Thursday, October 30, 2008

Early Voting in Tampa, Fl.: A View on the Ground

I am working for the Obama campaign in Tampa, Florida. I was sent to the College Hill Public Library to oversee early voting there.The site is to the left pictured here. Early voting is occurring across Florida at select locations. Here in Tampa (Hillsborough County) if you live in the County you can early vote at any location, which is very convenient. I showed up early at 8 am and worked until about 2 PM. When I got to the polls there was a line of 100 people out the door. When I left at about 2 PM there was a line of about 75 people. The line never stopped! People are very excited.

The line of voters was at least 95% African-American. It is in the College Hill section of Tampa, not that I know much about Tampa, but I got the impression it was a predominantly black neighborhood. All throughout the morning there were vans of folks coming in and out shouting "Obama!" It was very heartening and exciting to say the least. Of course I stayed neutral giving advice only on the ballot, though we are working for the Obama campaign, we do not challenge anyone. We only encourage voter participation. The Obama campaign makes this very clear. It is a good thing because I would never challenge someone's right to vote.

At one point in the morning an African-American addressed the entire line in oratory telling them that when they go home they need to 'go knock on the doors of five friends and take them to the polls. This election is close and we cannot let them take Florida again! McCain will not let a black man be President! Those in the panhandle in Pensacola will be out to vote for him and will do anything they can to win this election." The entire crowd started cheering and he was told to repeat the message for the back of the line and he did. And then an older gentleman came to get a woman out of line to go see her mother and the entire crowd started booing. Amazing. The guy was pretty pissed off.

Then I overheard conversations in the line as they came up to me that the only time they got to vote for a black candidate for President was Jesse Jackson. They must have meant in 1984 and 1988. Shirley Chisolm ran in 1972, but no one thought she had any realistic chance. Ditto for Jesse, but he was taken more seriously by the Democrats at least. This time around the pride is obvious. And then I thought as I stood there handing out ballots, giving advice to voters and answering questions, and allowing elderly black women to use my folding chair that these women and men for that matter couldn't vote 45 years ago in the deep south. It was not until 1965 the voting rights movement proved to move the south to action. It is astonishing a black man now stands on the foothills of the Presidency.

When these elderly folks were in their mid 20's it was the Jim Crow south, separate everything and no voting in the elections. Martin Luther King had not even begun the Alabama Bus Boycotts and the birth of the civil rights movement was years away. Simply breathtaking I thought to myself; this election is truly historical. And the feeling among many of my friends is that this election is in the bag, but the talk in this line is that we need to do all we can to secure the vote and make sure they do not steal this election.

Sadly, Glory to the Union informed me of Amendment 2 that is on the ballot in Florida that restricts Marriage between a man and a woman hinges upon the black vote. I discussed the ballot with many black voters and indeed many were voting for the Amendment to restrict marriage and have a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. One bright note, however was the Florida Democratic Black Caucus is distributing their own ballots to every voter and encouraging voters to vote no on the measure. I think it will be tight just as the election will be.

2 comments:

R. Thelonious said...

Great post and good luck over the next few days. Let the old folks cut to the front of the line! They've waited long enough to vote!

Isabel said...

that's awesome, kid. what an experience.