Team Harlem turns out in force to fight for an already battle-weary president
Obama’s New York supporters are prepared for a tough campaign, writes NIAMH SWEENEYin New York
WHEN THEY weren’t whooping, cheering and clapping, they sat doe-eyed, hanging on his every word.
Team Harlem came out in force to support US president Barack Obama on Thursday night as he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s convention several thousand miles away in North Carolina.
“I’m here because I believe in Barack Obama and to be in a place where other people believe in what he stands for is a good feeling,” says Phyllis Evans (66), a native of the predominantly African-American neighbourhood in northern Manhattan.
“His first four years were rocky. He’s done a lot, but you can’t fix everything in four years with the mess he was left with. In the next four years we’ll see a change,” she adds confidently. “My spirit tells me he’ll be re-elected.”
Local politician and president of the Martin Luther King Democratic Club Londel Davis jnr was also among those who gathered at Chocolat restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard to hear the president make his address.
“He’s kept every campaign promise he made,” Davis says. “He said he’d pass healthcare. He did. He said he’d kill bin Laden and he did. He’s trying his best to bring the economy back to life – he’s created more jobs in four years than Bush did in eight – but it’ll take Obama eight years to get us out of what Bush got us into.”
Davis describes hearing Obama speak at a local event in Harlem some years earlier as “one of the most exciting times in my life”.
“He passed me by and I just called out to him, ‘Mr President! Mr President!’, and he came back and shook my hand,” he recalled, clearly still enthralled by the encounter.
But while Davis says he has never identified with another president in the same way, he has one other hero.
“I do love Bill Clinton. Obama was the first black president but Bill came close to it.”
Local activist Josette Bailey (whose great-grandfather was one of three Bailey brothers who left Cork in the late 1800s) took a slightly more cautious view of Obama’s chances for re-election in November.
“It would be naive to think that Romney’s not a threat. The people who turned out to support Obama four years ago are battle-weary, but they know there’s a lot at stake,” she says.
There is little doubt that Obama will carry New York (and even less that he will carry Harlem) but these members of the Obama for America, Team Harlem organisation, are also involved in the broader effort to secure a second term for their candidate.
“New York is a sister state to Pennsylvania,” Bailey says, “so our group organises buses to go down there to help the elderly and the disenfranchised to register to vote. Philadelphia has a large black population and the city could carry Pennsylvania. It’s an important swing state.”
Adding to the problems facing the Obama campaign are new voter identification laws introduced by Republican legislators in several states following the 2008 campaign (during which accusations of voter registration fraud surfaced).
Voters in many states, including Pennsylvania, will now need to show either a driving licence or some other form of government- issued photo identification – something advocacy groups say poor and minority voters may not have. Bailey is not too concerned about this development, however.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. Lots of non-profit organisations have been on it from the start,” she says.
For others, such as Joan Ricketts, just listening to Obama on Thursday night was a treat in itself. Describing him as “a disciple of justice for the human race”, Ricketts first heard Obama speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Massachusetts.
“I arrived late and I couldn’t see who was speaking but I could hear him, and I just thought, ‘Who is that?’,” she recalls.
“Growing up during the black revolution, I knew there was a chance for a black president,” she adds. “
“I just never thought I’d see it, but he represents all colours and the poor . . . He is Superman, Spider-Man and all of the above.”