Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Righteous Winds of History

When I read this voter report from a commenter on Jack and Jill Politics, I... Well. I'll tell you after you read it:

Upon arriving at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Cincinnati to vote early today I happened upon some friends of my mother's — three small, elderly Jewish women. They were quite upset as they were being refused admitance to the polling location due to their Obama T-Shirts, hats and buttons. Apparently you cannot wear Obama/McCain gear into polling locations here in Ohio.... They were practically on the verge of tears.

After a minute or two of this a huge man (6'5", 300 lbs easy) wearing a Dale Earnhardt jacket and Bengal's baseball cap left the voting line, came up to us and introduced himself as Mike. He told us he had overheard our conversation and asked if the ladies would like to borrow his jacket to put over their t-shirts so they could go in and vote. The ladies quickly agreed. As long as I live I will never forget the image of these 80-plus-year-old Jewish ladies walking into the polling location wearing a huge Dale Earnhardt racing jacket that came over their hands and down to their knees!

Mike patiently waited for each woman to cast their vote, accepted their many thanks and then got back in line (I saved him a place while he was helping out the ladies). When Mike got back in line I asked him if he was an Obama supporter. He said that he was not, but that he couldn't stand to see those ladies so upset. I thanked him for being a gentleman in a time of bitter partisanship and wished him well.

After I voted I walked out to the street to find my mother's friends surrouding our new friend Mike — they were laughing and having a great time. I joined them and soon learned that Mike had changed his mind in the polling booth and ended up voting for Obama. When I asked him why he changed his mind at the last minute, he explained that while he was waiting for his jacket he got into a conversation with one of the ladies who had explained how the Jewish community, and she, had worked side by side with the black community during the civil rights movements of the '60s, and that this vote was the culmination of those personal and community efforts so many years ago. That this election for her was more than just a vote ... but a chance at history.

Mike looked at me and said, "Obama's going to win, and I didn't want to tell my grandchildren some day that I had an opportunity to vote for the first black president, but I missed my chance at history and voted for the other guy."

The very first term paper I wrote in college was on the historic relationship of Jews and Blacks in America.

When the resentments between Jews and Blacks were stoked on the campus at Harvard the year after I graduated, I still lived near the campus and got involved in trying to mend fences. Soon, Anna Deveare Smith came to perform Fires in the Mirror. I made sure to attend the performance that ended with a forum on the Crown Heights conflict and its historical context. I was appalled that the panelists, which included the Black and Jewish glitterati, found a way to completely miss the point Smith was making in her collection of characters. I was so angry I took the audience mic when it was my turn and performed a non-cussing cussing out of everyone on that stage. Except for Smith. She clearly was happy another performance artist decided to bear down on the truth.

This anecdote has made me weep incessantly.


Anonymous said...

Craighickman...i also wept from reading your recounting of this episode about the old ladies and the "mike" that changed his mind in voting...and what has so often been forgotten in recent years ...the civil rights joining of hands between jews and blacks..thank you.

Graf_sampras - as usual...hehe.

Craig Hickman said...

Welcome, Graf_sampras.