Last week, President Obama laid out an ambitious agenda for the year ahead: expanding access to preschool education for every American child, making the minimum wage a living wage, and reducing gun violence in our communities.
But as our executive director, Patrick Gaspard, notes in his video message marking Black History Month, the President can’t do this on his own. And as we celebrate the many contributions of African Americans throughout our history and the progress we've made in the fight for equal opportunity, this should also be a moment to focus on the change we still need. This month, let's commit ourselves to working toward President Obama's vision of stronger families, stronger communities, and a stronger America.
As mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson has seen firsthand how President Obama's policies on clean energy, infrastructure, and education have had a positive impact on his city. And with this year's presidential race reaching an apex, Johnson told the Obama campaign to put him to work and send him anywhere they needed him. That's how the Californian found himself in North Carolina this week, campaigning in one of the most critical states in this year's election. It doesn't hurt that this is basketball country—because before he was Mayor Johnson, he was KJ, an all-star who played for the Phoenix Suns.
"Right now, we're in the fourth quarter," Johnson says, "and we're up maybe by a point or two. The other side is digging deep. They're going to try to make a run. We have to open up the lead." And now that early voting has begun statewide, he's here to get out the vote.
Four years ago, President Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes—five per precinct—and it was the first time the Tar Heel State had voted to send a Democrat to the White House in 32 years. It's going to be close, Johnson says, and it's going to come down to the volunteers and organizers on the ground. But North Carolina has a chance to decide our next president: If Mitt Romney doesn't win North Carolina, it's going to be extremely difficult for him to win the White House.
And what about those reports that the Romney campaign is pulling out of North Carolina? Don't fall for it, says Johnson. "In basketball, that's called a head fake. North Carolina, we can expand the lead here. We gotta play to win. We gotta get people out to the polls."
Fonzworth Bentley has a book, a record, and a TV show. He's worked with Diddy and some of the biggest names in hip-hop. Even with such a colorful career—and closet—he says getting out the vote for President Obama is one of the most important things he's done. This week, he's on the Gotta Vote bus in North Carolina—familiar campaign stomping grounds:
"Four years ago, I was in the trenches right here in North Carolina. I was cutting turf. I saw the difference a knock makes. I saw the difference leaving a voicemail makes. Eight years ago, this wasn't a battleground. Today, the color of this state has changed—red to blue—and that's because of you.
"Vote.barackobama.com. I need you to Facebook it, text it, tweet it, Instagram it—whatever you got. In 2008, we won by 14,000 votes in North Carolina. That breaks down to five votes per precinct. So you need to not only vote—you gotta get in touch with five more people and make sure they vote too. This is serious. This is real. But I am confident—because I believe in you."
Kevin, the owner of Trimmerz, a barber shop in Fayetteville, North Carolina, says Barack Obama gets it.
“I’m supporting President Obama because everybody needs somebody who they can look at and say, ‘This person might just have what it takes to look out for me. I see that all the time with my small business. I run into people with all their health problems. They can’t afford their health problems, they can’t afford to get the help they need. That’s why we need President Obama. He understands what life is like for everyday people.”
Kevin is doing his part to get out the vote by registering voters—but not just because there’s a presidential election coming up and North Carolina’s a critical swing state. He says people can register to vote at his barber shop, with Obama posters and photos on the walls, “every year, all year.” Kevin wants his customers to be engaged in their community, to care about smaller races for the mayoralty, the board of elections, the city council. But this year’s presidential election really does fire him up.
“I’m just excited,” he says. “You have to have something to believe in, something you want to pass on to generation after generation after generation. And I think this is the best force for us to do that.”
Tracee Ellis Ross has been in movies and on TV for years—but hitting the campaign trail reminds her of how she felt when she first started auditioning for acting roles: nervous. Even though campaigning gives her jitters, Ross believes that it's so important to do whatever she can to help President Obama get re-elected. So today, she flew out to Ohio to energize college students and African American voters as "one of millions of volunteers."
There's too much at stake to sit on the sidelines, she says. "I care about my community. I care about human rights, civil rights, women's rights. And when it comes to women's rights, there's no question: President Obama was raised by a powerful women, married a powerful woman, and is raising two powerful women. He gets women's issues." She cites President Obama's support for equal pay, the first bill he signed into law as president. "Mitt Romney refused to support equal pay, and Paul Ryan actually voted against it."
She says one thing in this election is certain: President Obama's the only candidate with a plan to keep us moving forward. We've come too far on the road to recovery to turn back—and that hits closer to home than you might think.
"My best friend is a mother of three with three jobs," says Ross. "She and her husband are still struggling to make ends meet. One of her jobs does not pay a ton, but it has health care for her family. There are families like hers across the country and here in Ohio with similar stories. So I have to ask you—we have to ask ourselves: Who truly cares about creating opportunities for you? Barack Obama."
At stops at Ohio State and Wright State, campaign offices, and outside a Dayton beauty shop, Ross's message was the same: You gotta vote.
"Voting is one of the ways I know I'm alive—one of the ways I know that I matter. I remind myself that I am enough to make a difference. No matter where I come from or who I am, my voice makes a difference. I hear from people, 'Oh, Mitt Romney has no chance.' Well, if you think that, he might. We have got to do our part because it's going to be close. Do you want to wake up November 7 wondering, 'What if I had done a little more?' Let's make sure we wake up joyous , not regretful."
President Obama calls small businesses the backbone of our economy, and he's made good on his word: The Obama administration has helped more than 5,000 African American business owners secure more than $1.5 billion in Small Business Administration loans. Under President Obama's watch, minorities who want to start their own business have had greater access to the tools and resources they need to do so.
Keitha is an example. In July, she opened the doors to My Own Soul, a restaurant in Toledo that serves local food, made to order. Business is good, she says, and it's only picking up as our economy continues to recover.
"I think that Obama has to stay in business," she says. "He's paved the way for small-business owners like myself—all the money that he's put into different grants and tax cuts. If he stays in office, it'll only get better, for me and for the generations after me who want to be business owners and entrepreneurs. Mitt Romney, I don't think he's for small business at all‹or entrepreneurship, finding a way for people who are coming from nothing to try to make something."
She's doing her part to make sure the Obama administration does stay in business. Along with soul food, she hands out voter registration forms to her customers. To date, she's registered 1,013 new voters in Toledo, and she's urging everyone to make their voices heard by voting in this election.
"We gotta get out," she says, "and we gotta vote."
Last night, President Bill Clinton forcefully articulated the story of President Barack Obama and the tough choices he has made to lead us through the darkest days of the economic crisis. Watch and share the speech, then if you're as fired up as we are, chip in to help make sure we win this November.