One year later: Barack Obama's election victory made history, he continues to make strides as nation’s leader

It was 365 days ago that Barack Hussein Obama engineered the most momentous electoral victory in this nation’s history, becoming the first Black president-elect.

It was 365 days ago that Barack Hussein Obama engineered the most momentous electoral victory in this nation’s history, becoming the first Black president-elect.

Ayear ago, the city of Chicago – in fact the entire nation – basked in the accomplishment. When Obama stepped out on the stage at Hutchinson Field in downtown Grant Park, some regarded his win as a symbol of just how far the nation had come regarding race relations. Some thought he represented the hope he had talked about throughout his campaign.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” Obama said at the time, eliciting roars from the more than 70,000 gathered in the park, and echoing to the half million on the downtown streets.

“There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face,” he said.

He was quite prophetic about the disagreements, but a year later, he still enjoys a wide level of support.

“It has been one year since the historic election of Barack Obama to the White House, and we are already witnessing the positive change he has brought to our country,” said Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the remainder of Obama’s term in the U.S. Senate. “President Obama has set a new course for the U.S. when it comes to international diplomacy and cooperation, and has undertaken the difficult task of rebuilding our troubled economy.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of Rainbow/PUSH, shed tears in the park last year, watching a dream come true. Jackson had run for president twice himself, winning several primaries. He also noted that Obama has made a big difference in the past year.

“President Obama inherited myriad economic and foreign policy crises resulting from eight years of failed Bush administration policies,” Rev. Jackson told the Defender. “His administration has staved off the most horrific economic disaster since the Great Depression and brought the financial system back from the brink of collapse.”

Jackson also joined Burris in talking about how Obama has made it OK to be an American around the world.

“He has restored integrity, diplomacy and democratic principles to U.S. international relations, repairing relationships around the world,” said Jackson.

He joined a group of activists who gathered yesterday in Grant Park, the scene of Obama’s victory celebration, to encourage the president to stay true to his promise of change.

In a letter to Obama, advocates for issues like health care and immigration reform say they understand opposition to change is fierce.

But they say there are still issues that need urgent attention. Those include unemployment, immigration reform and global warming.

“Full attention must now focus on the unfinished business – a Stimulus II that waters not just the leaves at the top but the roots at the bottom,” Jackson told the Defender. “A Stimulus II that saves our homes and puts real teeth into mandatory foreclosure prevention programs.

William McNary, director at Citizen Action/Illinois, was at the downtown demonstration. He said the Obama administration has truly made important strides with health care reform. Burris echoed that point.

“He is also leading the fight for meaningful health care reform and has come closer than any other president in achieving this goal. I am confident that with President Obama’s bold leadership and vision, we will deliver to the American people the quality, affordable health care that they rightly deserve,” the senator said.

“We need a final push to win a comprehensive health care bill and beat back the rightwing resistance to progress,” concurred Jackson, who also argued for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, “to redirect, as Dr. King strategized decades ago, funding away from wars and military interventions abroad, to jobs and economic justice at home.”

“President Obama has done a tremendous job,” said Cook County Clerk David Orr, who also celebrated the anniversary of the election win by honoring the judges who served in that election. “(Obama) has shifted global perspective on the U.S. in virtually every capitol and most battle zones,” Orr told the Defender. “He has approached allies with respect and met challengers with purpose.

The president’s approval rating has dropped to 54 percent since this time last year. Much of that decline has been led by reaction to his far-reaching and comprehensive health care reform initiative. News out of Washington hints that legislative action on health care reform might not be finished this year, behind Obama’s stated goal.

Tuesday also marked several elections around the country that have been seen as referenda on Obama. He campaigned for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, and losses in those races could be seen as a sign of deterioration of the coalition of Black, white, old and young voters who propelled him to the landslide victory Nov. 4, 2008.

“Some say he is too diplomatic with cynical, self-interested opponents,” said Orr. “We must raise our voices above the clamor of corporate flacks to help him win genuine progressive reform. We must not let shrill GOP and right-wing naysayers-who care nothing for average people-impede our president’s efforts.

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