REASON 19: Obama turned our state blue.
North Carolina has reputation for being different from the rest of the South, or at least we North Carolinians like to think so. I look around where I live—the “Research Triangle” of Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh—and see a diverse and vibrant community of artists, activists, educators, thinkers, and creators. I imagine that people throughout the state look around and see the same thing.
Yet, until 2008, North Carolina had not gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 (the sole exception being when Georgia's Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976.) This year North Carolina voted against marriage equality in a much-publicized ballot initiative to amend the state constitution. These outcomes are frustrating and frankly embarrassing for citizens who see our state as moving forward rather than looking back. So do we just imagine NC to be more progressive than it is?
The voters of North Carolina were targeted as part of the Republican Party's “southern strategy” in the 1960s, when racial prejudices and fears were stoked in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement by North Carolina politicians like segregationist Jesse Helms. The vestiges of that “southern strategy” have lasted for over forty years.
Barack Obama reversed this trend in 2008. What was inspiring and seismic about the 2008 election was not just the result. Of course there was much rejoicing in front of the television on election night (and there was some local suspense as NC wasn’t officially called for Obama for several days). But even more exciting were the months leading up to the election, as we watched a population activate around a common cause in a way I've never seen, from large-scale gatherings—concerts, GOTV events, rallies, fundraisers—to the small act of knocking on a door and driving someone to their polling place so they could vote for the first-ever African-American candidate of a major party to be on the ballot for President.
Much was made of the buzzwords of the Obama campaign—Hope, Change—but it turns out that it took a candidate like Barack Obama to inspire those very real things in an electorate that had gotten used to losing. By turning our state "blue," Obama proved that North Carolinians can and do look forward. Watching the state be transformed by the Obama campaign had implications way beyond 2008 and way beyond North Carolina: a hopeful people anywhere CAN make big changes.
This year we need to prove that North Carolina’s support, America's support, for a candidate that embraces science and addresses the growing economic gap in our society was not a one-time mobilization; the good things he’s done for this country in the face of stiff opposition are not a fluke and neither was 2008.
Obama did his best to change our country for the better, but he was stymied by an increasingly radical Republican Party that refused to compromise on any of his proposals. Even so, Obama still achieved numerous concrete goals as he intelligently handled many of our nation's most pressing issues. He improved healthcare and rescued the economy from the failed Republican policies that caused it to crash. He also fought for equal rights for same-sex partners, equal pay for women in the workplace, and improved services for our veterans. These all constitute steps in the right direction.
With four more years, President Obama will continue to work on the issues he has, to this point, been prevented from addressing. I want to see North Carolina and our country continue to move forward. We need to re-elect President Obama so he can further what he’s started.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina