On Obama’s home turf, one term is not enough

Students stand beside a poster showing President Barack Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King at Fenger Christian High School in Roseland, in Chicago's South Side. Photo: Narayan Lakshman   | Photo Credit: Narayan Lakshman

Get off the I-94 East Highway heading toward Wentworth Avenue and the surroundings are dramatically different from the posh Magnificent Mile of Chicago’s northern reaches. The homes are smaller, more worn down; there are no fancy hotels and yes, hardly any white people on the streets.

But this is no back-of-beyond corner of the nation. On the day U.S. marched to the polls to pick its next President, there was pride in the voice of every person who spoke to The Hindu in Chicago’s South Side neighbourhood of Roseland — the place where Barack Obama cut his teeth as a community organiser for the disenfranchised African-American populace.

Regardless of national polling results that show Mr. Obama in a dead heat with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the residents of Roseland had only one mantra on their lips — “Four More Years!” Roseland views a re-election of Mr. Obama as the fulfilment of his 2008 promise of “hope and change”. But that hope is tainted with a distinct fear of what will happen if Mr. Romney enters the White House.

Steve Gates, a community worker, has seen much of the grinding poverty, the gang violence, the drug problems and the broken lives of youth in Roseland, and understands the desperation for an Obama win. Sitting in a basic but well-furnished classroom in Fenger High School, he said Mr. Obama’s promise of “hope” was real — in terms of tax dollars in fact — and that was proven when shortly after he assumed office in 2009, an infusion of funding for community development focused on education arrived in Roseland via the Chicago Public Schools system.

Though such community-focused development funding was derided by the GOP as a “stimulus package”, the transformative effect on the students of Fenger was profound. Over 150 organisers were employed under this programme, reaching 600 children.

But all that may change, indeed has already begun to turn the wrong way, worries Mr. Gates. Early in 2012, the funding from Washington suddenly dried up. The staff attached to the programme had to be downsized. The children lost the support they had so successfully used to stabilise their lives. What’s worse, Mr. Gates said, there was possibility of 100 schools in the area being closed after a series of staff strikes, some of it related to the funding.

Could this have to do with partisan gridlock in Washington — the blocking in Congress of any policy proposed by the President that remotely resembled a “stimulus”?

While they do not have the answers, the Roseland folk do agree on this — Mr. Romney “is so detached from a middle-class American that he has no idea of what poverty is”. None of them missed his remarks on the 47 per cent of Americans whom he thinks have a “victim” and “entitlement” attitude.

While Mr. Gates argued that the President was still on track with his message of “hope and change”, he added that the Obama team should have added a subtitle: “over time”. Four more years would do it perhaps.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 9:38:31 AM |

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