For a neighborhood considered one of the most progressive in the United States, Missionistas were unusually in step with the rest of the country in their reaction to President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.
They were divided on whether the president had earned the honor and voiced worries that it would further inflame his critics. Some said the prize reflected the country’s increased stature abroad.
“I was surprised that he got it, being a president in the midst of a war,” said Cy Matarazzo, an Obama supporter, who presided over a sidewalk sale on 20th Street. “If he was pulling the troops out, I’d understand.”
A few blocks away, Young Tran said he was confused when he saw the news on a friend’s Facebook page. “I thought it was weird because he hasn’t done that much,” he said.
And, at a training for health promoters at Mission Graduates, the fact that Obama would be awarded such a prize after touting a public insurance plan that excludes undocumented immigrants galled Maria Claudia Guerrero. “A person who doesn’t integrate everyone is not a person of peace,” she said.
But Senegalese restaurateur Marco Senghor said he thought Obama had done plenty to earn the award, starting with his moves toward closing Guantanamo and reaching out to Iran. “When you think about it, he’s been doing great things for the last two years. Who deserves it more than him?” he asked, unlocking the front doors of his restaurant Bissap Baobab.
Shepherding two boys in soccer jerseys and a little white dog along Valencia Street, Virginie Boudet agreed. “I think he deserved it in the sense that he’s open to dialogue,” she said.
George Escovar said Obama deserves credit not just for charting a different course than Bush, but for running a presidential campaign that unified the country. “He brought a lot of people together. Blacks, whites, everybody. It wasn’t just the black vote that got him in,” he said.
For Jamie Evans, a city worker who was cleaning Mission Street, the picture wasn’t so rosy. Though she said the prize was “great,” she worried it would inflame conservatives. “I’m worried that someone’s going to assassinate him,” she said, “With this, his status has changed.”
Standing within sight of the huge, tattered Obama poster that still gazes into the distance above 15th and Dolores streets, Raun Harris said he also worried the award would provoke the president’s critics.
“There’s already a stigma around his whole celebrity image. This just adds to it. It’s only adding unneeded heat at this point,” he said.
Though Ron Bonifacio acknowledged that the prize could lead to more criticism of Obama, he said he’s hopeful it will help repair the U.S.’s image abroad. “It shows the world we’re trying to reach out to other countries. It sends a message that [Obama] has good intentions,” he said.
Errol Roelofsz said he hoped the prize would increase the “good vibes” between the U.S. and other countries. As he walked Cheryl, his terrier-bulldog mix, on 15th Street he said he was happy and surprised. “I think it’s wonderful. We’ll take all the good news we can get.”
Katy Colpetzer was glad to hear the news, too. She saw Nobel as the international community’s way of acknowledging Obama’s potential and nudging him away from escalating the war in Afghanistan. “If it’s to encourage him in the direction of peace, that’s okay with me,” she said.
Over on Guerrero Street, Mike Hawley sat with a friend not far from the Women’s Building, where Obama went to connect with female voters immediately after losing the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton. He said Obama’s Nobel was premature. “Not that he might not end up there someday, but it seems a little overenthusiastic.”
Still, he summed up the mood of many in the Mission when he said, “It’s just nice to have somebody in charge that the rest of the world doesn’t completely hate.”