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The Significance of Obama's Victory for African Americans

Black America Web.com, News Analysis, Jackie Jones Posted: Nov 06, 2008

In the afterglow of Barack Obamas victory in the presidential sweepstakes Tuesday night, perhaps the biggest winner was the black community, which participated in record numbers in the election process, according to participants at a post-election dialogue sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

For many African-Americans who have struggled against the tide for much of their lives, and who up until now may have been inclined to believe that they had little to show for it, the promise of America shines brighter today - not only in the reflected glow of Senator Obama's victory, but also in the eyes of our children and grandchildren," said Joint Center President and CEO Ralph Everett, who moderated the event Wednesday at the Centers headquarters in Washington, D.C. "They now have in President-elect Obama an object lesson that in this country anyone can achieve their dreams if they set their minds to it and if they work hard enough. The value of this moment to future generations is immeasurable."

During the two-hour event, panelists discussed the factors that led to Obamas sizeable win over Republican John McCain, noting that in addition to the large black turnout, which engendered a sense of pride and investment in the civic process for many African-Americans, young voters and significant support from whites and Latinos also played a role.

David Bositis, senior political analyst for the center, said that while Obama did not win an overall majority of the white vote nationally, he did win an absolute majority of the white vote in several states, including Minnesota and Illinois, maintaining that, in a number of states, Obama won more white votes than Democratic nominee John Kerry did in 2004.

Some of that is attributable to windsurfing, Bositis said, drawing laughter in reference to Kerrys enthusiasm for a sport not usually engaged in by the average American. That and his spouse, Teresa Heinz Kerry, a foreign-born wife with a thick accent, didnt fly well among many Americans, especially in the Deep South, Bositis added.

Heinz Kerry was born in Mozambique to Portugese parents. The heiress, who was previously married to the late Rep. John Heinz (R-Pa.), speaks five languages and was educated in Europe. The marriage, their wealth and Kerrys so-called highbrow hobbies allowed Republicans to portray him as elitist, compared to George W. Bush, despite the fact that Bush himself was the Ivy-league educated heir to political aristocracy.

Despite GOP attempts to label Obama as elitist, he won a broad base of support in Tuesdays election.

USA Todays polling research showed Obama won 95 percent of the black vote, 43 percent of the white vote and 66 percent of the Hispanic vote. He won 69 percent of first-time voters, 89 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Independents. He did well among single people and won across all income groups and levels of educational attainment. He won more liberals and moderates and nearly every other voting group except white Protestants, veterans and gun owners.

That wide-ranging support was a major area of discussion on the panel, which included Bositis, Ronald Walters, a professor of government at the University of Maryland; William D. Euille, the mayor of Alexandria, Va.; Hazel Trice Edney, editor of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and BlackPress USA; Mazi Mutafa, executive director of Words, Beats & Life, Inc.; Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Washington Informer, and Deborah Simmons, editorial page editor of The Washington Times.

Mutafa said Obamas victory was an important symbol not just for black Americans, but the world in general and that the political challenge for African-Americans would be how the civil rights generation can attract and keep those who were engaged in the civic process by Obamas campaign.

It was giving people the sense that they were partners in the process, Walters said, that brought so many young people and African-Americans into the election.

Barack Obama was prescient enough to say, 'I havent been on (Capitol Hill) forever; I can change your reality This is about you, and he never wavered from saying, This is about you, Walters said.

The American people want to be part of the solution. They want to be engaged, said Barnes, who runs a black weekly newspaper in Washington. Obama tapped into a groundswell of support in a way that was very well organized.

Walters said Obamas victory may represent a cultural shift in the nations psyche, and Bositis added that this was the first election that represented the interests of African-Americans in a substantive way, adding that Obamas victories in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia demonstrate a shift in the thinking of voters overall.

It is important to remember that this election is more than a historic milestone or the turning of a page, Everett said at the outset. It is, in fact, a restatement of the vision that a more perfect union is within our grasp. Politics and self-governance have been changed forever.

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