West Side political organizer Deborah Williams, an accountant by trade, sat spellbound at her desk inside of the Chicago Avenue office space she shares with Crystal Dyer, the owner of Gone Again Travel and Tours, which Dyer said is the first African-American owned brick and mortar travel agency in Austin.
Williams was looking at her laptop while a roughly 2-minute clip, posted to Facebook, of a recent episode of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish” played on the screen.
In the clip, the comedian Anthony Anderson’s character, advertising executive Andre Johnson (also known as Dre), is in a conference room with his co-workers, who have been going back and forth about how Donald Trump got elected.
“All of them except Lucy (Catherine Reitman) voted for Hillary Clinton, and everyone is mad at some other group — black people, white women — for allowing this to happen,” according to a summary of the scene by TV Guide, which hailed the episode as the “first post-Obama work of art.”
“Dre is silent until Leslie (Peter Mackenzie), his #NeverTrump Republican boss, asks him ‘why do you not care about what’s happening to our country?'”
“What did you say to me?” Dre, taking solemn office, asks his boss. “You don’t think I care about this country? I love this country even though, at times, it doesn’t love me back.”
Cue Billie Holiday’s elegiac “Strange Fruit” that undergirds Dre’s monologue (“For my whole life — my parents, my grandparents, me, for most black people — this system has never worked for us; but we still play ball …”).
A montage of videos and photos depicting a colored-only movie theater and water fountain, children apparently at leisure in a city slum, the trash-filled hallway of a school, the faces of black people who “work jobs that you wouldn’t even consider in your nightmares,” a black choir singing.
The montage grows more hopeful (even if the visual transitions seem a bit discordant and random) as blacks are depicted jumping rope, singing in a choir and campaigning for Hillary. And just as the montage is nearing an end, a photo of Williams holding an “African Americans for Hillary” sign appears on the screen.
Williams has been unable to dodge that photo ever since she discovered its existence on an internet meme that went viral in the run-up to last November’s election. The meme, reportedly spread by Donald Trump supporters, deceitfully advises people to “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925′ in order to cast their votes — even though voting by text is not a thing.
After she learned that her face had been used without her permission, Williams retrieved a lawyer, held a press conference that got picked up by local television news channels and contacted the national media outlets that publicized the meme bearing her photo so that she could let the world know that “I’m a well-educated campaigner with 20 years of experience who knows you can’t vote by text,” Williams said at the time.
“I’m still making history,” Williams said in her office last Friday, adding that, although the photo that appears on “Black-ish” doesn’t include the deceptive information from the meme, she still laments that her face has now become something of the symbol of a foolhardy voter suppression attempt. That Facebook clip alone has garnered nearly six million viewers.
Although she hasn’t heard much from the national media since her face went viral, and is still exploring her legal options in a complex case that begs many questions — for one, whether or not the photo of her face is her property or that of the people who have the rights to it — Williams is moving on.
For the longtime political organizer — who has worked on the campaigns of everyone from state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) and Cook County Commission Richard Boykin (1st) to U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis and President Barack Obama — this isn’t how things were supposed to end.
“With Obama leaving office, it’s almost an end of my era of being in the heat of politics, even though I don’t want it to be,” Williams said. “I feel kind of discouraged and upset. I wanted my daughter to go to a university or college in Washington, D.C., where I thought I was going to be an insider by now. I feel like an outsider, now.”
Williams, who held down a paid position as a West Side field organizer for Obama’s successful re-election bid in 2012, said that Trump’s election has forced her to re-orient her priorities somewhat.
Williams said that she’s looking forward to serving as a West Side coordinator for Organizing for Action, the political organizing nonprofit that advocates for Obama’s agenda.
“I’ll be making sure that Obamacare isn’t totally repealed, fighting for common sense gun legislation and climate change awareness,” Williams said. “I’m going to be very active on the community level.”