Community organizers who taught Obama the ropes get an invitation to the inauguration
Commnuity organizers Loretta Augustine-Herron, left, and Margaret Bagby gather in Augustine-Herron's Calumet City home Wednesday. They recalled working with Barack Obama when he was learning to be a community organizer. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune / January 16, 2013)
Many of the people traveling to the capital now are campaign volunteers who worked to get Obama re-elected in November. About 50 volunteers from the Democratic Party of Oak Park planned to leave Sunday by bus.
Some said they want to show their support for the president as he fights for issues such as gun control and health care.
"For a lot of people, it's a different feeling this time. It's more to show the president that we are still with him, that we've still got his back," said Donald Harris, a Chicago activist who organized two buses for 110 people, including trade union members. "We hope he can look out there and see the thousands of people and know that he is not alone up there fighting."
Mae Ya Carter Ryan, 11, of Chicago, has been invited to sing the national anthem at one of the unofficial galas, the Illinois Presidential Inaugural Celebration on Sunday, but she and her mother, Ina Carter, on their first trip to D.C., were empty-handed when it came to tickets for other events. Still, they're happy.
"I might meet the president, so I'm really excited," said Ryan, a sixth-grader at Haines Elementary School in Chicago. "I'm looking forward to everything, and I can't wait to visit the museums and the Capitol."
But even some of "Obama Mamas" don't think they'll get close enough to say hello.
"I'm excited mostly about being able to see him," Bagby said. "But I envision him waving at the crowd and not even seeing us."
Sitting in the living room of Augustine-Herron's home last week, the two women reminisced about the three years they worked on race and poverty issues with the tall, skinny young man with a boyish face hired to take the helm of the Developing Communities Project.
As Augustine-Herron talked about how she felt that Obama was right to try to reach a compromise with Republicans in Washington on issues such as gun control, the budget deficit and the debt ceiling, Bagby fidgeted in her chair, becoming increasingly agitated at the conversation.
"Loretta is very learned and up-to-date, but I think she loves Barack so much that whatever he does is just fine," she quipped. "I love him too, but I'm so mad with him for not just telling those people, 'This is what I want. Just do it!'"
That's what they used to tell Obama when he started in 1985, but he preferred to find the middle ground, they said. They taught him how to get inside the culture of the neighborhoods so he could determine what the problems were. In turn, he taught them how to work to solve those problems.
"When he came in for the interview, I was sitting next to Yvonne and she turned to me and said, 'Loretta, Loretta, he's so young,'" said Augustine-Herron. "I said, 'Girl, they're going to eat him up out there.'"
They were mistaken. He taught them organizing skills so they would be more effective in the community. And though he never forced his will on anyone, they said, it was always clear what he wanted.
"Whenever he tells you, 'I don't think …' he's telling you that he knows what he wants. And you really need to look out when he says, 'My sense is that …'" Bagby said.
It didn't take long for them to realize that he had the potential for greatness.
"We've been mesmerized ever since we met him. We've always felt like his second mom," said Augustine-Herron. "We used to always fuss over him and try to get him to eat right and not go into some of the bad neighborhoods. That's why we went with him most of the time. He was fearless, and we were scared something would happen to him."
For now, they are satisfied just being invited to the inauguration, even if they don't get to give him a hug.
"I'd like to get a note to him and ask him to invite us to an event when he comes home to Chicago," she said, "so we can remind him how to kick (Republican House Speaker John) Boehner's behind."