Coming off of a tumultuous and exciting, multicultural Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party leadership is now feeling positive about its program. That program, I must admit, was one of the most far-reaching in recent history in electoral politics.
While some had questioned his sincerity, President Obama’s reference to Abraham Lincoln’s quote, where he said he had been driven to his knees in times of crisis, seems to be a reflection of the President’s realization that this job is much more multi-faceted than he might have originally expected. That self-analysis was balanced with the President’s acknowledgment that he IS the President, and not just a candidate. It is rare to see any political figure who projects their personal challenges in such a transparent way.
The call for “the people” to take the lead, to emphasize that it was the people and not just Barack Obama who made history in 2008, is truly a step forward in representative democracy.
As I sat in the Convention Center in Charlotte, I could see that some of the delegate wanted that “rock star” aura to emerge again. What the President was asking for was the bedrock of the Democratic Party. His call to the delegates was for them to realize their true significance, not only in this campaign, but in a transitional America which calls for, as he put it, “a new citizenship:” a citizenship that not only seeks for individual gain, but also builds community with others.
I couldn’t help but wonder, as the President gave this visionary speech: Where were those young guys with sagging pants that I saw standing on Gratiot Avenue in the cold waiting to vote four years ago? These were the “homies,” the boys with hoodies, who came out to help make history. Many of these same young men have faced and are facing a torrent of interpersonal violence, unemployment and criminalization—the likes of which the African American and Latino communities have not seen. It is hard for the “Pookies,” “Ray-Rays,” and “Juans” to think of anything except being a part of the permanent underclass—middle class aspirations are not even part of their equation. Many of these young men in particular are the ones who consistently look for a job, create a business and maintain a family on nothing more than air. Many of them want to work. Some have gone to community or private colleges. And many others have just given up. These are the young people that Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Obama, says that we MUST reach. They truly need hope and change.
I don’t want to sound too bleak, but neither Party has fully addressed the concerns of this vital human resource in our communities. Oh yes, and many of them are the young men who are making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. You hear about them when the mortality statistics are presented, and they are given the hero’s welcome home…after the fact.
I just think for pragmatic political reasons, and for the human transformation which President Obama envisions, these young people represent the base of the Democratic Party, and the bedrock of the future. They should not be left out of the speeches, the discourse or the capital-producing activities on which this election is focused.
The clarion call of the Democratic Party as they left Charlotte was that this election would determine, not just who wins, but the future direction of America for centuries to come. The Party, if it is to win, must start at the base…and lift up the “least of these:” members of the Hoodie Nation.
Mr. President, don’t leave them out.