Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Obama field workers experience American race relations in the year 2008

Despite all the rainbow-coalition hugs and kisses at the Obama rallies, his campaign's field workers on the ground and on the phones get to experience another side of 21st-century America. When I see the naive Obama supporters on the internet saying "Race will NOT be a factor in this election! America's beyond all those old fashioned attitudes!" I don't know whether to laugh or cry. This is going to be one seriously ugly election; I'll be curious to see how many ways the McCain campaign can cook up to hint at the N-word without actually coming out and saying it. I have this very bad feeling that Obama is going to lose -- and racism (which I have taken to calling "America's birth defect") will be the reason.


For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight.

Meeting cruel reaction
Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!"

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