Alex Taylor Column November 09, 2008
For one special woman, election was most exciting ever
I was uniquely inspired by this week’s election. Many people were inspired, and for many different reasons.
For some it was the tearing down of longtime racial barriers. For others, it was the excitement of being part of a revolution in American politics — going from 30 years of conservative dominance into an era of liberal ideology.
I was inspired in a different way. I was inspired by the hope and determination this campaign brought out in so many people at the grass-roots level, white and black, young and old. I was struck by one story in particular of an 89-year-old woman in the Deep South. For her, this election was about more than the economic crisis and the war in Iraq. For her, this election was a journey to tie up some of the loose ends scattered about her memories running back to the 1920s.
She’s a remarkable woman. People say she gets younger every year. Never was that more true than in the year just past as she travelled around the country campaigning for Barack Obama.
No matter what your politics, there can be no denying how impressive it is for someone of any age to walk mile after mile in pursuit of a patriotic ideal. Ultimately her path crossed that of her candidate on the campaign trail, and his comments to her summarized perfectly the type of woman she is.
Her journey to get her man elected began as a young girl listening to her father talk about similar challenges facing America even way back then. She and her sister spent time with him ladling soup for those who had lost everything after the Great Depression. He was always looking for ways to serve those in need. Through the years, she listened to his concerns about the violence ravaging the world during World War II. She listened as he told her of the inequities that women and people of color faced in this country.
She saw the civil rights movement unfold in Atlanta. She saw Vietnam from beginning to end. She saw the Cold War.
Today, those memories mingle in her mind with the observations and values she learned from her father. From her point of view, Barack Obama is someone who could end a war, who could end racial barriers and inequalities, who could bring about peace and fix an economy that is broken in a way she hasn’t seen since her childhood.
In pursuit of that vision, she hit the streets to campaign. She campaigned in numerous states and walked countless miles.
One day, before Obama was the lead candidate, she was knocking on doors in Beaufort, S.C. After a long day, a local organizer asked her to stop and attend a rally he was holding in a local high-school gymnasium. He was fighting a tough primary battle. Organizers were worried not many people would show up. Plus, they knew most of the attendees would be black, and they could use at least a couple of white faces in the crowd.
So, she went, and she cheered. As he was shaking hands down the aisle, he noticed her in the crowd.
“I hear you’ve been out walking the streets for me,” Obama said.
“I’d crawl on my hands and knees to get you elected,” she replied. He laughed and moved on, later winning the South Carolina primary.
From there, she went to Ohio to pass out fliers. While she was out canvassing, freezing rain began to fall, but she buttoned up her coat and kept going until every flyer had been passed out.
She went on to Louisiana where it was intensely hot. In the subdivisions, she courteously walked up and down people’s paved walkways, never cutting across their lawn. She thought that was impolite. She went to Charlotte and Richmond. One time in Virginia, she approached a house with an Obama flyer in her hand. The owner called inside for his gun.
The road had its ups and downs. At a housing complex in Raleigh, a group of young black children followed her on her route — amazed that this white woman, apparently from somewhere far away, would come to their neighborhood for Obama. She gave them each a pin when she left, and they cheered and waved her goodbye.
At a rally prior to the election, after she had covered many more miles in Texas, Florida and elsewhere, the candidate saw her again.
“Here you are again,” he said. “You must be my good luck charm.”
He was right. He went on to win the nomination and the election.
I spoke to my grandmother on election night — I’ve called her “Honey” ever since I was a little boy.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “It vindicates everything Daddy worked for.”
For her, it was the most exciting election of her lifetime. For me, it was an opportunity to appreciate someone I love like never before.