As the country marked the start of President Barack Obama’s second term on Monday, a number of community activists reflected on his victory and whether he fulfilled his 2008 campaign pledge of bringing about change after eight unsatisfactory years under the Bush administration.
“He took on a real outrageous task. The country was in shambles, it was in the dumps–financially as well as morally–a lot of things were totally out of order,” says Abiodun Oyewole, founding member of the legendary Last Poets. “When he came on, he came on to a ship that was sinking. He stopped the bleeding and started making some changes that brought the country back up, returning America to its greatness.”
While a few feel encouraged by the slightly improved economy and scarce employment opportunities since he took office, some are still very pessimistic about certain social topics they say Obama has failed to address: the death penalty, mass incarceration, political prisoners of war and police harassment/profiling and terrorism, just to name a few.
“Maybe now that he’s safely entrenched in the White House for another four years, he’ll start to speak to the issues that have a disproportionate effect on Black and Brown poor and working-class people,” optimistically projected activist Dequi Kioni-Sadiki, who is a member of the local chapter of the Jericho Movement and co-chair of Malcolm X Commemoration Committee.
“They chose to give us that man, they said it’s our turn–‘Y’all can have a shot it’–and now they have given him a second term, but nothing has changed,” contends Baba Herman Ferguson. “We gained absolutely nothing; we’ve been bamboozled, hog-washed. Our people have to understand that we still have to overthrow this system, all of the institutions that enslave us and keep their white foot on our necks. They’re still there, and until those institutions are removed or changed, we will always be in the same condition.”
Some stats show a record number of voters going to the polls last November as a racially divided nation selected the candidate of their choice. In an allegedly post-racial America, NBC News revealed that 92 percents of Blacks and 73 percent of Hispanics/Asians supported the president; while only 39 percent of Caucasians did so.
“We still have all of society’s woes before he took office–police brutality, political prisoners … reparations are still an issue,” stated Shaka Shakur, People’s Survival Program activist. “We don’t want our people going to sleep now thinking that we got it made. We should get in gear and grind even harder now. Having a Black president makes you feel good, but we should take that feel-good to motivate us to do something for ourselves.”
Closing out a decade of overseas war and stimulating the economy somewhat, the Obama administration has given some a semblance of hope for a better tomorrow.
“The real burden is on us … to make the change that is necessary and do the things that will prepare the future of us and our people,” suggested Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, addressing several hundred college students at Southern University recently.
Obama’s re-election also lifted the public’s morale. “It’s a boost for people’s ego,” asserted David White, founding member of the Black Panther Party’s Harlem chapter. “What’s going to happen in the future is that Congress is going to obstruct him from making progress … he’s going to be an eight-year president who everybody blames things on.”
Dequi adds: “I don’t see him as the savior that people think. He’s the face of imperialism and colonialism. He’s just a Black face, instead of a white face.”
Nellie Bailey of Occupy Harlem implores: “It is now time that we get down to business, starting with the crisis of Black unemployment, the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, because history is with us, in terms of making demands on the president.”
Elected activist Charles Barron concludes: “We have to be vigilant. Obama’s victory, we have to turn that into a victory for the Black community. We cannot be forgotten, nor can our votes be taken for granted. We have to build a movement to hold Obama accountable because of our loyalty to him in giving him our votes.”