Elections & Voting
Report from the front
By Michael Hasty
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 4, 2008, 00:16

The reception to the waving Obama signs at the stoplight in Romney, West Virginia, Sunday afternoon was better than I expected.

There were a significant number of honks for Obama, and many people were enthusiastic, flashing big smiles and both thumbs up. They were still a distinct minority. Most people drove by with stern looks on their faces, and the negative reactions were more numerous and expressive than we�ve usually had at our antiwar demonstrations at that corner, out in front of the courthouse.

I didn�t personally hear any racial epithets, and neither did anyone else I talked to (there were about 30 people in attendance, enough to put signs at all four corners). That sort of surprised me. The worst I heard was �communist.� But there were a number of thumbs down, and a few middle fingers, as well as a few shouts of �McCain!�

Based on the percentage of positive responses we got, I think it�s possible for Obama to get close to 40 percent of the vote in this county, which I would count as a victory. That�s about what Gore and Kerry got, and if Obama does that well, it means he�ll have overcome the votes that he lost to racism, which will be a significant factor in this county. We also have a black Democratic candidate for sheriff, whose vote can provide a reality check, or at least add a variable in the calculation of what effect race will have on the election here.

There is a sense of hopeful anticipation palpable in the Obama supporters. Some of the people at the demo were surprised to see me there, having read my blog and knowing the reservations I have about him. But I want Obama to win as much as anyone, in the hope that, at the very least, he�ll bring incremental improvement to people�s lives. Even incremental improvement is movement in the right direction. My most outlandish hope is that he really is the secret radical the Republicans fear -- the �most liberal� Democrat in the Senate. But I doubt it. He�s too cautious -- which may be exactly what the world needs (or is only capable of handling) right now.

At any rate, the feeling here, on election eve, is that we are on the verge of a historic moment. That�s certainly the way I feel, and what I felt from my fellow sign-wavers Sunday.

The spirit of the Obama people reminded me of the first post-apartheid election in South Africa. Because, at the time, I was a board member of the DC chapter of the United Nations Association, I was asked to be an election observer at the South African embassy, off Connecticut Avenue. I�ll never forget the happiness I saw in the faces of the people coming to vote, both black and white, but especially in the black faces. There was also genuine pride in the faces of the white embassy employees, as they supervised the vote. It was a portrait of a people coming together, for the sake of the future.

I think the most dramatic immediate effect of an Obama victory will be the sense of unity that will come from blacks and whites having voted together to put the first African American in the White House. It will not mark the end of systemic racism, which will remain with us for years -- although it may be easier to correct, with the scale tipped by the symbolic weight of historic injustice that should become more apparent with a man the color of a slave serving as president. The question should naturally arise: Why are other people of color so economically, and systemically, disadvantaged?

But Obama, with his grace of thought and character, has the potential to be an American Mandela, incorporating in his persona a national desire to truly move beyond race in our politics. Our problems will inevitably remain, but with an Obama presidency, America will have taken a giant step forward toward embodying our most precious founding principle: that we are indeed all created equal.

If Obama is elected (I say with fingers crossed, and profound contempt for electronic voting), it will truly be a righteous cause for celebration around the world.

We�ll get back to reality soon enough.

Michael Hasty lives on a farm in West Virginia, where he wrote a column for seven years for the Hampshire Review, the state�s oldest newspaper. In 2000, it was named best column by the West Virginia Press Association. His writing has appeared in the Charleston Gazette, Online Journal, Common Dreams, Buzzflash, Tikkun and many other websites. He publishes the blog, Radical Pantheist. He plays guitar and harmonica with the folk/gospel trio, the Time Travelers. Email:. radicalpantheist(at)gmail (dot) com.

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