A good friend of mine, Donnel Baird, wrote what you are about to read. (The names have been changed to "protect the innocent.") It's powerful and important stuff and a brutal reminder of America's greatest challenge: to be the nation we should be. And, trust me, Brooklyn and South Carolina have plenty in common ...
Memo from the South Carolina Ground War
I work for Barack Obama's Presidential campaign in South Carolina. As a way of conveying to you what we're trying to accomplish here, I want to tell you about four men that I have recently met.
The first man, Mr. Taylor, is a politician and hospital executive who wears crisp suits, cuff links, and who drives a BMW -- a man with verve. "I didn't have the most education", he told me. "But now 75 people report to me. Black and white, they report to me. And I have been elected for 13 years. I stood up for myself. I don't back down."
"I don't understand what's wrong with the folk 'round here. Here comes a man, Barack -- he wants to help you stand up for yourself. What's it gonna' take for you to help you? Here's a man who wants to help you HELP YOU! When you gonna' stand up?" Fury flashed his face and eased into a slow head shake. "You'll see. They got to stand up." Mr. Taylor told me to call him if I needed anything else and I'll be taking him up on that soon.
Sean is young -- about 23. He wears cornrows, large white tee shirts and baggy jeans. He has expensive sun glasses and gold "grills" or "fronts" on his teeth -- Southern hip-hop. He comes from a town with no jobs, nothing to do, no place positive for young people to hang out ... and he has strong opinions. "Barack can't win. But I appreciate the effort y'all are making."
I pretended not to hear him. I said: "Our effort is what is gonna' make this happen. If people decide to come out and volunteer and work to make this happen, it will happen. We will make it happen." He wasn't buying. He shook his head, grinning slightly, the light glinting off his fronts. I pressed on. "You could be mayor of your town," I said. "I bet you could do it with a thousand votes. I bet between you and 20 of your boys y'all know seven to eight hundred people. You all could take two months, register everybody, get some suits, write down the names and phone numbers of your supporters, and remind them to vote on election day. You could be mayor, and then you could fix your town." He frowned. "Not in my town," he said. "They ain't going to let that happen."
"Who is 'they'," I asked?
Sean glowered at me through his glasses. "The Klan. You ain' know the Klan still marches in my town? They pro'lly come over and burn my mom house down. You ain' know that?" He looked off in disgust. I told him we would be in touch. He asked his mom if she was ready to leave. She looked at me sympathetically, then they walked to their car and drove off.
I sat in one of the comfortable chairs in the third man's spacious office. He was old and rich and stocky. He had one gold tooth and his gray hair pulled back into a duck bill. Ex-Military.
Leaning over the desk, Robinson peered at me. "I might be supporting Obama, but ya'll won't win this state. Tell you why. See, you got some white folks around here, in particular, one family -- the Chandlers. Mill money. They built these towns ... they built them for the people to work in the mills they own. And they control everything. Mill jobs left, but that family still has control. If they say vote one way, that's the way everybody votes." I was not deterred and explained how and why we were going to win the Democratic primary in South Carolina.
Robinson continued. "Niggas 'round here is scared. They afraid that if they vote the wrong way, their boss is gonna' find out or they customers is going to find out. The man at the bank calls them. Here's how that work. The man at the bank gonna' say something like, 'Mr. Johnson, we go way back. I know your mama, 'cus she helped raise my cousin. These northern niggas down here talking politics ... we don't need that. Now, how's that mortgage payment going? And what about that loan for Junior's college?"
"Now this black man jus' terrified that this white man is going to pull the loan at the bank. He's looking out for his family by not voting. That's what you're up against."
"Now listen. I can't come out for you publicly -- I work for the state and we get too much federal money for me to do stuff publicly. But you call me and keep me in the loop." So I call Robinson and I keep him in the loop. He will require some more persuasion, but once he's on board, he will bring along many of his followers to help volunteer for our campaign.
I met an energetic young reverend. Rev. Calvin is handsome and well-dressed with a quick and engaging sense of humor. The purple, double breasted suit with 6 buttons down the front was sharp. His clean-shaven head was sleek. "We got to wake these people up," he told me. He'd grown up in the county but left for Florida as a young man, back when he thought he 'knew everything'. He lived hard, fell far, and the Lord picked him back up.
"One of the problems we got around here is 'the CEO roundtable' -- all the heads of the companies meet and strategize. Few years back, they decided to install a double shift -- fired half the staff at all their plants and had the rest work two shifts back-to-back. That way they pay less money in health insurance benefits. Now, you work a double-shift, then half the week you at work. When you're done, you too tired to parent. So the kids are raising themselves. I want to start talking about this but no one wants to address it. We got to address it. No one fought back when they put in this double shift. Nobody didn't say nothing". He shook his head in frustration.
But the Reverend was still curious. "What kind of door-to-door voter contact operation would I be running?" I told him. "Some guys came by," he recalled. "Asked me to train 40 young people to go door-to-door for a survey on issues that people cared about. These were Republicans asking me, mind you, and they paid our kids to go around a year and half before the election with these palm pilots to collect data on the issues. And I helped them because they were paying, and they were organized, while the Democratic Party here in this county just wants to hand out fried chicken every election ... and that's why they lose and lose."
"But I'll tell you," he continued, "after I ran that canvass, I got a call from the bank. They asked me if I need a loan to build a new sanctuary for my church. See how that works?"
I said that I understood and I told him how we work. Rev. Calvin doesn't call me back -- but I haven't given up on him.
The fourth man is a Vietnam veteran -- twenty five years in the service, which he signed up for right after high school. Burton is graying and retired and he's got warmth, humor and humility. He represents his church congregation at the AME lay person's conference. I asked him if the lay congregation was composed of church radicals whose sole purpose was to terrorize AME preachers and make sure they stayed in line. He laughed ... and didn't say no. He is very concerned about how the war in Iraq is damaging the mental health of our soldiers. Too many of his fighting buddies from Vietnam have yet to recover.
As we headed to our cars after one meeting, Burton told me of his attempt to organize a labor union at a plant where he worked.
"Soon as management heard," he said, "they started calling everybody, threatening them. ' We gonna fire you. We gonna come to your house.' And people were scared. They stopped taking my calls, started hiding from me at work, started dropping out."
"Why weren't you afraid?" I asked. He stopped walking. "They called and threatened me, said they were coming to my house. Looking for my family." His voice got quiet. "But I knew them and I knew that they might come, but they might not. And I'm ex-military. If they came, I knew I'd try to be ready for them." He asked if I had directions to my next meeting, smiled, wished me a good night, and walked to his car.
My team's job is to find people like Burton all across South Carolina and bring them together for meetings where we can plan to get ourselves together, get Barack Obama elected, change South Carolina, and change our country.
There is great leadership potential in my region. Every day we search for new leaders and talk with the ones we have recruited about how to find more. My team has found several dozen serious people; the majority of them are African American women. When they come together, we call them Obama Teams. They will change this state.
To expand our efforts, we need pre-paid cell phones and wireless pre-paid cards. We need them now, as soon as we can get our hands on them. These cell phones will allow us to take our campaign outside of our regional Headquarters, directly to the counties where our leaders live, so that they can make the phone calls necessary to create more Obama teams.
We consider ourselves to be on the front lines out here.
We will make it happen.
Donnel BairdRegional Field Director, South Carolina
P.S. -- We need ten Verizon pre-paid cell phones which cost $40 each. We need forty Verizon 500-minute wireless pre-paid cards. They cost between 10 and 20 dollars each. We need them now, as soon as we can get our hands on them.
If you'd like to help and are considering making an in-kind contribution of phones or cards to our region here in South Carolina, please contact me at email@example.com -- or write a check directly to Verizon and mail it to my office:Obama Campaign Headquarters
407B Main Street
Greenwood, SC 29646Attn: DB Field
Click here to download the form you should send along with your check in order to comply with the Federal campaign finance laws. The maximum amount of funds an individual can contribute for a Presidential candidate to use prior to the nomination is $2,300 -- either direct or in-kind or both together. Please remember that your contributions are not tax deductible.Thank you and have a
safe and happy holiday season!----------------------------------------