radical student politics.
Curiously, the photos show Obama wearing a band on his left ring finger that WND alleges to read “there is no God but Allah.”
The photo I find to be most historically significant is the one that shows details from of the anti-apartheid rally of February 18, 1981, the rally that debuted Obama’s famous first skit in Obama’s Dreams from My Father. In contrast to Obama’s story, the banner above the event proclaims the somewhat more complex cause of “Affirmative Action & Divestiture NOW.” The photo features many of the real life figures who would become composite characters in Obama’s autobiography. These include my white ex-girlfriend, Caroline Boss, the radical student leader who improbably lent her grandmother’s name - and much of her scintillating personality - to the big-boned, black “Regina” character.
For the record, I view these photos from the perspective of an accident victim looking at a long ago car wreck. Caroline and I had parted ways just weeks before this rally. As I recall, the split was painful enough to cause us to temporarily adopt the roles of imaginary divorce lawyers, lawyers who combed through our conflicting feelings and amicably laid out the details of what became our eventual, imperfect separation.
For many years, young Obama was simply a footnote in my own intellectual autobiography. He was an early witness to the process in which I abandoned my expectation of a Communist revolution, dropped my old Occidental College friends, and eventually became a Republican business owner. In contrast, Obama held tight to his Occidental College friends and their causes.
“Decades later,” Margot Mifflin writes in response to these photos, “Obama would spur a new generation of students into political action, forging a connection between sixties radicals and media-savvy millennials.” Mifflin, of course, is only telling part of the story. She leaves out the part where at least one of Obama’s friends was not so pleased by the impact of affirmative action and never quite forgot what it was like to sacrifice everything he had for scholarly achievement only to learn, at the end of the process: “Sorry, you’re white.”
John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.