Memphis on Obama

I think the countdown to the election clock on CNN is overkill, how about you?

Over the weekend here in Memphis, I surveyed 7 African-American shuttle and bus drivers about the election.  (I spent A LOT of time shuttling between two hotels and riding around on buses with Amnesty International members.  As I texted my boyfriend last night Highways 40 and 55 are beautiful this time of year.)

Here’s what I found:

4 were excited and hopeful, if somewhat restrained in their expression.  A young man, probably in his early twenties, was the most energized, adding that he “knows” Obama is going to win on Tuesday.  The male bus driver of the two I talked was optimistic but added that he hoped “[his] president” didn’t get shot in office.

3 were ambivalent, resigned and/or pessimistic.  I wrote in detail about two men’s opinions here.  I spoke with a young woman, 35?, who didn’t care much for Obama or McCain.  She didn’t like Obama’s (lack of) experience and worried about McCain’s age.  She didn’t think either of them were all that qualified to deal with our “problems at home,” which she emphasized should be a president’s priority before they wandered off to stir up trouble in the rest of the world.  She added that she has never been all that impressed with Obama, which often caused arguments with other African-Americans.  Of the six people I spoke with she seemed the most circumspect, and was the only “undecided” to whom I spoke.  Three, IIRC, had already voted.  (39% of Shelby County voters voted early.)

As I ate at Onyx last night, a jazz club in Memphis’s South Main arts district, the band announced they had a new album out, with a title song “It’s time for a change.”  The majority African-American crowd (majority middle-aged, majority having date night) cheered.  At this great clothing store Divine Rags (across the street from the Church of God in Christ bookstore), they had an Obama t-shirt I’ve never seen before:


Yes We Can!

Obama ’08

made by American Apparel.  It was too long for my taste, sadly.  I own no Obama swag to sport on Tuesday night.  Guess I’ll have to go with my Hillary t-shirt.  Or my Ortiz jersey.  (Go Sox!)

Similar enthusiasm existed among the Amnesty crowd (AI is a non-partisan organization).

Last night on the bus back from downtown, five young white members (I assume under 21, since they were some of the few not partying on Beale St.), were chattering away.  At a lull in the conversation one of them said to the others something like, “In five days, Obama is going to be our president!”  And they all cheered.

I saw four or five Obama buttons, tees, etc. and one McKinney button among conference attendees.  We listened to Jeribu Hill, Executive Director of the MS Workers’ Center for Human Rights, tell us not to lose sight of the work in front of us.  She planned to celebrate on November 4 if Obama won, but be right back to work on November 5.  She also was managing her expectations so she wasn’t disappointed when Obama didn’t name an “all black” or “all Socialist” Cabinet.  I heard a young white college student tell one of his friends later how awesomely radical she was, and quote this statement.  She was an amazing speaker. Another gem:

“Empire based on the theft of human kind can not be [righted] in one week or four years.”

We also heard from Bill Lucy, Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME and a major labor organizer who was involved in the Memphis Workers Strike in 1968.  He told the awed crowd:

“…we gave $700b to the richest people in the country…in a matter of days…not to people living in doorways, veterans begging for change…we have poverty like we’ve never seen in our lifetime, but asking for healthcare for poor people becomes socialistic…or ideas get bogged down in committees, [we drown from the] paralysis of analysis…”

Despite individual member excitement, and a general undercurrent of desire for Democratic leadership given it’s greater receptivity to AI’s human rights agenda, there was little discussion of electoral politics or the candidates.  Members are focused on issues such as ending the death penalty and wrongful executions, ending torture and freeing prisoners of conscience, and bringing displaced Katrina survivors home.  In the grand scheme of these things, Obama v. McCain matters little, though liberal vs. centrist vs. conservative vs. right-wing leadership matters a great deal.

Among my sample of Memphis workers with whom I had the privilege of talking (the woman bus driver and I were so engrossed in conversation last night that it took us a minute to realize we’d driven past the airport exit and into Mississippi; my morning shuttle driver and I were singing along together to “Just My Imagination”) – genuine excitement about the possibility of an Obama presidency was tempered by fear and worry over white supremacist violence, assasination, and the expectation that all politicians are generally alike, and disconnected from the people whom they seek to represent.

Me?  I’m caught up in the hype with only two days to go, and looking forward to getting home to my man, my Google reader, my political coverage, and hopefully, fingers crossed, celebrating with friends on Tuesday night of the end of the Bush era and the beginning of Obama/Clinton 2.0.

Obama-Biden ’08!


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