Friday, October 10, 2008

Could North Omaha Win Obama One Electoral Vote in Nebraska?

That is the argument many folks around here are making. For those not in the know, North Omaha is the section of town where most black residents live. It is also the third poorest African American community in the entire nation and the very poorest in the U.S. for black children. A full 59% of all African American kids grow up in poverty here. You read that right: 6 out of 10 black children are poor in North O. And, the saddest reality is that most white Omahans, and most white Nebraskans, either have no clue about the desperate straights of North Omaha, or simply do not care. North Omaha is not an election issue. Politicians pimp for votes among the residents here, but they do it on the down low and never actually raise the pertinent local issues in their campaigns. Neither Scott Klebb, the moderate Democrat running for U.S. Senate against former Republican Governor and Bush Ag Secretary Mike "Snoozer" Johanns, nor Jim Esch, another moderate Democrat running against conservative Republican Lee "helmut hair" Terry, Jr., for a spot in the House of Representatives says much of anything at all about the offensive racial and economic inequalities evident in North O. It is a tragedy and a shame. So, for North Omaha to be the decisive balance that wins Obama an electoral vote here in Nebraska would be deliciously ironic. A downtrodden, and fairly poweless, community delivering for our nation's first black president! I'd love to see that come to pass...

... but even if it does, an Obama presidency, in itself, will do little to change the reality in North Omaha. For that, we need a grassroots movement to pressure officials in power at the local, county, state and federal levels. And for that, we will need a radical shift in consciousness among whites, a development that is unlikely, to say the least. There will need to be a new sense that the metro area is an organic whole, where we all bear responsibility to uplift those neighborhoods that are struggling most. Residents of all races and ethnicities will have to be willing to grapple with the reasons behind North Omaha's deterioration, the history and legacy of racial injustice, divestment, abondonment and neglect. And, it will take a massive infusion of resources, private and public, combined with vigorous effort/action, again privately and publicly, to revitalize this hard-hit area of our city. Nothing short of this will make a difference. And, keep in mind, this is not purely a local story. This is a pattern repeated in medium and large city after medium and large city across the country. There is a national urban crisis. This is a national tragedy, a national shame.

So, as much as election day, 2008, might be a nice day for residents of North O, if in fact they can deliver the goods to Obama, it is not the end of the story. In fact, it doesn't even scratch the surface of what needs to happen most around here and across the nation in poor, urban, segregated communities of color.

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