The following is based on four blogs Wheeler wrote from South Carolina.
COLUMBIA, S.C.- It’s primary election day here and the army of volunteers who have flooded into the state to campaign for Barack Obama have already left the YMCA and fanned out to polling places across this city.
It is chilly and threatening rain but the media is predicting a record voter turnout of people fired up by Obama’s message of hope. I rode down from Baltimore on a bus with 40 other volunteers. It was chartered by three members of the Maryland General Assembly who have kept us working diligently since we arrived. Nights we sleep on the gymnasium floor of the Y, strewn with mostly youthful volunteers from as far away as California. Early this morning two more busloads arrived from Washington, D.C.
I have been canvassing with a friend, Rev. Pierre Williams, a United Methodist minister in Baltimore. We got a vivid feel for just how deeply Obama’s message is resonating here going door-to-door in a working class neighborhood yesterday.
Sherman Stewart, employed as a maintenance worker at the Governor’s Mansion here in the state capital told us, ‘I’ve been listening to all the candidates and I feel that Barack Obama is the one who can turn this country around. Everyone is feeling the insecurity from the way the economy is going. Veterans of the Iraq war are coming home and finding out their credit is all messed up, their health care is messed up. We’re spending billions upon billions over there in Iraq, preaching democracy to the world, and we have millions of children here who are hungry and without health care. I’m getting ready to retire and there are so many people losing their pensions, or can’t afford their medicine.’
Richard Edwards came walking by. He is a student at Midlands Technical College and a U.S. Navy veteran. He deplored former President Bill Clinton’s divisive statements here in South Carolina such as his dismissive statement that Obama’s message of hope is a ‘fairy tale,’ implying that the Illinois Senator is too young and inexperienced to be president.
‘I think Clinton’s statement really affected Black voters,’ he told the World. ‘It put the Black community in a negative light. Obama is trying to unite people of all races and backgrounds, young and old, men and women. Clinton’s statement has divided South Carolina. We don’t need that here. I believe Barack is going to win but by a narrower margin. I hope Barack sticks to his message, positive change, hope, bringing us together, Black, white independent, even Republicans.’
When we arrived at the Performing Arts Center here for an Obama rally, a line stretching two blocks was waiting to go through security to get inside.
It was a perfect snapshot of the multiracial movement that has sprung up to elect Obama, African American, Latino, white, young and old, men and women. There were vast numbers of South Carolinians but also thousands who have come from across the nation to work as volunteers. Conspicuous was the large numbers of young people waiting in the chill darkness.
I interviewed many. Emily Aho, a student at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, was waiting with several of her classmates. She is from Marietta, Georgia, a freshman business major. ‘I’m going to listen to what he says,’ she told me. ‘I haven’t made up my mind who I am going to vote for. I think it is a good thing that we have a Black person and a woman running for president,’ she said.
Marie Triche, a second year law student at the University of Florida drove up in a van from Gainesville with five other members of the Black Law Students Association. ‘This is the first time I have heard Barack Obama speak,’ she said.’I think this night is just overwhelming, for us to be part of such a grand occasion. Obama is a young leader in contrast to all the other candidates. He is bringing out new ideas. He is getting strong youth support.’
Curt Anderson, a member of the Maryland General Assembly was one of three Maryland legislators who chartered a bus, bringing 40 volunteers to work in the Obama campaign. (I was one of them). He too was waiting with other Maryland volunteers outside the hall. ‘Look at this line. It lasts forever and its cold out here,’ he quipped. ‘We spent the day campaigning for Obama and this is our reward. I think Maryland will go for Obama in our Feb. 12 primary. Our organization is getting stronger.’ He listed many elected officials who have endorsed Obama including Rep. Elijah Cummings, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, the Attorney General and Comptroller. ‘The grassroots is where his greatest strength is,’ Anderson added.
I asked why Obama’s message resonates so strongly with people. Vic D’Amato, a former Maryland legislator standing nearby interjected, ‘People are starving for change,’ he said. ‘We have not had inspirational leadership in this country at the national level in our memory.’
Brian Smith drove down from Cincinnati over a week ago to work as a volunteer. He was one of many young white people waiting in the line. ‘I think he is such an inspirational speaker,’ he told me. ‘He has the ability to unite a country that is pretty divided. I think Bill Clinton’s comments have been disappointing. It has the potential to fracture the Democratic Party. I think the people don’t want to see a negative campaign. There has been a record turnout so far in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. If this negativity continues, it has the potential of affecting that turnout.’
The fact that an African American is running for president and winning, he said, ‘Shows that our country has come a long way. But the polling in South Carolina shows there is a continued racial divide that we must overcome. I do think that everyone here is part of that historic moment. This is a multiracial crowd.’
We finally made it into the hall. It was packed with a crowd that greeted Obama with chants of ‘O-BA-MA!’ and ‘Yes We Can!’ and ‘Ready for change.’ Obama delivered a powerful stemwinder that drew thunderous cheers.
Without mentioning Bill Clinton by name, Obama referred to the former president’s dismissive comment that Obama is spreading a ‘fairy tale,’ that he is too young and naive to be president.
Those who counsel the people to be patient do not understand ‘the fierce urgency of now,’ Obama said, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King’s argument against gradualism.
‘There is such a thing as being too late,’ he said. He reminded the crowd that the nation is locked in the Iraq war, people are working longer hours and earning less, seniors have lost pensions and cannot retire, the health care system is ‘broken’ and ‘we’re on the brink of a recession.’
‘We cannot afford to wait,’ he said. ‘We cannot wait to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home,’ he said. ‘We need a different politics based not on tearing each other down but building America up.’ Enormous crowds are greeting him all across the U.S. and South Carolina he said, attracted by that message of hope.
‘Whatever else happens, next November the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot.’ A roar went up and the crowd chanted, ‘No Bush! No Bush!’
He called for raising the minimum wage each year to offset inflation, health care for all, more money for schools than is spent for jails, making college affordable for all youth, and a change in U.S. foreign policy.
He vowed to ‘use our military wisely and that is why I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. I will end the war but also end the mindset that got us into this war.’
He quoted President John Kennedy’s admonition ‘never fear to negotiate’ and promised to negotiate with both friend and foe.
All the candidates are now talking about ‘change,’ he said. ‘But change is not easy. Change is hard.’ Pharmaceutical corporations and oil companies ‘are not going to give up easily,’ he warned.
Already, they are attacking him, he said, spreading the word, ‘Obama can’t be president right now. We have to slow him a little bit more, boil the hope out of him.’ Anonymous e-mails falsely report that he is a ‘Muslim.’
‘They want to preserve the status quo by feeding on fear,’ he charged.
Others say Obama ‘has his head in the clouds. He’s a hopemonger,’ he said.
But the American people have always ‘defied the odds’ and chose hope over fear and cynicism: waging the War for Independence against the British Empire, abolitionists who fought to end slavery, workers who pushed through the New Deal in the 1930s, joining the worldwide movement that defeated Hitler fascism.
‘Hope is not blind optimism,’ he said. ‘I know how hard it will be to reform our health care system. I know because I have fought on the streets as an organizer.’
He cited the courage of youth of all races in the 1960s who braved the fire hoses, clubs, and police dogs, some of them dying, to bring down the system of segregation.
‘That’s what hope is,’ he said. ‘I can’t do it without you. I am ready for change. But you’ve got to be ready for change as well. If we are ready for change, then the days of the lobbyists running Washington will be over. We can make an economy that works for all Americans, that works for mainstreet not Wall Street.’
The crowd chanted, ‘Ready for change!’
Sen. Barack Obama won big in South Carolina. It was a huge turn out of voters, especially among African American voters. It broke records. Democrats’ primary numbers outsized Republicans.
The Black vote was very solid vote for Obama – somewhere around 89 percent. And the size of the support among white voters was good: about 25 percent. The size of the support of white voters for Obama – in a three-way race – is significant.
This vote really showed that people are fed up with the Clinton tactics of demonizing and division. They really backfired.
The Obama people are over the moon. I was at a precinct some four or five miles outside of Columbia, mainly a rural area. And it was a steady stream of voters all day. Overwhelmingly African American voters. There was a feeling of victory in the air.
Tim Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the political correspondent for the People’s Weekly World.
This article is based on four blogs Wheeler wrote from South Carolina. Visit , the Political Affairs editors’ blog, to read them in full.