On the Barack Bus to Indiana from Chicago's West Side
By Kari Lydersen
INDIANAPOLIS -- Race was very much on the minds of the mostly African American group that piled onto a West Side bus in Chicago Saturday morning to campaign for Sen. Barack Obama in Indianapolis three days before the state's Democratic presidential primary. So, too, was history.
"When I was growing up, they said coffee would make you black, so I didn't drink it, I drank tea," Chicago congressman Danny Davis, who organized the trip, told the busload of volunteers when they stopped for a coffee break. "That was before James Brown said, 'I'm black and I'm proud.'"
For many of the volunteers in the diverse group, which spanned the age and socioeconomic spectrums, it was their first time getting involved in politics -- something they were drawn to in hopes of electing the country's first black president.
"We want someone sympathetic to us on issues like police brutality," explained Dalton Brown, 34, founder of a nonprofit organization called Felony Free Society. "Cops are always trying to plant dope on us, things like the Sean Bell shooting are happening all the time. Like Michelle [Obama] always says, we just want to live our American dream."
Such messages resonated with African Americans the campaigners encountered in Indianapolis, who almost unanimously supported Obama. Ada Lanier, 77, was approached by the Chicago volunteers at a McDonald's. She just happened to be carrying a spiral notebook she had turned into a scrapbook of Campaign Trail Wardrobe selections for Michelle Obama. She gave the notebook to Chicago campaigners to deliver to the senator's wife, along with the lyrics of her version of a Bobby Womack song dedicated to Obama, admonishing him to stay strong "when your foes far and wide are ripping at your hide."
Inside the notebook, the pages were filled with images clipped from magazines of dresses, swimsuits and other outfits for Michelle, including evening wear for "quiet time with Mr. O." The skin of a white model's arm visible in one cutout had been colored black with marker.
Clayton Boyd, assistant to Davis, used racial solidarity as his pitch for residents of the Butler Tarkington neighborhood, a middle-class enclave visibly impacted by the foreclosure crisis, scattered liberally with vacant homes and overgrown yards. Obama campaign mailers peeked out of overstuffed mailboxes at several abandoned homes.
"We've got to do our part; we're only 12 percent of the population," Boyd called to several young men. "Fill up your car with voters on Election Day. And charge the gas to Obama."
Resident Norvell Young, a 34-year-old worker at a nearby Ford Motors plant, didn't need to be convinced.
"He's really genuine, he understands the middle class, the needs of people making less than $25,000," said Young. "You can relate to someone like him who worked their way up to where they are."
Some Obama supporters feared racism would hurt Obama in the Hoosier state. One woman in McDonald's worried he would be assassinated; Davis's sister Ceola Barnes told her not to even speak those words.
"Indiana is not what you would call a non-racial state, and Indianapolis is not what you would call a non-racial city," said Marsha Conley, a 39-year-old registered nurse, trimming her tree as she lamented that a local radio personality is urging Republicans to vote for Clinton to prevent an Obama candidacy.
With Rev. Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory remarks still fresh in the ears of Chicagoans, most of the campaigners said they understood Wright's viewpoint but feared the controversy will harm Obama.
"Obama's main crusade has always been uniting people, and now Reverand Wright has endangered that dream," said Robbie Smith, who hosts a cable TV show highlighting positive stories in the black community. "A lot of people want to find an excuse not to vote for Obama, to say, 'I told you so.'"
Davis compared Obama's style to that of his own father, who he said once spent the night locked in an Arkansas plantation general store because he refused to be underpaid for the cotton he had picked that year.
"He said he wasn't going home without his money, so he stayed in the store," said Davis. He said his father was finally paid $1,600 for the cotton, four times more than he was originally promised. "My father wasn't a militant, he was simply a person willing to stand up for what he believed in."
"I'm not just voting for Barack, I'm voting for a concept," said Davis. "I'm voting for Nat Turner, for Harriet Tubman, for Denmark Vesey and for my mother, who believed troubles won't always be."
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