Since I was doing the live gig at ETV last night, I missed a lot of the action at the Obama victory rally. I heard his wonderful speech, and that was about it.
But afterwards, I spoke to Inez Tenenbaum, and it seems I missed a lot that it would have been great to have witnessed. One, which I’ll just mention and move on, was when Bill Clinton appeared on a screen and the crowd booed, probably the only negative moment in that night of joy. But it marked an important moment, in terms of S.C. Democrats rejecting the kind of hyperpartisan, do-anything-to-win approach to politics that the former president, Sen. Clinton, and their supporters (think Don Fowler) embodied. As Inez said, "Would you ever have imagined a crowd of South Carolina Democrats booing Bill Clinton?" Until last week, no.
But that sour note just served to emphasize the alternative that had just been embraced so emphatically by South Carolina voters — the joy, the hope, the welcoming, the affirmation that filled the hearts of the hundreds of thousands who came out to vote for Barack Obama.
And that led to what had to be the high point of the night — indeed, a high point in South Carolina history: That room full of people, black and white, young and old — but predominantly young — chanting "Race doesn’t matter! Race doesn’t matter!"
People who had long been involved in struggling to make South Carolina a better place for all people, only to be disappointed so many times as things dissolved in acrimony, looked at each other in disbelief, with chills running down their spines. They truly never thought they would see the day.
This was more than just a bunch of charged-up supporters giving a team cheer. It was THE message of the day. A half million people had turned out, thousands upon thousands of them who had never voted before or hadn’t voted in years because they were so turned off by politics as usual, and the overwhelming majority had chosen the man who embodies the fact that race doesn’t matter. He embodies it in his own life — a man with a white mother and a black, immigrant father, who grew up in Hawaii (and if you haven’t lived in Hawaii — I graduated from high school there — you can’t imagine the degree to which our whole mainland black-vs.-white thing makes NO sense to the people of the islands) and abroad, a man who can’t be pegged, either in his skin or his mind or soul, as being THIS or THAT.
And he embodies it in his message, as he so eloquently encapsulated in his victory speech (and as soon as I get the full text I’ll post it here).
They were, in advance, repudiating the divisive, identity-politics, racist message that the Clintons will try to see between now and Super Tuesday (I understand that Bill has already said something like well, Jesse Jackson won South Carolina, too, as I had predicted he would). The very fact that the man whose message was the Race Doesn’t Matter got 80 percent of the black vote speaks volumes. That that was the chant in this moment of victory — rather than some cry of triumph on the part of blacks, or women (the majority of whom ALSO went for Obama), or any other demographic group — marked this as a tremendous moment in American history.
And that it happened HERE, in South Carolina, where once the majority of the state’s population was enslaved, where the Civil War started, where so many live in deep, inherited poverty, after all the scorn we have had to endure from the rest of the country over our race-based pathologies — what a wonderful, triumphant day for the people of this state!
Yesterday, we overcame so much. Thank God for this. We have overcome so much. Now, South Carolina has set the most positive example that can be set for the rest of the nation. I pray that the rest of the nation will understand the message. It has to; it just has to.
Because Race Doesn’t Matter!