A CHANGE IS GONNA COME: Michelle Obama, Mayor Nutter & Jill Biden, Francis Meyers Recreation Center, West Philadelphia, 6:32 PM [photo by TIFFANY YOON]
BY JEFF DEENEY You might have noticed that the Obama campaign doesn’t spend much face time in the ‘hood, at least not for cameras. The conspicuous absence of the black community on Obama’s campaign trail comes as no surprise as the candidate has been forced to walk a tightrope with respect to the race issue, trying to not seem “too black” for undecided white voters. But Mayor Nutter made it clear while introducing Michelle Obama by saying that her husband, as president, “won’t take no tea for the fever,” that last night’s event in Southwest Philly was truly for the neighborhood.
And while Michelle Obama delivered a speech very similar to speeches you’ve already heard her give, it resonated differently within the context of a majority black audience, at a location deep within one of the city’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods. When Obama mentioned the strain of rising gas prices, a visceral groan rippled through the audience. When she followed up by saying that the rising cost of groceries is causing some families to suffer financial shortfalls between paydays, a frustrated rumble followed. And when she finished her comments on the economy by saying that the cost of milk is so high that some families are switching to juice because they can’t keep up she hit the nerve, causing a woman about five feet from me to erupt, shouting,
“That’s right! Talk about that! Talk about it!”
Issues surrounding urban poverty have been almost completely ignored by the Bush Administration for the past seven and a half years. Money that could have gone to comprehensive education reform was squandered in Iraq. Money that could revamp the health care system is likely about to be dumped into the hands of Wall Street in the form of the biggest financial bailout ever. And in the meantime, in our poverty stricken post-industrial urban neighborhoods, schools continue to crumble, violence crime rates continue to soar and families continue to struggle to make ends meet.
Michelle Obama’s stump speech wasn’t specifically about urban poverty, and could have played equally as well in a working class white neighborhood. But last night, given its context, it was clearly about urban poverty. Its praise of grassroots community organizers played like a grateful acknowledgment of the black community’s overwhelming support, and was joyfully received by the crowd as such. Its concluding get-out-the-vote entreaties sounded a cautious note, highlighting that this race isn’t yet won by any stretch of the imagination, but could be won handily if the black community shows up in record numbers at the polls. After Obama’s speech was over and the crowd started to disperse I heard one old neighborhood church lady say to another, “You know you don’t gotta worry about me, I voted in every election since ’76 and I sure don’t intend to miss this one.”