ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le rap d’espoir des Africains-Américains de Virginie
by Bruno Odent
Translated Friday 7 November 2008, by
A trip through this key state, ever so symbolic, in which the shift in favor of Obama will be synonym of victory.
Richmond, Virginia, by special envoy
All the floodlights in the United States will be turned on Virginia this Monday. The two candidates have chosen to terminate their campaigns there. Barack Obama will have pronounced his final address there in Manassas Park, in the north of the state. And John McCain will speak further east in the state, near the Tennessee border. This effervescence is due to the fact that Virginia is one of those "swing states", in which no majority is seen to be formed for either of the candidates, and whose shift can effect the outcome of the election. Virginia has been until now a "red" state, conservative and Republican. No Democratic candidate has managed to arrive in first place, and thus to carry those 13 electoral votes, for almost fifty years. But Virginia may swing to the Democratic camp this evening, because Barack Obama is leading in the polls.
"If Virginia shifts, it’s for sure, Barack has won", Douglas Smith, one of the young volunteers from Richmond, mobilized by the Democratic campaign, assures us. This will be an event of symbolic importance, and will carry a strong emotional content. Because Virginia has a troubled history, which sheds light on its conservative baggage. Wasn’t Virginia the first British colony to prosper on the American continent due to the implantation of the commerce in black slaves? Wasn’t Richmond the capital of the southern Confederacy during the secessionist Civil War? And doesn’t a statue of General Lee, the chief of the Confederate army until its ultimate defeat, stand in a place of honor at the State Capitol?
In the African-American neighborhoods of Richmond, the mobilization for the election has assumed "exceptional" proportions. Nobody, or virtually nobody, has escaped being involved. Percy Law, 42 years of age, shopkeeper, has never participated in an election. He was not even on the voters’ list. "I saw no interest in voting", he explains. "In any case, they make all those beautiful promises they never keep, and we black people are the last of their clients".
This time, for Percy, it’s quite another question. "One of our own is a candidate. No way I am going to miss out on an event like this." Tens of thousands of black-skinned people, who had been resigned to being second-class citizens, have done likewise, and have registered to vote for the first time, as he has.
The "politicization of the youth’ is even more impressive, explains a professor
at a college with a majority of African-American students. He took us to an evening concert in a hall of Virginia Union College. On stage, Shawn Corey Carter, alias Jay-Z, is one of the celebrities of east coast rap music.
Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run.
Obama’s running so we all can fly’
the atmosphere became electric, and many could not help but brush away a tear.
Shandell Matthews, one of the students in our group, evidently refused, however, to be carried along by the ecstasy which seemed to have taken over the crowd. Engaged already for a long time in the fight against racial and other discrimination, he later explained to us: "I feel this emotion, but I am also familiar with the consensual drift, the conventional side of the Obama program. His election will be a consecration of civil rights, that’s true. But we don’t yet have social rights. And that’s what we are waiting for, along with our white and Latino brothers, to enter into a society that is not eaten away by division and discrimination.
The hopes and expectations with respect to the Democratic candidate are not to be found only in the African-American population. Many voters of the white middle class intend to make known their rejection of the Bush period. And, among them, it is again the younger generations that have been mobilized, like Brian Jones, 23 years of age, wine merchant in Richmond. He explains that he has never before been so excited about an election. His principal concern: the deterioration of the American image. "Obama will permit us to regain confidence in ourselves, and confidence of other peoples in us, to reduce the anti-American sentiment which has today spread so widely on the planet." And Brian has the same hope that the possible election of Obama constitutes "a shock capable of bringing confidence to consumers" and restarting the economic machine, so badly damaged. To a degree that even the market in the sacrosanct alcoholic beverage has been hit.
Right up to the end, the Republican Party has tried to mobilize its troops in this key state of Virginia. But it is unquestionably on the defensive in the face of a sea of youth and hope for change carried by Obama. Sarah Palin, the very controversial campaign partner of John McCain, came last Saturday to Henrico county, in the suburbs of Richmond. She sounded a warning that they risked seeing the Democrats "control the whole country", in an allusion to a possible victory on all fronts (presidential and legislative) of the "party of the Donkey". And then denounced Obama as one who was preparing, she said, "to redistribute the money of honest citizens".
But one shouldn’t be fooled: these are not the official words that are spoken by this woman. Not even her capacity to project shiny images of those values of the common American, racist bigot and gun carrier, which matter the most in this end of campaign, very difficult for the Republican camp. It is rather those allusions that tend to sharpen the "racial" question, as the press so politely translates the term "racist", so central to the vote. At the entrance to the big hall where Sarah Palin spoke on Saturday, certain of her supporters shouted "We want McCain, not Hussein", in reference to Obama’s middle name, in order to give the impression that the Democratic candidate not only had black skin, but was, horror of horrors, a Moslem in disguise.
The dynamics are strong in favor of Obama, even in this "red" territory of Virginia. The only true unknown remains the impact that this racial question may have, at the last moment, on the behavior of the electors.