Handmade signs signal persistent hope

Election 2008

November 05, 2008|By DAN RODRICKS | DAN RODRICKS,dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Thirty-two years of elections in Maryland and I've never seen so many handmade signs. Someone told me weeks ago that you couldn't get your hands on an official, campaign-issued Obama sign anywhere; they ran out of them in Baltimore, which might explain all the hand-painted signs I saw yesterday. They were on the eastside and the westside. I saw one on North Avenue, one on Druid Hill Avenue, one on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"Vote," one of them said. "Vote Obama Biden."

"We Must Vote," said another.

There was huge one on McCulloh Street. "Please Vote Obama," it said.

I saw small cardboard signs, expressing in ink and crayon the same sentiment, attached to chain-link fences, leaning against the windows of two-story rowhouses windows and strapped to telephone poles.

In the parts of Baltimore where these signs appeared - the poor neighborhoods, the ones where so many houses and so much hope seem to have been abandoned - the handmade signs symbolized the grassroots spirit of the Obama phenomenon.

"People are engaged," said the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of one of the city's largest and most active congregations, Bethel A.M. E. Church in West Baltimore.

"In 20 years here, I've never seen so many handmade signs. This is a testament to Obama. He's made people care, made them think they can change America for the better."

Reid's church was engaged in an all-day get-out-the-vote effort, offering lunch in the vestibule for anyone who was hungry and a ride for anyone who needed a lift to the polls. Calls came in from all over town.

Volunteers took down names and addresses and printed out Mapquest directions for drivers. The drivers picked up men, women and children at homes all over Baltimore and transported them to their election precincts and waited while they voted, in some cases for an hour or more.

Yvonne Jackson, a middle-aged grandmother in East Baltimore, called for a ride about 4 o'clock. She hadn't voted since 1998. But she just had to get involved this time. "We need a change, God knows," she said, "I've been with Obama all the way. I like the way he talks. I like the way he looks, the way he dresses and sounds. He sounds confident and he doesn't get too upset."

The turnout in Maryland and, in particular, the overwhelming vote for Obama here says something about the depth of feeling for the candidate and the desire for change. Maryland is a blue state that became even bluer with Democratic registration this past year. The distance between Democrats and Republicans here is approaching almost a million voters now. The state was a lock for Obama.

In some sense, there was no need for anyone to feel particularly obligated to vote yesterday, strong feelings about the slots referendum not withstanding. Certainly there would be enough voters for Obama to carry the day here.

But people came out anyway, in huge numbers, to make a statement, to be part of something big. They came in wheelchairs and leaning on walkers. They called for rides and offered rides. Some of them even scratched out handmade signs and leaned them on fences, and against newspaper boxes and bus shelters. "He is truly a transformational candidate," said Reid.

"I'll tell you what I think has happened, and I think it's twofold. There's a sense of historical fulfillment, and I don't just mean African-American fulfillment but a sense that America, as a nation, has reached full maturity, that this nation is closer now to reaching its historic destiny than ever before.

"The words of our Declaration of Independence are shining brighter today. The words that Lincoln wrote in the Emancipation Proclamation are shining brighter today.

"It's not just about African-American fulfillment. This vote, this outcome could not have happened for Obama without white Americans, without Asian-Americans, without Latino-Americans. This tells me that America has finally grown up after having grown through its most painful moments. "A door of opportunity is opening. America has an opportunity to reclaim its honored place among nations. It has an opportunity to fulfill, in the words of Martin Luther King, the true meaning of its creed."

Reid heard a passionate cheer go up among the Bethel volunteers when the television networks announced that Pennsylvania had gone for Obama.

"And it's not just racial pride," he said. "It's pride in America.?"

Listen to more election coverage as Dan Rodricks hosts "Midda" today from noon until 2 p.m. on 88.1, WYPR.

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