Opinion: Hecklers greet Barack Obama in Florida


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Our colleague Steve Braun, traveling with Barack Obama’s campaign, reports that Obama was just heckled during a town hall gathering in St. Petersburg, Fla., by six black protesters who unfurled a banner that read: ‘What about the black community, Obama?’

Obama, adopting what has become most political figures’ response to such interruptions, turned at the podium inside the high school gym and bantered with the protesters for several seconds as the crowd booed. Finally, Obama said, ‘Just be courteous, that’s all.’ The protesters quieted and turned their banner over to a an Obama staffer, but later in the speech again began to chant, only to be drowned out by the Obama crowd.


Later, Obama gave one of the protesters a chance to ask a question. The protesters, one of three black men and three women who held up the sign, launched into a rambling diatribe complaining about Obama’s failure to address police killings of black men in N.Y. and St. Petersburg and his failure to address predatory lending against minorities. ‘Why is it you have not had the courtesy for one time to speak on interests of the oppressed and exploited black community in this nation?’

Obama replied that he had spoken out on the cop killings and on predatory lending, and when the man tried to argue back, Obama said: ‘That doesn’t mean I’m going to satisfy your positions,’ and added: ‘You can always vote for somebody else.’ The crowd responded with a standing ovation as the protester sat down stone-faced. The protesters repeatedly interrupted the Q-and-A session, only to be drowned out again and again by chants of ‘Yes we can!’ and boos.

So, who were the protesters? The banner identified them as from ‘UhuruNews.’ A website with that name says it’s the ‘Online Voice of the International African Revolution,’ a socialist-leaning group ‘dedicated to giving voice to the struggles of the African working class from around the world through its programming in an effort to unite and inform the struggles of African people and forward the International African Revolution.’

The chair is Omali Yeshitela, who denounces Obama in YouTube videos as ‘white power in black face.’ So why do we post these details? Because the moment indicates that this is one campaign in which race will persist as a factor, in ways large and small, though election day.

UPDATE: Braun talked afterward to one of the protesters, Diop Olugbala, 31, who was wearing a gray T-shirt and sported a neck tattoo that reads: ‘Serve the People.’ Olugbala said he was a St. Petersburg resident and ‘international organizer’ for the ‘International Peoples’ Democratic Uhuru Movement.’ The organization runs a website that espouses socialist economic theories and rails against U.S. and foreign governments that prevent ‘self-determination for African people.’ ‘He falls short with the black community,’ Olugbala insisted in the brief interview with Braun.

-- Scott Martelle