By: Trevor Loudon
Obama was very close, for many years, to the far left side of Chicago politics – where the Lumpkins were major players.
As a friend, supporter and campaigner for pro-communist Chicago mayor Harold Washington (1983-87), Lumpkin credits the Washington campaigns and the communist/labor/leftist Democrat/Black/Latino alliances they forged, with blazing the way for an Obama presidency.
Sadly, when Washington died in office, the Democratic Party hacks crept back into power. The movement around Harold had not had time to jell into an organization with staying power. Still, the lessons of that campaign, with its spirit of African American, Latino and labor unity, took deep root in Chicago. Those roots nourished the spectacular rise of a new voice for people’s unity, Barack Obama. Since then, Obama’s strong voice has brought the message of unity to every corner of the country.
The Lumpkins and their comrades in the Chicago Communist Party, aided and supported Obama right through his career.
From Bea Lumpkin’s book “Joy in the Struggle,” pages 244 to 248:
I am sure that Frank and I met Obama in the ’80s. That’s when he was working on pollution problems at the Altgeld Gardens public housing. The site was close to the steel mills, and Frank was active on similar pollution issues. We certainly knew the community people with whom Obama was working. But I cannot say that we knew the Obama name then. There were two reasons for that. Both Frank and I have a hard time remembering names. More important, was Obama’s style. He pushed the community people forward and stayed out of the limelight himself. After Obama became our state senator in 1996, we knew his name, and I am sure he knew ours.
The Lumpkins were also close to Alice Palmer, the long time Communist Party ally and high ranking Soviet front official, who employed Obama as her chief of staff and gave Obama his first job in politics.
We were also friends with Alice Palmer, a progressive state senator. When she ran for Congress, Barack Obama won the vacated state senatorial seat.
The couple also knew and worked with Obama during his time as an Illinois State Senator. They visited Obama on behalf of a communist front, a steelworkers retiree organization, which Frank Lumpkin led, during which Obama discussed his political ambitions.
During Obama’s years in the Illinois Senate, we heard many good things about him. I helped organize steel worker retirees to visit Obama about health care legislation. He made us happy by telling us he was a sponsor of the legislation we wanted. And we liked his stand against a U.S. invasion of Iraq. He told us he was thinking of running for the US Senate.
In 2004, the Lumpkins, as did all Chicago communists, threw everything into Obama’s successful US Senate Democratic Primary bid.
Electing Obama to the U.S. Senate was a must-win election for us… The hardest part of the senatorial campaign was winning the Democratic primary…”
About that time in the campaign, I heard Michelle Obama for the first time. Barack Obama introduced her in a way that really appealed to me. It showed not only his love for his wife but also his respect for women. “I want to introduce my wife, Michelle. She is taller than I am, smarter, and better looking.” Michelle Obama then took the podium and gave a good, progressive review of the issues we care about...
The stakes were high. To win, each one of us had to do more than we could. But Frank was 88 and I was 86. Sure, we were in good shape “for our age.” But how good was that? Well we found out. We worked and we worked and worked. And we did a lot of worrying, too. The polls kept teetering back and forth…As it was, he won the nomination in a landslide, 29 percent higher than his nearest Democratic opponent.
With Frank Lumpkin suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the Senate election was not so easy for the Lumpkins. But they still thrilled to their man’s achievements.
With Obama safely nominated, we relaxed just a little. We no longer had to dream the impossible dream. But nobody knew how much racism might cut into Obama’s vote. It takes a huge supermajority in Chicago to offset the Republican counties in southern Illinois. So once more we needed to work on voter registration. But Frank and I could not continue the pace of the primary election. We did not have to. Many new activists came forward.
That August, at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Obama gave the speech that became his “trademark,” the call for people to unite to benefit the whole country. In November 2004, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate with 70 percent of the vote…
Four years later, while Frank was incapacitated, Bea Lumpkin gave her all for Obama in his first presidential campaign. Even Communist party affiliated Congressman Dennis Kucinich was shunted aside.
As an 18-year old, I served as a poll watcher in 1936.I was not yet 21, not old enough to vote… But it was not until 1948 that I really threw myself into an election, heart and soul and body, too. That was the Progressive Party campaign to elect Henry Wallace for president. Fast forward to 1983 for Harold Washington… And then we come to 2008, for Barack Obama. That was like nothing I had ever seen. There had been a high level of enthusiasm when Washington ran for mayor. But nothing equaled the Obama campaign for president.
I was ecstatic when Barack Obama put his name forward as a candidate for the nomination for U.S. president. There were other good candidates, with Kucinich the clearest progressive voice. But my hopes went through the ceiling when Obama spoke. A progressive African American for president? About time and more! With Obama, we could not only reject “W’s” years of right-wing destruction, we could move the country forward. ..”
My favorite tee-shirt was the one that said, “We Are the Ones We Were Waiting For.” This was the feeling of empowerment that was taking root in working class neighborhoods and communities of color. .. We were sisters and brothers united in the greatest cause of all—saving our people and our country from the Bush disaster and to rebuild America.
Soon after Obama opened a volunteer center in Chicago, I went down to help. They were making phone calls into battleground states. The large office was crowded. All the seats were taken. All the phones were in use. And every inch of floor space was occupied by 16 to 25 year olds, sprawled in various teenage positions. .. My heart sang, and I had the rare feeling that I was not needed. My replacements had arrived!”
Bea Lumpkin also campaigned in neighboring Indiana, where Frank Lumpkin’s communist steelworker retirees thought they made a difference to a tight race. Bea Lumpkin looks forward to a new New Deal with massive government make work programs. Just like the Works Progress Administration, that was completely dominated by communists during the Depression era.
When the votes were counted, Indiana came through for Obama-Biden! It was close. The steel retirees felt that they had made a difference, all of us. We are still celebrating our huge victory. Things have never moved so fast. At this writing, it is only six weeks since Obama took office. We are being swallowed up by the biggest economic disaster since the ’30s. And it is beginning to look as though nothing smaller than a new New Deal can help us. How good it is that we have a president who has made job creation a plank of his crisis program. Had we not worked so hard and elected Obama, we’d be under a president who would let the people drown.
Frank Lumpkin by then was completely incapacitated by his disease, confined to a nursing home. Bea Lumpkin kept him up to date on Obama’s campaign. Frank was still mentally alert enough to enjoy Obama’s historic victory.
Meanwhile, Frank spent the campaign in the nursing home. I talked to him about Obama every day. I knew he wanted to know. But I could not tell if the news was getting through to him. The day after the election, the first page of the New York Times carried Obama’s picture and his name in three-inch letters. I showed it to Frank. He looked at it, hard. Then he drew his right arm out from under the covers, bent it at the elbow, and raised his clenched fist high!
An almost senile Chicago nonagenarian knew that a fellow comrade had made it to the White House.
Unfortunately, four years later, most mentally competent Americans still have no idea.