COLUMBIA, SC--It wasn't just Obama talking about unity and change tonight. Supporters that filled the Columbia convention center--as well those who were turned away and scrambled to find a TV at a nearby hotel lobby--spoke about Obama's campaign in South Carolina as a symbol of an historical shift.
"We fought too hard in the 1960s to let this slip away this time," said George Brosi, who with his family had knocked on 450 doors in Spartanburg today. Brosi, a white man with a beard like Spanish moss, said, "We grew up with separate water fountains, separate swimming pools. Northerners and Southerns fought against essentially an American apartheid."
"I taught students who are Barack Obama's age now," said his wife, Connie. "They would'nt have believed then what happened here tonight."
Yet for their son, Glade, who's 26, "race wasn't an issue growing up." Obama is simply the first candidate who's inspired him.
And, unlike his parents, Glade also wasn't the least bit surprised that Obama won the vote of half the state's young white voters. "If you look at Facebook, you can tell young people support him," he said (That a candidate's popularity might be guaged on Facebook didn't seem to strike Glade as its own sort of historical shift.)
For Vasilisa Hamilton, a 42-year-old African-American woman, neither race nor gender nor socio-economics were the issues at stake. "Everybody's looking at their own situation--economically, educationally," she said. Instead, the Obama campaign was about people coming together. "Everybody needs to contribute to the common good," she said. "This is no time for foolishness."
Likewise, Reginald S. Pleasant, jr., who with forty-nine high school students, college students, graduate students, working professionals, and retirees chartered a bus from New Jersey to canvass for Obama, said his group represented the multi-generational, multi-racial coalition the candidate spoke of in his victory speech.
Bratton Riley, a 34-year-old white father from Charleston, marveled that the ground operation outside Charleston ensured that neighbors, not campaign operatives, called neighbors to get out the vote.
And Srihari and Sumana, a married couple who came to the United States eight years ago from Bangalore, India, expressed hope that Obama could ease the racial discrimination they'd seen in New York City. "This is a nice thing, a different thing in politics," they said. "We like it."
Of course, a victory speech is not a great place to get diverse opinions and opposition, so these remarks may not be representative of the electorate. However, they do at least suggest that Obama supporters, at least, are both picking up the candidate's message and perhaps helping create it.
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