Beyond Election Day

By Guest Columnist Nov 06, 2008

Originally published at The Daily Voice By Dorian Warren, Racewire contributor November 4, 2008 On this historic election day, I thought I’d offer up brief musings about where we have been the last year, and what we should expect on November 5. First, the most important thing this election has reconfirmed is that politics is both unpredictable and transformative. Just think about where we were this time last year. Senator Hillary Clinton was seen as the inevitable Democratic nominee for President. The "Clinton Machine" was going to make her victory swift (wrapped up by Super Tuesday in February) and she would be unbeatable by anybody, with maybe one exception (Al Gore). While many pundits assumed that Senator Barack Obama would do well by running in the Democratic primaries, most people thought he was just raising his profile for a "real" run in 2012 or 2016. Remember also this time last year the ridiculous debate about Obama’s "blackness," both in the mainstream media but also within African-American communities. In fact, many assumed (especially the Clinton campaign) that black voters would be skeptical of Obama’s "authenticity" as an African-American and continue to by loyal supporters of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Both the Clintons and the analysts were wrong. But the exciting thing about political campaigns is that they transform people’s attitudes, assumptions and expectations. Many of us, on this historic day, expect an Obama victory, and even more possibly an Obama landslide. None of us would have predicted this a year ago, and especially not four years ago when then-Senate candidate Barack Obama was first introduced to a national audience with his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. Yet Senator Obama’s campaign has permanently changed the electoral map; what has been the "red state-blue state" common sense has been seriously challenged. After today, there will be many more "purple" states that confound our red-blue dichotomy. North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Indiana and Georgia are astoundingly "in play." Much of this is due to the incredible engagement and participation of African-American voters. Even though he might win more white votes than Kerry, Gore and Clinton, there is no question that an Obama victory will be because of the tremendous turnout and strategic location of black voters (especially in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia). This is despite the recent (and long historic) past of African-American voter suppression and disenfranchisement. The Obama campaign has also transformed the nature of political campaigns for at least a generation. How? By bringing the principles and practices of grassroots community organizing to the national political stage. Training and empowering everyday people with the political skills to talk to neighbors, call strangers, knock on doors block-by-block, and host house parties of friends, colleagues and relatives. From the abolitionist, women’s and labor movements, to the civil rights and gay rights movements, organizing is the time-honored political strategy that has been at the heart of all American movements for social justice. Thousands of Obama volunteers have been trained as organizers, setting a new standard for what is often considered the "ground game" in campaigns. And if he wins, a President Obama will need this energized, skilled and motivated corps of thousands to keep sustained pressure on Congress and the new Administration, and most importantly, to hold him accountable. Finally, what should we expect on November 5? As has been debated and discussed extensively in The Daily Voice, what will President Obama owe Black America? How will he navigate the range of issues and challenges confronting all of us across race but also specific to communities of color? How might he ever live up to the enormous (and arguably, unrealistic) expectations he and the rest of us have placed on his candidacy? The best answer to all of these questions is the same: keep up the organizing, engagement, and activism that so many thousands and millions of Americans, and especially black Americans, have engaged in during this long and historic election season. Dorian Warren is an assistant professor in the department of political science and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and the political editor of The Daily Voice.