PLANTATION KEY, FLA
I step out of The Beast with my hands raised high above my head and walk towards the police cruiser. Just making sure the officer is aware I’m not holding anything. If we had been driving, I would have stayed in the vehicle. But when you’re already parked, and a cop pulls up behind you with the flashers on, and you’re sitting at the table in the back of the vehicle that you’ve called home for six weeks drinking a beer, I’m not sure what the move is. Stay and wait for him to come knock on your dining room window and tell you to exit? Have a conversation through the screen door?
I stop halfway between The Beast and the cruiser. The cop climbs out of the car. He’s a tall, hulk of a man. “Sheriff’s department,” he says.
RB stands next to me and says, “How ya doing, officer?”
“What are you guys doing here?” The officer asks. His tone is cop-like.
The flashers are going –– red and blue paints the scene like I’m suddenly wearing an old pair of 3-D glasses.
I look at RB. What are we doing here? I tell myself that, ‘Couldn’t think of anything better to do’ is not a viable answer.
“We’re on the campaign trail,” I say.
“We just saw President Obama in Miami,” RB says. “Decided to come down here for a couple of days before the next run of events.”
“You can’t park here, like this, this is a neighborhood,” Cop says. “Let me see your IDs.”
We reach into our pockets, pull out our IDs, and hand them over. A hundred thoughts flash through my mind in a split second, trying to remember if I have any outstanding warrants, tickets, or charges.
COMMANDER IN CHIEF
We’re at a historically Black university in Miami Gardens, Florida. 3,000 people are in attendance to see President Obama speak. The crowd is predominately Black, but still well rounded out with Latinos and white folk. Press credentials got us here. I’m working at a table behind the raised platform filled with news cameras and photographers. RB is escorted to the buffer zone –– an area cordoned off that stands between the audience and the speaker, specifically for anointed, vetted photographers.
DJ Khalid steps to the Microphone. The crowd goes wild. He talks about representing love and unity, telling the crowd, “If you’re here for love, make some noise right now.” The crowd gives him his best, and then he responds with some words about engagement and the importance of early voting. “Monday, October 24th,” he says, “is when early voting in Florida starts. When he’s done speaking, the speaker system blasts out, “All I do is win win win…”
Take notes people. This is how you get a crowd hyped.
The Mayor of Miami says some words, Reverend Carl Johnson leads a prayer; a young lady recites the pledge of allegiance; Commissioner Barbara Jordan breaks down the Democratic agenda; a field organizer for the Clinton campaign named Trayvon Pierre gives the social media/cell phone pitch to get involved. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy speaks on President Obama’s legacy, and how electing Hillary Clinton will build upon that legacy in the progressive direction. He mentions that his father was a carpenter. “He had no guarantee of success,” Mr. Murphy says, “But he had a drive to build a better life for his family… to work hard and grasp the American Dream.”
Apparently everybody’s father was a blue-collar worker. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I’m really looking forward to Mr. Trump taking the stage Sunday night and opening with, “My father was two parts high society, three parts cold hard cash, one part three piece suit, and four parts racist. Rich as hell, folks. Trust me.”
Representative Frederica Wilson is the next to stand in front of the podium. She’s wearing a glittery, shining, red white and blue, cowboy hat –– Stars and bars as a fashion statement of epic proportions. She says something about Tea Party Republicans, uses the word “ruined” in there somewhere, but the microphone is cutting out. I can guess the gist of what she’s saying, anyhow, so instead of continuing to take notes, I walk over behind the press area, into the hallway, and pour myself a glass of lemonade.
A man comes out and performs three separate Mic checks before the President takes the stage. I can practically picture President Obama back stage like, “Jim, you better get out there and fix that mic. If you think I’m taking the stage with a messed up mic, you must be out of your damn mind. Barry O doesn’t give speeches with faulty equipment. What is this, amateur hour?”
THE MAN HIMSELF
President Obama takes the stage. The man has swagger. The crowd embraces him, and, in turn, he gives the love right back. He starts off talking about digging the country out of the recession, incomes are on the rise, poverty levels are falling, 20 million people are now enrolled in health care, and Bin Laden. The list of what his administration has accomplished goes on. This feels, in part, like President Obama’s farewell song to the public. He’s stumping for Hillary Clinton, yes, and for Patrick Murphy, yes, but he’s also taking the time to shape the narrative of his legacy. To remind the voters what he has done. And in this crowd, for sure, these accomplishments and this story find an audience.
My favorite moment happens when the President tells that largely Black and Latino audience to get out the vote. “Tell Pookie to vote. Tell Javier to vote.” I laugh and think, “Did Obama just make a New Jack City reference?” The crowd also laughs. They get it. Get out the vote, people –– any and all eligible voters.
The speech is colored with positivity. Even when discussing or taking jabs at Mr. Trump, the tone is never menacing or angry. Funny, sure. Disgusted, possibly. He talks about rejecting the “Dark, pessimistic fear mongering,” version of America and embracing and affirming the “America we know. A country filled with hope.” Throughout the whole speech, I am reminded of why he garnered so much attention and excitement in 2008, and loyalty and commitment in 2012 –– the man can give a campaign speech.
Whenever Mr. Trump’s name is mentioned, members of the audience boo. President Obama leans into the microphone and says, “Don’t do that. Vote. Don’t boo, vote! Get your friends to vote. Trump can’t hear ya from here. He can hear you from the ballot box.”
This is a President, who after six years of dealing with hard line obstructionism, continues to have endless faith in the democratic process. They do not care if you boo. They do not care if you complain on Facebook. There’s only one place where they can hear your voices, and that place is a voting booth.
It’s amazing that the leader of our country seems infinitely more optimistic about things than I do.
TRACK RECORD / LEGACY
How will we remember the 44th president? How does our nation picture his legacy as it stands right now? Too soon to judge, certainly, because the far-reaching effects of many policies might not show their face for any number of years.
Are things better than they were in 2008, when the economy was a complete and utter disaster? Yes, yes it is.
So let’s take a stroll down memory lane on some, not all, of the policies that President Obama has pushed through, enacted, signed, etc. (courtesy of http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com)
- 16.64 million previously uninsured individuals now have insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
- He nearly doubled the amount of land in the national park system, besting Teddy Roosevelt.
- “Signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which provides health care to 11 million kids –– 4 million of whom were previously uninsured.”
- “Tax cuts for up to 3.5 million small businesses to help pay for employee health care coverage.”
- “Cut prescription drug cost for Medicare recipients by 50%”
- “Health Care Reform Bill, preventing insurance companies from denying insurance because of a pre-existing condition.”
- “Provided the Department of Veterans Affairs with more than $1.4 billion to improve services to America’s Veterans.”
- “Issued executive order to repeal Bush era restrictions of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.”
- “Reversed ‘global gag rule’, allowing US aid to go to organization regardless of whether they provide abortions.”
- “Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees”
- “Appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in US history.”
- “Appointed first Latina to the US Supreme Court.”
- “First president to endorse same-sex marriage equality.”
- “Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restoring basic protection against pay discrimination for women and other workers.”
- “Expanded hate crime law in the US to include sexual orientation through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.”
- “Signed financial reform law allowing shareholders of publicly traded companies to vote on executive pay.”
- “The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009: a $789 billion economic stimulus plan.”
- “Created more private sector jobs in 2010 than during entire Bush years.”
- “Eliminated subsidies to private lending middlemen of student loans and protect student borrowers.”
- “Established Credit Card Bill of Rights preventing credit card companies from imposing arbitrary rate increases on customers.”
- “Signed financial reform law requiring lenders to verify applicants’ credit history, income, and employment status.”
- “Signed the Weapons Systems Acquisitions Reform Act to stop fraud and Wasteful spending in the defense procurement and contracting system.”
- “Reversed the policy of barring media coverage during the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base”
- “Signed New Start Treaty – a nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia”
- “Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, giving the FDA the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco for the first time.”
- Increased funding for national parks and forests by 10%
As President Obama mentioned in his speech, he also killed Osama Bin Laden. Just got to make sure everyone remembers that!
We killed one guy, and he was a mastermind. Now he’s dead. Remember, we killed him? He hated us for our freedoms. And, he attacked us, but now he’s dead. And because he’s dead, there aren’t anymore global terrorist organizations. Wait, where? Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Somalia, France… Well, how did that happen? We got THE guy. We got the ONE guy. Where did all these other guys come from? Well, all right, let’s just send in a few more drones. How many more? Send in a drone. Yeah, yeah, we’ve got money for that. What’s that general? Just send in a drone, trust me. Well, whoever this new guy is, we’ll get him too. Promise. A new guy? Dang Nabbit. Well, I don’t know, send in a couple of drones.
Yes, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, albeit potentially a bit prematurely, or merely as a global statement of honor in a way for the US of A, in recognition for electing its first Black president, has, most definitely, also been a war president. And that’s okay, no, really, that’s okay. I’m certain that he would have liked to have not been a war president and lived up to that fucking Nobel Prize, but the circumstances dictated otherwise. There’s a war on terror going on, and we have to engage militarily in all of these different countries and cities, because we MUST protect American interests, at all cost, with little to no regard for collateral damage (i.e., human lives). We cannot be seen as weak. We must stay engaged.
We must… continue the failed policies of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, because we are not capable of coming up with an alternative to war, because we listen to our military advisers who, if we’re not at war, are fucking bored. So, I mean, we’re paying them all this money, we might as well have them do what we’re paying ‘em to do.
The list speaks for itself. At many turns, President Obama has fought for the poor, the disadvantaged, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, the consumer, women, veterans, the economy, science, and the environment. Whether or not you agree that fighting for or against these things is inherently good or bad is up to you, but he fought for them. Through an obstructionist Republican house and senate for a majority of his two terms, President Obama wheeled and hedged and compromised, and, in the end, he fought for the people.
But, he also hasn’t closed Guantanamo, kept all the wars going despite his best efforts, kept the completely ridiculous, failed war on drugs going, allowed NSA data mining practices to continue, has yet to pardon Edward Snowden, and only has two months left to publicly beat the shit out of that heartless demon known as Dick Cheney.
Just so we’re clear: the war on terror is unwinnable. The war on drugs is unwinnable. Guantanamo represents the darkest side of humanity. Data mining should make you want to vomit. Snowden did a good thing. Dick Cheney deserves a public ass whipping.
I have a feeling that in the end, however, slightly less than half of the country will judge president Obama not based on his accomplishments and failures alone, but something else entirely, judging him, perhaps, on completely different criteria all along.
President Obama ends his speech with a rousing bit. “Equality is on the ballot,” he says, Tolerance is on the ballot, jobs, our democracy is on the ballot… Hillary Clinton is on the ballot; Patrick Murphy is on the ballot. God Bless.” And the crowd goes wild.
HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO GO
The officer runs our IDs through the system. He exits his cruiser, walks back over to us, and gives us back our IDs. He’s waiting on dispatch to give us the all clear. “We were about to head to dinner,” we tell him, “Down the road. Marker 88. You heard of it?” “Yeah, nice place,” he says. “So you guys were working at the café all day?” “Yes, we were. Our bad on the parking thing,” we tell him, “There wasn’t any room in the lot, so we just parked The Beast on the nearest side street.”
Dispatch chimes in over the speaker with the all clear.
“You guys are good to go,” he says.
We thank him and tell him to have a good evening. No gunshots are fired. Nobody gets Tazed. Backup doesn’t get called. He doesn’t issue us a ticket for parking illegally. In fact, nothing happens. It all goes down how it’s supposed to –– the benefits of being a clean cut, 31 year old white male ever-present.
But if we had been Black, would it have gone down like it was supposed to? How would he have judged us? Would our exiting the vehicle and approaching the cruiser put him on edge? Would he have unbuttoned and drawn his weapon? Were we given the benefit of doubt? From the outset of the cruiser pulling up behind The Beast, were we judged based on the color of our skin?
If President Obama was just a guy named Barry traveling through the Keys, and he stepped out of The Beast and approached that cruiser, would it have gone down the same way?
As we climb back into The Beast, I think about this, and whether or not the legacy of our 44th President will be judged by the American people because of his accomplishments and failures, or if there is a large swath of our country for whom his triumphs and letdowns will be viewed only through the prejudiced lens of race-colored glasses. As if the pigment in his skin was enough to judge, demonize, delegitimize, and hate him before he even took the oath of office. That entrenched voice that speaks out and is passed on through generations, that voice that is emboldened by Mr. Trump and people of his ilk, that voice that some of us know well and others refuse to acknowledge, that voice that through a sneer, filled with contempt, says, “Thanks, Obama.”