronze sculpture of Barack and his two daughters that he created and wants to present to the president. “There can’t be any more positive move than that [coming to Harlem],” he said, referring to the positive impact Obama is making upon the youth.
Buffalo then addressed Obama’s role in Libya, saying, “Everybody expects him to do everything overnight. I feel like he’s doing the best he can for the country. I think he will go in and win a second term. I like him, I did a sculpture of him, and I feel like he’s a part of me.”
Also attracted were the youth. Some from Red Rose Integrated Arts H.S. shared their views. Samantha Ruiz expressed her enthusiasm. “It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s not an everyday thing. We never thought that he was ever going to come to Harlem. Even if we don’t get to see him, just knowing that he’s going to be here, it means a lot to us.”
Fellow student Alia Cisneros said, “Because he’s the first Black president of the United States, it’s important for him to be in Harlem.”
Ruiz concluded, “It opened up my eyes to know that African-Americans can be higher than a lawyer or a doctor…they can be president of America!…No, he’s not being a hypocrite. It takes nations like us, Spain, all of us to help out Libya’s people. So that’s what he’s trying to do.”
But Obama’s $30,000 a plate meal to help raise money for the Democratic National Committee was regarded by many at the rally as a slap in the face.
“Barack Obama hasn’t done anything for Harlem. Now a bunch of politicians are dining on $30,000 meals while 30,000 New Yorkers would kill for a cracker?” asked Ms. Walker, a Bronx grandmother. “I don’t even want to know what’s on that plate.”
The rally culminated in a small march over half a block, ending across the street from the Studio Museum where a private reception for the fundraiser was to be held. The protestors jeered and berated the mostly white crowd waiting outside the building for disrespecting Harlem in this way.
Before Obama arrived at the reception and saw the protest, the group was dispersed by the NYPD in an effort to clear the street for his arrival.