Monday, January 19, 2009

Something Changed in Chicago- President Obama

Tomorrow Barack Obama of Hawaii and the SouthSide of Chicago
becomes president of the United States. The day after Martin Luther King Day.

For those of us who are now reaping the joys of the Great Recession it is a moment of hope amid dreary days where we worry about surviving.
Our lives and our worlds are on a knife edge and when BAM says that he will be thinking about us when he becomes president we have to hope
that he is really doing so.

In my lifetime- since 1967 allot has happened. Barack and Michelle Obama are roughly my contemporaries and since Michelle experienced growing up in Chicago at the same time I grew up in Chicago it is something to reflect on where we have been.

During Michelle's Childhood whole areas of Chicago were depopulated of White Ethnic residents many of them moving because of racism, fear or blockbusting. Amid a very sad and rough time in Chicago between the death of Richard J Daley and the death of Harold Washington Chicago changed and that difference made Barack Obama possible.

The neighborhood that my parents fled to was completely White in fact in my high school only 22 miles from the largest concentration of African Americans in the United States there were two black students. During my 13 years living away from Chicago something changed. Today for all of our problems in Chicago, Northsiders are Northsiders and Southsiders and Southsiders and skin color really does not have that much to do with it anymore.

Sure there are bigots and racists but a black family can shop at my local Italian store and there are no problems and I can go to Mac Arthurs in Austin and no one doubletakes and no one really cares. Sure there is bigotry but somewhere during my life and Michelle Obama's something changed and we stopped thinking about each other as enemies.

Now as a nation we wait for President Obama. I for one have put the President's picture in my living room. Like Franklin Roosevelt whose picture hung in my Grandparent's business I will hang President Obama's picture. The reason is simple we need and icon of possibility and Mr Obama is that person. President Barack Obama means something. It is not just an election it is much more it is the vindication of a dream but it is also the vindication of what happened here in Chicago from 1964 to the present.

I recently submitted a poem to a chapbook for the inauguration edited by a poet from De Paul University. The poem I submitted was about an Obama for senate rally I attended in Cicero, IL in 2004. It was held on the corner of Ridgeland and Cermak in the same exact spot where in 1967 the year of my birth Martin Luther King was hit with bricks and bottles for asking for open housing. Our rally had 4000 people and no one threw bottles or yelled racial slurs.

In 1968 74% of the people in Cicero voted for either George Wallace or Richard Nixon. Those were my people, Italians, Poles and Bohemians and they chose Wallace or Nixon. In 2008 Cicero, IL, now a multi racial and ethnic town went 69% for Barack Obama for president. Something changed in Chicago and America a small dream has been realized and it is with that hope on this Martin Luther King day that my despair is calmed.

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