I had been meaning to write something on the 2008 election of Obama, but I just could not put my thoughts into words after the election. Seeing how the country is still in a downward spiral of negativity when it comes to our economic future, I wanted to publish some notes about the man who we as a nation have elected to lead us through some of our most turbulent times of my generation.
Growing Up In SouthEast Chicago
In the eighties, I was a young kid growing up near 95th street on the southeast side of Chicago. There was lots of garbage and unemployment. The Reagan years were not kind on our neighborhood and I got to see it firsthand as a kid. Wisconsin Steel closed its doors and put many proud fathers out of a job. This led to lots of drinking and divorce in the community. All of a sudden some of my school classmates found themselves without a father or in tense family situations. During those years, schools did not offer grief counseling or any help. I remember standing outside of the elementary school waiting for the doors to open and worrying that my brother and I would get picked on by older teenage boys that pushed drugs and gang culture.
In Chicago neighborhoods are divided by the many railroad tracks that the city is known for. This was pretty evident, because there were always railroad tracks that once crossed, meant consequences. I remember one time in 7th grade, my friend and I were asked to take this young black boy home because he was sick. When we got him to his apartment building, we found the apartment empty, no parent and the whole place was a mess and smelled bad. Regardless we had to leave him there. Pretty much, by this time, I knew that no one cared about anyone else. The system was cruel and it was worse to the kids that had to live in it. If ever you needed a sign of how bad things were, all you had to do was point at the housing projects, which most of us referred to as The Projects. These were the poor that no one wanted to look at and so you kind of just pushed them into city run apartment complexes and forgot about them.
This was how Chicago was for me. As a kid I got the sense that the whites, blacks, and latinos, all hated each other and did everything they could to never agree on anything. For their inaction, the children were the ones that ended up paying for it. Adults talked about the many problems of drugs and violent gang crime, but they fostered a perfect environment for letting these social ills escalate further. By the time I was leaving high school, the violence was up! By 5th grade I has seen another classmate have his head smashed into a car windshield. By 8th grade, a fellow classmate stabbed a 7th grader and almost killed him for no reason. In high school, the gangs started using guns and so knives and metal spikes no longer were the weapons of choice for settling disagreements. After I left Chicago in 1991, kids had been slain at point blank gunshot in the back of a church and dragged onto Commercial Avenue where their blood stains appeared in the morning after. The community was shocked!
There was only one time when I remembered that the city actually worked, when people tried to get along and solve real problems. It was during the election of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black Mayor. All of a sudden, the Black community had somehow managed to do something unbelievable. They had asked a lawyer to run for office against his own judgment and they had gotten enough to people to come out and actually support him. Washington was this huge Black man that commanded respect and spoke like he knew what he was doing. Eventually the city changed and under his command, things got done. The most evident one I remember is that he got rid of all the metal garbage drums and replaced them with plastic garbage containers that helped the city get rid of its rodent problems. It was also his example of governance, that made whites, blacks, and latinos sit down at the table and actually work together. All of a sudden school councils and other community groups started to compromise and implement policies instead of playing political games. People got it into their heads, that maybe, you didn’t have to like your neighbor but you could definitely talk to him and make things work. This attitude is something, which I see in Obama’s trademark “Yes We Can!” slogan.
Of all events, other than 911, I remember two. The most recent one, when I heard on the radio that Princess Diana was dead and the other in high school when I heard over the loud speaker that Mayor Harold Washington had died. With Washington’s death, the mandate for political change ended and the commanding example of Washington’s political voice could not be matched. The city declined and went back to ineffective politics.
Obama in 2008
Now in 2008, I witnessed the rise of Obama the politician. A man that grew up in the age of Washington’s political example and who understands the downfalls of ineffective politics. Obama is a different man than Washington, but in him I do see some political resemblances. He is committed to helping people much like Washington and I think this is why America has chosen him. Unlike his political counterparts, one gets the sense that Obama is not about himself but more about public service as a social responsibility.