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South Bend Democrats celebrate win in community

John Tierney | Wednesday, November 5, 2008

“Yes we did!” was the resounding cry at the West Side Democratic Club in South Bend as Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States.

“This is historic. Great. This is the United States of America,” said Alvin Levy, a South Bend resident. “We came together to elect an African-American, an American, as president of the United States of America.”

“This is everything that America stands for,” Levy, a former Air Force reservist, said. “The United States has its mission supported by all its people. That mission is to be the leader of the free world. I’m proud to be an American.”

Obama’s election is “amazing and hard to put into words,” according to Notre Dame College Democrats co-president Spencer Howard. “There are so many people around the country have been inspired by what he has brought to the table.”

Marilyn Florey-Krecina, an area resident who is not a United States citizen, was equally thrilled by Obama’s election.

“I am absolutely exhilarated,” she said. “He’s going to be an amazing president.”

Maxine Crawford was in tears following Obama’s victory.

“I am so happy and so proud that we have elected a man who has compassion,” Crawford said. “We are going to do a lot better, but it’s going to take everybody to help.”

“Color isn’t an issue anymore,” she said.

Crawford was happy that she was able to see an African-American be elected president.

“Martin Luther King is very happy. We’ve seen that he’s like a prophet. His dream came true,” she said. “I am proud to be an American. I’ve always been proud to be an American, but especially so today.”

Paul Grzeszczyk, a 75-year old union member who grew up in New Carlisle, Indiana, and has lived in the area all his life, is, like Crawford, most impressed by the historic moment of putting an African-American in the White House.

“I didn’t think in my lifetime I would see a Black president,” Grzeszczyk, whose ancestors were Polish immigrants, said. “When I was growing up, I remember New Carlisle [had a strong Ku Klux Klan base]. They came in front of the Church and burned crosses. We went to the Church making sure the Church wasn’t burned down. And the KKK came on horseback hooded under their wives’ and grandmothers’ skirts.”

As a Polish Catholic, Grzeszczyk was discriminated against and was called “a Polak and a n***** turned inside out,” he said. “After World War II, we finally gained recognition.”

David Janes, a Notre Dame graduate from the Class of 1970 and a local activist, is happy about the winds of change that Obama’s election signifies. “There are a lot of people in this room who are trying to change the hopelessness,” Janes said.

“We got everybody to close the circle tonight,” Janes said. “We need to keep that circle closed than we can do it. We can change the course of this country.”

“I am crazy with love for these people [in the West Side Democratic Club],” Janes said.

Janes said the movement that got Obama elected is all about being positive.

“Love is all around us,” he said. “It’s a public kind of love that’s called justice. That’s what justice is – it’s the love of lots of people. And all you can do is work for justice.”

“There’s nothing more important than justice and love,” Janes said.

Billy Gene Easton Singer, a longtime associate of Janes, said Obama’s election should be empowering. “There’s no reason for anyone black to say we can’t do something,” he said.

Lee Gloster, a union member, was more focused on the tangible results of Obama’s election. “We’re going to bring the troops home, get single payer medical coverage,” and fix the mortgage crisis, he said.

Gloster and Janes are both “old refugees from the ’60s,” Gloster said. “We’ve been waiting 30 years for this. One and a half years ago, I said it couldn’t happen.”

Janes fired up the crowd prior to Obama’s election by leading the club in a singing of what he called “The Freedom Song,” or “Ain’t nobody going to turn me around.” He said he learned the song from Mississippi civil rights workers in the 1960s, but that Tuesday was the first time it had been sung in the West Side Democratic Club.

The song shows that “we are a sea of togetherness,” and that “that circle is this room,” Janes said.

Local candidates helped show that Indiana is a part of the change sweeping across America. “This is a great night in St. Joe County,” said Ryan Dvorak, a victorious candidate for state representative. “We’re showing the world and the country that Indiana isn’t automatically a red state.”

The crowd was captivated by President-elect Obama’s victory speech. The room cheered “yes we can” in unison with those at Grant Park in Chicago. During the speech, many people in the room began to cry or to hug each other in joy.

One voice cried out, “It’s all about love, it’s all about love,” and people at the table around the voice burst out into cheers.