Forty- four –year- old former Chicago gang banger Dion Travis got so fired up four years ago enough by the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency that he got a job and committed to a changed lifestyle.
“I really thought I would never see a black president in my lifetime,” Travis said as he joined more than 400 “Obama 2012” campaign organizers and supporters last Saturday at 218 S. Wabash Ave. “(Obama) is going to need a whole lot of perseverance and hard work from all of us to win again, and I want to do all I can for my part” in securing victory in November.
He may have to do a lot, as an online CNN article Wednesday cited a recent Gallup poll that showed the president still enjoyed overwhelming support among black voters (89% to only 5% for Republican Mitt Romney). However, a National Urban League Policy Institute report indicates that if African Americans are to remain the key swing vote constituency they were in 2008, they must match or exceed the historic 13 percent of the total vote they cast then. Because if the Gallup numbers, which reflect a drop from 95% in black support for the president last time, hold up through November, re-election becomes very problematic, if not impossible.
Still, Travis, a South Side streets and sanitation worker, said he is ready to “go, go, go like gasoline” to return the nation’s first black chief executive to the White House this fall. Rebuilding his own life and future through the Second Chance program, Travis said the 2008 election of Obama inspired him to seek a career beyond drugs and crime in the streets. And the South Side Woodlawn neighborhood resident is eager to help the incumbent’s cause as the presidential campaign enters its last three months. “I am as excited as I was the first time,” said Travis.
Yet, while the president’s core followers in his hometown are fervently faithful, his following among African Americans has not been as steadfast nationwide since Barack Obama took the oath of his office some three years ago.
Nevertheless, no absence of enthusiasm could be found among the partisans packing the fifth floor last Saturday. Following a pep talk from retired Illinois Senate president Emil Jones Sr. and a rousing, 5-minute “Fired Up; Ready to Go!” pep rally chant stoked by “Obama 2012” state director Janelle Rau-Clauson , enthusiasm was bouncing all over the place. The partisans were pumped.
“We’re going to protect the president’s home base here,” Jones told the crowd of the campaign’s Illinois strategy. “We have to keep building a strong support organization here so the president can spend his time concentrating on the battleground states. We must win big at home, spread out and win these border states, the battleground states, and we’ll have a big tremendous victory here in 2012.
“It’s going to be a fun campaign, but don’t take it for granted.”
After Jones spoke, the gathering, which included campaign recruiters, sign-up forms and volunteer pledges, was treated to a viewing of the 2007 “Fired Up, Ready To Go” video starring Greenwood, SC councilwoman Edith Childs, is credited by the president with originating the slogan. When the 4-minute clip closed, the audience had got the message.
“I am going to do everything I can do to see that the president is re-elected said University of Chicago graduate student Krista Shelton, a campaign field office volunteer. “I am very strong in my desire to see him returned to office so he can do more great things for our country.
University of Illinois-Springfield graduate and master’s candidate, Sena Jimjimo, 28, said she is “very fired up” about working for Obama’s re-election. “I’m very excited; I love this man, and I believe in his ideas. I feel he speaks to me personally.”
South suburbanites, Jimjimo and Shelton, 24, who each have political science degrees, agreed there is a clear choice to be made by voters at the presidential polls on November 6. A Romney presidency, they said, would erase any hope of improvement opportunities for black communities, a fact that may be lost on many African Americans hard pressed to identify any real change in their fortunes during Obama’s tenure.
Should such a short sighted attitude take hold among the black electorate and keep them away from the polls, coupled with overt Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters in many states, the absence of a record African American turnout could spell defeat for the president.
“We need to grow our ranks,” said event emcee Deborah Williams. “We need a movement.”