Tabassum’s Story

The groundswell of excitement that we are witnessing in our country and perhaps even the world is as much a reflection of the type of person Barack Obama is, but also of the type of people we are. No doubt many years from now, historians will look back at this time and analyze the underlying reasons for this feeling of hope and this courage to change. All we can do at this time is to record our own feelings and our own experiences, however dramatic they may seem to us or insignificant they may seem to the rest of the world. In that spirit, I would like to tell you about my experience…

Candidate Barack Obama handed me his book, Dreams from My Father, when I first met him while he was campaigning for the U.S. Senate office in 2004. He told me that he would sign it once I had read it. I accepted the book and agreed to his condition. As a co-chair for DuPage United, a community organizing, I was meeting with him in his Chicago campaign office to get his commitment on certain issues like immigration reform, affordable housing, education funding and access to healthcare. Our team did get his commitments, but weren’t quite sure about his chances for getting elected. After all, there were 13 other candidates running for that office, many of whom had much more experience. In the next few months, the race came down to a single candidate from each party with Obama as the Democratic nominee. Our Tri-County group decided to hold an assembly at Navy Pier in July 2004 to introduce the candidates to our membership. We had guaranteed a turnout of 2,500, but ended up with a gathering of over 3,600 members from our institutions. The enthusiasm for the issues and the candidates was evident. The Republican nominee failed to show up, but Barack Obama not only came but he publically committed to supporting all of our issues. He further committed to meeting with us again if he was elected.

Finally, in October 2005, Senator Obama invited us to meet with him at this Washington DC office to discuss the specifics of our issues. As the final issue during our 30-minute meeting, I raised our concerns about the devastation in Pakistan from the recent earthquake, specifically asking for cargo helicopters to be sent to the remote area. Senator Obama was extremely empathetic about the plight of those millions of innocent victims and promised to address the issue with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee that afternoon. A few days later, U.S. cargo helicopters flew into the earthquake region to assist with the rescue efforts.

As we closed the meeting, I handed the book to Senator Obama, noting that I had read it. He graciously signed his book and asked what I thought of it. I said that it was good. But what I failed to explain was why I thought it was good. I will save that for the next time I meet with Barack Obama…

Tabassum A. Haleem
Naperville, IL

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