People For the American Way

What’s Next for Black America After Obama

Op-Ed
What’s Next for Black America After Obama
On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C.,

This piece was originally published on Medium.

January 20, 2009 awakened a new sense of cultural and historical pride for many Black Americans as we witnessed the inauguration and swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. The excitement and hope that were ushered into American politics eight years ago have given way to the anxiety and uncertainty of a new political era in America today.

President Trump offers a stark contrast in style and substance to President Obama. We all had front row seats during the 2016 campaign season that featured racially-charged rhetoric and misogynistic attacks. After being elected, Trump continued his poor track record on race by selecting Steve Bannon, who has promoted white nationalism, as a senior adviser and nominating Jeff Sessions, who has a long record of hostility to civil rights, for the post of attorney general of the United States. And if that wasn’t enough, we watched Trump engage in attacks on civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis, widely seen as one of the most revered icons in America.

The start of the Trump era in American politics serves as a reminder to the Black community about the urgency of staying engaged in politics and becoming even more strategic about leveraging our collective power. We must look beyond short-term wins and focus on a sustainable commitment to long-term change. This important work must start now! It is time to design and implement an agenda that addresses the economic and social needs that will uplift our communities and change America. Now is the time to do the hard work necessary to build sustainability and give hope back to the people.

How do we recalibrate to realize our power and build the strength necessary for this moment in history? How do we shape our future? There are steps that we can start taking today. Let’s open strategic conversations within our communities and with others. Let’s evaluate what we want for our communities, with a sharp focus on how we motivate and mobilize our voices to make that a reality.

The first step required of everyone who wants to bring about real change is an increased focus on civic engagement. Civic engagement is more than a voice at the ballot box. It’s about creating a community that activates an echo chamber to shape the future we want to see. It’s about proactive participation in all of the power structures that impact our communities, from local school boards to the U.S. Congress.

In the short term, we have some immediate and significant fights ahead of us. The divisive rhetoric and policy ideas being pushed by the extreme Right cannot go unchecked. However, even as we push back against the Trump agenda, we can’t miss the opportunity to create and support the type of infrastructure that builds the capacity of our people to maximize our true power in this fight! Together we can create a movement that understands our historical struggles, yet unshackles chains of oppression and gives new hope for generations to come.

We must use this to build, from the ground up, the type of proactive civic leadership that lives in all of us. We must stand up today and reinvest in our local communities. We must be active in the political issues that are right outside of our door. We must talk to our neighbors and share our concerns with each other. We must organize and take our concerns to the chambers of our local elected bodies. We must walk the streets in protest if our concerns aren’t taken seriously. We must become involved in our local civic organizations — and if one doesn’t exist, then we must create one. Lastly, we must run for office at all levels of government.

This movement must reflect strong values, must elevate diverse and inclusive leadership, and must keep a sharp focus on the best interest of our people. All of us must be accountable, to each other. Now is the time to start preparing the soil and planting for a harvest of change. Every citizen has a role and responsibility.

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