Neither Bombs, Rev. Wright or the Gloom of Night

When you look at the aerial shots today on MSNBC of long lines of voters snaking around polling stations in Cleveland, Atlanta and Raleigh, it is clear that dirty tricksters are going to have a difficult time keeping people at home. God knows they've tried and no doubt you've heard how: a Republican lawyer hiring private detectives in New Mexico to harass Latino voters in their homes; the "mysterious" distribution of official looking leaflets in Virginia falsely claiming that polling for "Democratic Party" members will be held on November 5th; Republican operatives in Pennsylvania "informing" students that they risk forfeiture of scholarships if they vote in the state; fliers circulated in African American neighborhoods in Florida warning voters they would be arrested at the polls if they had unpaid parking tickets or if they had criminal convictions; attempts to purge registered voters.

It may not work this time. People of all shades, hues and tones know history is calling, and we all want to be a part of it. This morning it called out to a wafer-thin elderly black woman who was crouched on a cane waiting in line with me a half hour before the polls opened here in Cambridge. History also drew in a smiling middle-aged Latino man originally from Los Angeles, who was sporting a Barack Obama button on his top coat. And it seemed to call out to a young white postal worker, who walked out of the building with me after we had voted. "You know what we say," he joked, ""Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night".

It was a clear day in Massachusetts, but it is a fitting motto to describe the fortitude of voters in North Carolina and Virginia; places where political conditions are far more difficult for Democratic Party voters. The skies opened up there today but the rain did not discourage thousands from voting. Among the most enthusiastic were African Americans, students and the newly registered.


Traditionally, weather has played as significant a role in limiting voter participation as organized trickery. The dirtiest trick of all is violence, which, fortunately, is no longer a hallmark of American elections as it was in the period from Reconstruction to Civil Rights. But when there's so much clearly at stake for voters even violence can fail, as I witnessed first-hand years ago in South Africa. In April 1994, I had just stepped outside of my hotel in downtown Johannesburg when a huge bomb went off about two blocks away, shattering windows, cars and setting off alarms. The bombing took place just days before that country's historic one-person-one vote balloting was to begin.


A myriad of snapshots made clear what was at stake for South Africans: In a Johannesburg hospital, a victim of the bombing whispered to me that he would vote that week at a makeshift poll by his bedside, regardless of his injuries. On the day of the election, I watched as a scrawny teenager pushed a white bearded black man in a wheel barrow to the entrance of a polling place, which was set up in a school that apartheid made impossible for him to ever attend. I witnessed blacks and whites standing side by side in seemingly interminable lines and the former--for the first time--casting votes for the candidates of their choice. To witness all of this was to be present for the final dissolution of apartheid, one of world history's greatest injustices.

In the U.S., the possibility of an African American president does not pre-suppose the end to color prejudice any more than the election of Nelson Mandela meant an end to inequalities in South Africa. Still, the moment is extraordinary, and millions are now clamoring to get on board what they believe will be the winning side of history.

There are many people in our personal and collective pasts who would surely want to be here to witness this moment taking shape, among them Sojourner, Martin, Malcolm, Robert and John. Like millions of ordinary people waiting in stretched lines today to cast ballots, they too, no doubt, would reflect on this nation's often violent struggle over race and injustice that is now building up into an emotional ball of possibility.