Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Down by the Riverside.

1/30/08, Afternoon.

I am in a huge convention center in Atlanta with 10,000 black Baptists singing “Down by the Riverside. . . I ain’t gonna study war no more; I ain’t gonna study war no more. . .”

We’re killing time waiting for Hillary to show-up. All the presidential candidates were invited. None of the GOP’s white guys in suits agreed to attend – just like their front runners’ failure to show-up for the Congressional Black Caucus debate last year. I guess the GOP thinks they have the Baptists sewn up -- or they have already written-off the hope of getting any black votes.

Barack was here a little while ago, but he came via a videocast -- about five minutes of nothing. He looked incredibly exhausted and stuttered and stumbled a lot. The video connection followed suit and cut in and out. The crowd was disappointed. Getting up and cheering the dispirited video just wasn’t going to happen.

The convention leader is oblique about Hillary coming – whether in person or via another lame video, but I see some stone-faced white guys along the wall with their tell-tale earpieces with the squiggly wires whom anyone who has been to a presidential campaign event knows to be Secret Service. Hillary will be here in person.

The crowd does not seem impatient at all. The music is rollicking, everyone is standing, clapping, dancing around, calling out, and having a great down-home gospel-singing time. Now they’re doing Amazing Grace, led by four incredible young men with voices from heaven.

Everyone around me in this older middle-aged and just plain old crowd is decked out in Sunday-going-to-meeting clothes -- the women in astonishing glittery hats with feathers, fur and brilliant colors made more vivid by the extravagant arrays of sequins and rhinestones; the men wearing suits with long jackets reminiscent of the Zoot Suits in the forties, many in colors, others in sharp pinstripes. I’m seeing quite a number of fur coats, too.

And shoes! The women have matching fancy high heels and purses. The men compete with alligator shoes in colors not found in nature. When the offering is announced, the preacher at the helm encourages the men to put at least as much as their shoes cost in the bucket, and the women at least as much as their hats.

Hillary arrives. Now she is the only other white woman in the room other than me, The Termite. And one of about six white people in all – the others being those Secret Service guys and some lost-looking hippie who has wandered in. She gives a long, powerful and meaty speech, most of which is not the stump routine, but specific to the audience, honoring the historic significance of this convention and talking about her own Methodist faith.

The audience doesn’t quite know what to do with this. They applaud and many rise from their seats but I can tell that many wanted to go nuts over Barack instead. Half jump up for Hillary; half stay seated and clap politely. Pollsters take note.

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