I spent the last week and a half traveling around rural North Carolina, gaining, in part, a very different perspective on this election. In my neighborhood of Southeast Portland, I’ve seen a grand total of one McCain/Palin sign (they are everywhere in North Carolina), I have a plethora of media outlets from which to choose, and I’ve never had to stand in line to vote.
First, the racism. Days after we got there, a bunch of local idiots went into the woods, shot a black bear in the head, wrapped it in Obama signs and dumped it on the grounds of a nearby campus. A local realtor used his message board to broadcast not a great deal on a house, but a racial epithet about Obama. He took it down only after members of the local Unitarian church protested and picketed him. Where we were, there were a lot of lawn jockeys and even more Confederate flags – on cars, used as curtains in houses, and one, the largest I’ve ever seen, illuminated with spotlights outside a business.
I saw African American teenagers, who grow up with these realities as part of the fabric of their childhood, look at my Obama t-shirts and smile, sometimes slyly, not wanting to show it. They need to know, despite these images, that this country elected a man who looks like them, who can let them know how much power they can truly have.
Second, the lack of information. I have long been curious about those who say that they don’t have enough information to make a choice about a candidate. Then, I spent a week in a rural cabin without cable, much less WiFi, down a country road where the newspaper delivery guy would not travel. We had local and national network news, the quality of which was dismal. That’s it. If I were a stay-at-home mother focused with the business of life, I, too, would have very little to go on as to the positions of the major candidates. Barack Obama's plan for small businesses, which includes support for increased rural access to the Internet, could be a big help.
Despite these first two realities, there is, third, the hope. The small village community center in Flat Rock had, nearly every day, lines out the door of early voters. A survey of the bumper stickers in the parking lot indicated that many were Obama supporters. I chatted with the Obama volunteer passing out leaflets on the sidewalk, who planned on being there every day until the election. There was no McCain volunteer.
There’s more hope. Obama has 15 more offices in the state than McCain, and when he spoke in nearby Asheville, he drew 28,000 people to the city’s largest venue. In comparison, Sarah Palin held a rally last Sunday at the Asheville Civic Center, with a capacity of 1,800, and faced a tremendous number of protesters. And the Democrats are working so hard -- we dropped by the Hendersonville Obama office and spoke with several staffers who stayed until 6:30 on a Friday night. While they were discouraged that an internal poll had Obama down a bit in the state, they were still working hard, day after day, night after night.
Obama might just win North Carolina and increasingly, it looks like he will have a friend in the Senate in Kay Hagen. The fact that it’s even close is a watershed – one of the most vicious racists in the Senate, Jesse Helms, was reelected five times in the state. In 2004, Bush won by 56% even though North Carolinian John Edwards was on the Democratic ticket. The last time it went Democratic was when neighbor Jimmy Carter was running in 1976.
Now, Barack Obama could do it again. If he does, perhaps we will all begin to see the rise of a new South and a new wave of power for those, like the African American teenagers smiling at my shirt, who have long been kept silent.