Friday, November 7, 2008

"Where were you when they called it for Obama?"

"Where were you when they called it for Obama?"

This becomes another magic question for those who have lived through a moment in time that won't be forgotten.

History caught me at a most symbolic location. I was actually crossing Delmar on the relatively new eastern edge of the University Loop.

In my time, the Loop was the only fertile site for social desegregation in all of St. Louis. Delmar has been the permeable barrier that has allowed all of this crossing over, which has benefitted me (and so many others) so profoundly.

North of Delmar - where I tended to live, as a Washington University student - was mostly black. South of Delmar, mostly white. All up and down Delmar, one of the few zones in town where white people felt comfortable approaching black people socially, and black people felt comfortable approaching white people socially.

In my day on the Loop, everything east of Skinker was a bombed out no man's land, where very few people of any kind could be seen, and none of them not black.

The first arts organization I put together (ca. 1988) to raise money for projects, Single Point of Light, wanted to find a small, struggling black church that was doing the right thing. I called my alderman at the time, Kenny Jones. He said he met constituents at a McDonald's in the ward. It was east of Skinker on Delmar, not terribly far from where I would be crossing the street when they would call it for Barack.

I remember feeling desolate and scared, walking past all of these abandoned buldings to meet with him. Of course, many people, mostly black, still feel this way when walking through their neighborhoods in (mostly north) St. Louis. But Loop developer Joe Edwards has changed that feeling for people who cross Delmar just east of Skinker, which is what I was doing when they called it for Barack.

I had been hiding at a family friend's house until they called Ohio. That was when the paranoiac in my mind (in a lot of minds) finally went off guard duty and let me relax and enjoy what we had all achieved together. The traveling musician Thollem McDonas, staying with the Eilers while in town, shook me out of my state of shock, and off we went to election parties.

The scene at the Chase wasn't quite for me. Off to the Pageant.

Walking from my car to the Pageant, I called my guy in Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago. He said he was walking through Grant Park, where hundreds of thousands of people were gathering. I still needed someone from campaign headquarters to tell me it was really over.

Corey said, "It's really over. We're just having a party up here now, man."

The scene at the Pageant wasn't for me.

The regional Service Employees International Union was having a party across the street. We headed over there. Just as we crossed the street, folks busted up inside that restaurant and bar in jubilation.

They had called it for Obama. Thollem and I were standing in the middle of Delmar at the time.

We crossed over and joined the party. This was most definitely my scene. I hugged Brandon Davis, the SEIU political director, who has done so much important work in Missouri in recent years. I hugged Comptroller Darlene Green, the most honest and efficient (and real) person I know in City government.

I hugged a whole lot of people.

One man I didn't know - a black man - hugged me, then said, "I guess I got to start calling you 'brother' now. I guess it won't be right if I restrict that word to other black men."

"That's nothing new to me, brother," I said. "That sounds good to me."

I think this really will continue to happen. I think we really will start to fear each other less and to expect the best, rather than the worst, from one another more. I think there will be an Obama generation that will be better than what has come before. I even see it coming to St. Louis.

And I see the people who have climbed into power and kept themselves in power through racist divide-and-rule chump-change politics trying to figure out if they can beat this new and better spirit or will they have to join it somehow.

We see Mayor Slay trying to join it by the way he is exploiting the death of an African-American firefighter to show a compassion that he has not yet shown to black firefighters while they are alive and fighting for their rights.

I hope, all over the coutry, people electrified by Obama are moving their focus toward their local politics. A lot of rot has taken root and festered over eight years of George W. Bush. Not all of it goes by the name of Republican. All of it has to go if we are to grow together.


Image from the marquee at Vintage Vinyl on the U. City Loop, another hotbed of social desegregation in St. Louis. Thanks, Tom and Lew (and Joe Edwards, too).


Ryan Frank said...

Hey Chris.
I reluctantly voted for Obama over Nader, and now I am regretting it. His first move as president elect was to appoint Rahm Emanuel, aan Israeli citizen and zionist, as his chief of staff. He gave a speech in which he announced that he will be increasing Israel's military aid to 30 billion. Among other things he said that he understands Zionism, and that Jeruselum needs to be the undivided capital of Israel. Is this change? Sounds like more of the same bullshit to me. We can't have peace in the middle east until America stops funding the illegal apartheid style occupation of Palestine. I would love to ride this wave of Obama hope and change. But I think its all an illusion.

Confluence City said...

It's not all or nothing. If it is, you get nothing when you vote for Nader. But it's not. These are choices within the gray scale, and Obama is much, much, much closer to the light than the guy who wins (McCain) when progressives vote for someone who is polling at less than 1 percent (Nader).