We have a mandate: Initial thoughts on the victory of President-elect Obama

Austin McCoy

Congratulations. I am still shocked. Although I waited for Tuesday with cautious optimism, I felt that we would know our new President by the time I went to bed the night before. But, as I have said, the reality is indescribable. The American people have spoken – black, brown, white, rich, poor, uneducated and unlearned; Conservative, Leftist, Centrist, and liberal Democrats; Republicans, plumbers, hockey moms, gay, straight, Christians, Muslims, agnostics and atheists, men and women, the disabled and the non-disabled – and they chose the self-described skinny black kid with a funny name: Barack Obama.

Honestly, and spoken as a budding historian, I cannot predict how the Obama victory will impact race relations and American politics. There is one certain meaning of this election I do know: We, his critical supporters, and the people, now have a mandate.

For those of us who were astounded and angered by the results of the 2000 election; those of us who wiped the tears from our eyes after Kerry lost in 2004; for those of us who participated in Obama’s campaign, we have a mandate. For those of us who have engaged in community organizing in the last eight years, for those of us who protested the war, fought to rebuild the labor movement, sought to continue the work to break down racial and ethnic barriers, aspired to continue the women’s movement, we now have a mandate.

This is not to say that President-elect Obama has now saved any of us; but now, it will be hard for others to argue against our political organizing and the goals we seek to accomplish. We are no longer the wishy-washy, na’ve, blind lemmings that many of our detractors described us to be. We cannot be mocked for being community organizers any longer. Community organizing won the campaign. Skeptics have to listen to us, and President-elect Obama must pay attention to us if he fails to follow through.

I have had a lot of talks in the last couple of weeks with fellow activists and concerned citizens about the prospects and the meanings of an Obama administration. The conclusion that I continue to draw from these conversations is that we must remain humble in the wake of victory and continue to organize. Obama movement participants should capitalize on existing networks and channel their energies into tackling issues such as poverty and the improvement of our political discourse. We must discover new or revitalize older organizing tools in order to sustain the demand for social change. We must use this moment to build more progressive and group-centered leadership that seeks to create consensus rather than polarize and isolate.

And to African-American peers, we will have to utilize this excitement to continue to help each other become successful. We will also have to construct new ways of talking about race and difference. This language about race must be inclusive in order to account for individuals from the various nations in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the African continent. While the narrative about difference and achievement will not change overnight, the American narrative will look different now that we can point to a president who does not look like the others. We must also keep perspective, however, for the nation has a long way to go.

But, as for now, we should celebrate; rather, all of America should celebrate. Saying we have made history may be an understatement. My father turned eighteen in 1967, two years after Malcolm X was gunned down, the same year when racial uprisings rocked Newark, N.J., and one year before Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. He endured racism living in north-central Ohio. Now, he will come home from his industrial job to see highlights of President-elect Obama and learn that Ohio went blue. But, like him, I will wake up happy that my vote meant something and knowing that I will have to get up and carry on the tradition of my parents and those who came before me. We have a mandate to do so.

Austin McCoy is a master’s candidate in history and a guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].