Obama's South Side base still has his back

Many of President Barack Obama's supporters say they wanted more out of his first term.

November 2, 2012

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Line dancers for Obama in Chicago
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The history and euphoria of the 2008 U.S. presidential election won’t be repeated next week, even in Chicago. Many of Barack Obama’s South Side base say they wanted more out of his tenure. But voters there still have his back.

Four hundred black women pack a gymnasium at a community center on West 119th Street. They are line dancing - a fancier, advanced form of the Electric Slide.

The song is “Let’s Do It Again.” That’s their mantra for getting President Barack Obama re-elected. As the line dancers move in sync, a videographer records.

This is a fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign. It’s also a boost of moral support for the hometown favorite.

Sixty-five-year-old line dance maven Dian Edwards echoes what a lot of supporters tell me: Obama couldn’t fix everything in four years.

EDWARDS: We need him to get back in there to help the middle class because other than that we’re going to be in trouble, really be in trouble.

Four years ago, I interviewed a number of black Chicagoans about their expectations for this country’s first black president.

Community activist and Bronzeville champion Harold Lucas told me back then that Obama’s election meant an “economic emancipation” for the South Side.

Has that happened?

LUCAS: I think we’re still waiting for the ability for the resources to be released to the African-American community. I think he’s put the resources in the pipeline for the emancipation of the community.

Lucas is referring to various infrastructure dollars from the federal government, some of which are coming directly to the South Side.

Lucas says he believes in Obama, and that a second term will allow the president to keep more promises.

But Lucas says the Obama political machine has done little outreach to his base here.

In his Bronzeville visitor center store, Lucas said in 2008 he sold 24 dozen Obama T-shirts and an untold amount of Obama buttons.

Today: zero.

LUCAS: People are down in terms of the black community being taken for granted, that we’re going to turn out and we are. I voted the first opportunity I had with a lot of little old ladies and men on canes.

In 2008, I also talked to Laura Jolly, a retired 90-something  teacher. She’s a Republican who changed her vote - not her party - when she cast a ballot for Democrat Obama in 2008.

I recently asked her if Republican nominee Mitt Romney has a chance with her.

JOLLY: Oh no, because he started off wrong in my book. I would have given him a chance because I am a Republican and I was fond his father. And I would’ve given him a chance but the very first time I heard him, he was saying things that I just did not believe in.

For Jolly, like many African Americans, some of the racial rhetoric around an Obama presidency has been hard to stomach.

JOLLY: I just don’t like the way they have treated him as the president. I think they’ve disrespected the office of the presidency and I think they’re doing that just because he is of another race and they should be proud of that.

Not that Jolly was naive.  African Americans in general didn’t think Obama’s acceptance speech in downtown Grant Park in 2008, signaled the end of racism.

But many also hadn’t thought they’d see the first black president in their lifetime.

Venerable Chicagoan Timuel Black is evaluating Obama’s White House from the lens of a historian.

BLACK: If he were a white guy, would he have been rejected at as many turns that affect the masses of people as he has been in his first term? And I would say then, again, to the people, what are the alternatives? Give him the second chance based on the promises he has made earlier and that he continues to make. He will then be more free to meet the challenges.

That, says Timuel Black,  should motivate African Americans to again turn out on Election Day.