Keisha Lott, 39, who manages the MLK apartments, agreed, saying she has “turned her ear” from Smiley’s criticism. “I see all of the poverty. . . .
It’s on every corner. You see generation after generation of it. It’s not solely his responsibility. These are things that have been happening over decades,” she said. “It’s going to take more than Obama.”
West, who said Obama has “no backbone” in negotiating with Republicans, explained the support for Obama this way: “Black folks will love him unless he really betrays them — explicitly. We’re all attracted to the symbolism.”
The Chicago town hall, the first of three that Smiley and West plan to hold this week, drew attendees who were receptive to their views. In the crowd of about 2,000, there was vocal support when West pointed to the high levels of black unemployment and when Smiley called the debt-ceiling compromise signed by the president last week a declaration of “war on the poor.”
Unemployment among blacks in Chicago has risen from 13.1 percent in 2008 to 20.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Lindell Wallace, 37, drove two hours from Plano, Ill., with his son to attend the event, but his applause for Smiley and West had a layered meaning. “Thank God that these two men are looking past him as the first black president. Everybody has to push. No nationality has gotten anything from any government without pushing,” he said.
A few minutes later, Wallace added, “I can personally understand [Obama’s] pain. It’s the first time in history our credit rating has been downgraded. They are throwing all these stumbling blocks at him. I think he is facing what other minorities have faced, just at a higher level. I can relate to that.”
At the end of the two-hour meeting, Jeanette Foreman, an attorney and activist, asked the last question. How do you criticize Obama and also keep people from saying “I’m just not going to vote,” she asked, to equally loud applause.
Smiley and West “mean well, but they are not paying attention to what’s going on in the streets,” Foreman said later. “This tour is powerful, but they have got to turn the rhetoric a bit. Talk about Congress. Talk about the Republicans.”
Polling analyst Peyton Craighill and researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.