The lines have been snaking down the street and around the corner in neighborhoods across the country. But in predominantly African-American communities, this election has generated a sense of civic duty, pride and optimism not seen since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. For some, the emotion has been almost too much to bear.
Brooklyn resident Herby Raynaud, 36, showed up at his polling station at ten minutes before 6:00 A.M. and was stunned to find the wait was already two hours long. “The line went around the corner and for three more blocks,” he says with a grin. “I’ve voted in every presidential election, every Senate race, and I have never seen anything like this.”
Carol Mason, 61, says she always thought there would be an African-American president one day, “but not in my lifetime,” says the Logan, Georgia, resident. “I have never been this excited about a campaign, ever. I am so anxious I haven’t had the TV on because I didn’t want to get too worked up,” she said.
Bridgett Davis, who’s in her forties, says she felt tears in her eyes as she stood in line waiting to vote. “I was at my polling station in Brooklyn with my 9-year-old son, and as I looked down at him, I just realized he was living a moment he was going to tell over and over in his lifetime about how he was standing in line with the line wrapped around the block for an hour and a half so his mother could vote for this African-American man.” Just at the moment, Fields says, her nephew called on her cell phone. “He’s a tough, 35-year-old guy,” says Fields, “and he said, ‘I just voted and I gotta tell you, I got really choked up.’ There have been so many moments during this campaign where I’ve felt such emotion, and standing there -with my son beside me, my nephew on the line and my husband just having told me how awesome it felt to vote -was one of the best.”
On line at a polling site in upper Manhattan, an elderly voter who didn’t identify herself told an ESSENCE reporter, “I found myself weeping in the shower this morning.” She was so amazed and gratified. Having participated in the March on Washington, she said, “I can hardly believe this day has actually come.”
ESSENCE.com has also been flooded with posts from readers about their overwhelming pride and excitement. “I voted today at 9 A.M.,” wrote Rosa Evora in a post, “I was so excited. I cried after I left the poll and said a prayer for God to watch over Obama and his family, and to give us the change that we so deserve.”
“I was so overwhelmed today, began Brianna in another. “My thoughts flooded me and emotion started to build. Now I have the audacity to hope.”
Elsewhere on the Internet, more voters shared the poignancy of this moment. “The best part of my two-hour wait was when an elderly Black woman got dropped off at the polls,” another voter, posting on Stereohyped.com, reported. “She had a walker, but pulled a polling judge to the side and asked her if they had wheelchairs. She hadn’t been out of her bed in ages and was afraid she wouldn’t be able to move to actually get inside the building. The polling judge told her that they didn’t have any wheelchairs, and was at a loss at what to do. That’s when five Black men got out of line to assist this woman, supporting her back, arms and legs, they carried her into the polling center. The crowd was so overwhelmed with the comraderie, that everyone started clapping.”
Back at Herby Raynaud’s polling station in the working-class neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn, the mood was also celebratory. Several people took out their camera phones to document the length of the line, while others simply cheered each other on. “People who had voted were coming out and clapping for the people standing in line,” says Raynaud, “and people standing in line were clapping for the people who had voted.” The youngest voters and the elderly got the biggest hands. One man kept shouting “this is a beautiful thing!” as he surveyed the line. “There was a lot of mutual adulation,” says Raynaud. “It was really emotional.”
Raynaud’s sentiments are widely echoed at polling stations across the country where early reports are indicating record numbers of African-American voters. According to David Bositis, a senior political analyst specializing in Black electoral politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, African-American turnout will likely be up by 20 percent or more this year. Part of this is due to a surge in voter registration among Blacks. Florida, one of only three states to track voter registration by race, was reported to have almost 82,000 more registered Black Democrats than last year. What’s more, Black voters have stunned pollsters by their turnout for early voting. A week before the election in North Carolina, African-Americans made up 31 percent of early voters, even though they made up only 19 percent of the state’s overall 2004 vote.
Undoubtedly, some of the enthusiasm is simply race pride, the thrill of finally having a Black man run for president and all that his candidacy suggests for the future. “I know I’m not that old and I didn’t really didn’t participate in the Civil Rights Movement,” says Laura Viddy-Darga, 40, standing in line at her polling station in Park Slope, Brooklyn, “but I didn’t expect to see this in my lifetime. I know we’re still a racist country and all that, but this election says a lot about where we are going. I just feel great about it.”
But for Raynaud, the feeling of pride was about much more than race. “As a Black man, obviously I feel inspired by Barak Obama and the way he represents us. But there is something about this election that is about transcending race. There’s a bigger picture here. When you think just eight years ago we elected Bush and then we voted him in again four years later under very ugly circumstances. And now we are on the verge of electing someone who is the polar opposite in every possible way. It reinforces my belief in American democracy. After the Bush years, I was really depressed. I was a competitive athlete and felt conflicted about wearing U.S.A. on my back. But there have been moments during this campaign when I have been completely floored by this sense of pride and purpose. So many times I’ve been moved practically to tears.”
While Raynaud waited for his turn to vote, someone from inside the polling station came to deliver a message to an elderly woman standing behind him. The woman was ill and had left her oxygen mask at home. She was told she could move ahead to the front of the line. “She could only walk five steps at a time without having to stop and catch her breath,” says Raynaud, who helped escort the woman. “Sick as she was, she was determined to cast her vote. It just showed me how people are willing to do whatever it takes to be part of this. They want to say they helped make history.”