On Nov. 4, 2008, it happened — Barack Obama became our first African American president. What an historic moment this is. A nation that held people of African descent in bondage for 300 years and denied them rights of citizenship under Jim Crow for a century more has elected a Black president. It doesn’t get any more historic than that.
This election became one of the most dramatic in history because it was a transformative election representing the end of extreme rightwing Republican rule and the beginning of a new democratic upsurge which could move our country in a progressive direction.
That the candidate representing democratic change was African American is no small matter. It put the struggle against racism objectively in the center of the nationwide election debate.
Barack Obama’s election represents a mighty blow against racism and for democracy. Without a vigorous fight against racism Obama could not have won. To vote for Obama, tens of millions of white voters had to overcome the influences of racism. The Obama-Biden campaign has brought millions to recognize that racism isn’t just morally wrong but is also a block to a better life for all.
Reflecting the times, Obama had a more advanced program for the working class than Al Gore and John Kerry, and he received more votes from white voters. Many white workers had to be won to understand that basic class issues, the economy and peace could not be advanced unless racism was defeated. This can be a new platform to advance the whole struggle.
This is proud moment for Black Americans. The Black vote was the largest in history, and Obama and Biden could not have been elected without it. It is a vote that must never be taken for granted.
The “problem” that Obama supposedly lacked white support turned out to be far less of a problem than McCain-Palin’s historically low level of Black and Latino backing — something the media never really examined.
Obama built the broadest, most inclusive multiracial electoral coalition in U.S. history, ranging from most of the broad left to large numbers of Republican voters and many national figures. African Americans, youth and organized labor were the key forces.
Obama’s election continues the great civil rights struggles of the last century. Without the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, won during the great upsurge of the 1960s, his victory would not have been possible. The Obama campaign/movement is helping to set the stage for an offensive against racism and for peace and economic justice.
I remember the mood among Black people and in the country after the great 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was electrifying. Now, Black people’s confidence, their hopes and dreams for freedom and the feeling that “we could win” have returned.
People waited in line for hours, determined to cast their vote. It was like South Africa in 1994 when Africans voted for the first time. Literally millions of African Americans registered to vote and came to the polls in massive numbers.
While registering voters in Harlem I met many older voters registering for the first time. I asked one elderly new voter, “Why now?” And he said, “After Iowa I felt we had a fighting chance to really change things and I had to be a part of it.” An Obama campaign worker told me of being approached by an immigrant worker who said, “Thank you for voting because when you vote for Obama on Tuesday, you are voting for people like me who can’t vote.”
So many people on the streets are saying, “This is truly a new day, I never thought I’d live to see a Black president.” Some ask, “Was it the man or the moment that made this victory possible?” I think it was both.
After this election things are not going back to where they were. You can’t put the genie of struggle back in the bottle. The people have used this election to take back their country from a cutthroat capitalism that sees only its profits, not people. They have given the new administration and Congress a progressive mandate.
The grave human consequences of the economic collapse, the energy crisis and the impact of globalization must be addressed with a program rivaling the New Deal in size and scope. That is what the people voted for.
There are tears of pride in our community today because the forces of racism and war have been defeated at the polls. There are also tears of joy among working people of all races and nationalities because people can see a new day coming; a day when economic justice, peace and equality can be realized. That is what we must fight for.
Jarvis Tyner is Executive Vice Chair of the Communist Party USA.