Fours Years Later: African Americans in Oakland react to President Obama’s reelection
on November 9, 2012
Four years ago, people danced in the streets in front of Everett and Jones BBQ Restaurant in Jack London Square. They embraced loved ones and high-fived total strangers. The news cameras rolled, and non-reporters became journalists as they documented history via grainy pictures from their camera phones. The first African American president in the history of the United States had been elected.
Four years later, that same African American president was up for re-election, but the celebration at Everett and Jones—a venue that traditionally attracts African American families to celebrate community happenings, televised athletic competitions, and major news events—had a slightly different feel.
“I am the Jones in ‘Everett And Jones,’” said Pearl Jones, as she sat holding her newborn great-nephew at a table in the family-owned diner. She sat at a table surrounded by family members who were peeking up from their plates every so often to check the news.
Aside from the red and blue balloons, flags on the tables, and the signs that read “African Americans for Obama” on the door-it could have a been a regular night at the restaurant. Food was served as waiters maneuvered around little kids running in the isles, and people talked amongst themselves, not partying, just socializing.
“He’s going to win,” Jones said, wearing a black knitted cap with “Obama” across the front. “I have no doubt about it.”
Jones, the only married member of the Everett family at the time, moved from the South with her family, to West Oakland and started a barbecue business in 1979. There’s food, music, a welcoming atmosphere, and an event space, complete with room for a live band, DJ and dance floor. In 2008, on the eve of Barack Obama’s election as the 44th president of the United States, that event space was packed. People flooded out onto the streets, and turned the intersection of Second Avenue and Broadway into a makeshift dance floor.
But Tuesday night’s crowd, as one election-paraphernalia entrepreneur named Goody described it, was “comfortably numb.” Goody, who goes by just the one name, said he was selling Barack Obama paraphernalia outside Everett and Jones in 2008, too. “Black folks aren’t into it like they were last time,” said Goody, who has been selling items all around the Bay Area this election year. “I’m selling hats, watches, shirts, everything but draws,” Goody said, as he lifted his “Obama 44” football jersey to reveal his black and gold undershirt adorned with President Obama’s face.
Eileen Tejada, along with her husband, stopped to buy a couple of buttons from Goody before heading into the election watch party. Tejada, a college English professor, was straightforward about her disillusionment with certain aspects of Obama’s presidency. “He broke my heart,” said Tejada, and listed some of her complaints so far: military presence still in Afghanistan, the usage of drones, and what she characterized as the president’s “overly friendly” method of working with Republicans, to name a few. Should the president get a chance at a second term, Tejada said, as she and her husband made their way into the BBQ joint to wait for results, “I’m hoping he comes out swinging.”
Inside, Kevin Nichols sat a table with family and friends, as close as possible to the large television display. Nichols, who holds the high-fundraiser label of “Obama Victory Trustee,” had organized Obama events in Nevada and California for this year’s campaign. He said he thought disappointed supporters were sounding a little unrealistic. “Everybody thought he was going to come out as Malcolm, Farrakhan, or something like that,” said Nichols with a chuckle. “He’s not the Black President, he’s not the White President, he’s the President of the United States. He’s got to serve the whole entire country.”
Nichols, who worked as an Obama phone banker in 2008, said he was impressed with Obama’s first term—impressed enough for him to become deeply involved in this year’s campaign. A second term, he predicted, would grant the president “more liberty to do what ever the hell he wants to do.”
R&B producer D’Wayne Wiggins, who grew up in Oakland, sat a table with his son and daughter as they watched election results trickle in. Wiggins said that at 4 that morning he and his son awoke in Los Angeles, where the family had recently moved, and drove to Oakland, where he’s registered to vote, just so he could cast his ballot. Wiggins, who has met Obama, and performed at one of his first fundraisers in 2007, says that at first, “everybody in the band thought that he was just another one of those guys.”
Now he was at Everett and Jones, waiting, with a roomful of people he called “the troopers.”
The news broke: President Barack Obama had been elected for a second term.
People wiped barbecue sauce from their fingers, and applauded. People raised drinks and toasted. Others hugged quietly. And a handful of people made a beeline to the dance floor–singing along to classic disco funk hits like “Celebration” by Kool and The Gang, as the band began to play. The building came alive.
The party poured out of the restaurant, and onto the sidewalk. Some people stood in the blockaded street, but that was by choice. Everyone agreed that the crowd was much smaller than last time around, but the people who were present were excited, nonetheless.
“Obama! Obama! Obama!” chanted Jerome “3D” Davis, an MC and self proclaimed party starter. Davis, stood in the street in front of Everett and Jones, wearing a shirt with the faces of President Obama and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the words “46 years later” written across his black shirt in grey lettering. It was a reference to Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech, which was delivered from the mountain-tops of Denver, Co on the 46th anniversary of the Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. “He showed it’s more than politics: it’s a spirit thing, it’s from the heart, it’s from the soul, it’s from the roots,” said Davis, before breaking back into his rhythmic chant: “Obama! Obama! Obama!”
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