Dr. Ronald Walters, an expert on African-Americans and a professor at the University of Maryland, spoke at Knox College on Tuesday, Oct. 21 about the current presidential election. Walters was the deputy campaign manager for Reverend Jesse Jackson during his 1984 campaign for president and has worked with Ron Brown, who eventually became chair of the Democratic Party, on his 1988 campaign.
After 40 years of experience working in elections, Walters has been busiest this presidential election cycle because “there is such an excitement out there about Barack Obama and what he represents.”
As part of the staff of the Obama campaign, Walters’s job involves writing speeches in the backs of buses in the middle of the night and dealing with the press during the daytime.
Coming from Las Vegas a few days ago, he witnessed the enthusiasm of a rally of 2,000 people who marched down to the clerk’s office for early voting.
“To me, this campaign is about change…If you look at the depth of the way the Americans and their attitudes are being expressed in public opinion polling, it’s very clear that they want change…Obama came along as the drum major for this change, someone who is prescient enough to say, ‘Well, let me build a campaign around this idea.’ He said, ‘This is about you. This is about a moment in history we need change. This is something we can do together. As a matter of fact, it won’t be done unless we can do it together. We have to change America. We have to bring it to a new paradigm.’ This struck a chord in Americans desiring, thirsting for a new direction.”
However, Walters does not analyze this year’s presidential campaign as beginning with Barack Obama. “We need to understand the social forces of movements…You can’t understand campaigns by jumping into the middle of a campaign because what moves campaigns a lot are the social forces of society. You have to understand those and then the expression of it finds its way into the campaign but the social forces in society are what need to be understood in order to make sense out of what happens in the political system.”
When asked what some of the social forces involved in this year’s campaign are, Walters replied, “Well, number one is the wars. The war was the initial ingredient that brought young people, for example, into the Howard Dean campaign. And he had a tremendous outpouring of young volunteers and people around the country, and that was an indication that at least a segment of the American people were beginning to be weary of the war…And, of course, you’re looking at the state of the economy.”
Professor and Chair of Black Studies, Fred Hord, asked about the impact on race if Barack Obama is elected. Walters said, “What it can do is make people think more deeply about race.”