Published on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 by the Boston Globe
Heeding the Call: `Vote or Die'
by Derrick Z. Jackson
|Shunette Brown burst into near celebration even though the polls were four hours from closing. A 36-year-old worker at a hamburger drive-in, she spent Election Day at a voting station in black Miami supporting a local candidate.|
"Oh, my God!" Brown said. "There are so many young people around! I'm so proud of them, even the guys. I've never seen so many young black brothers come out and vote. It's been a steady stream all day."
As if on cue, Taureen Brown, no relation, came out of the voting booth. Brown, 20, a county maintenance worker who puts up doors and drywall, said he voted because "they're making it so hard on the little kids. They're holding back third-graders because of tests. But half of the teachers they put in our schools don't even understand the tests. I'm out here voting because I think it's finally hitting us -- well, I know it's hitting me -- how the kids get hurt. It ain't fair to put it all on little kids when they don't get teachers."
Brown was only the first of the late-afternoon stream of young black men coming to vote. The voters of this precinct did not get their choice for president (95 percent of them voted for John Kerry). But in the ashes there were glowing embers that could be stoked by the Democrats in the years to come in the poorest of communities.
The proportion of voters 18 to 29 years old did not change, because fired-up older voters came out in record numbers. But the estimated 21 million young people who voted was 4.6 million more than in 2000, according to the University of Maryland's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Part of the reason Miami-Dade had a turnout of 73.4 percent was because of people like Sedrick Ham, an unemployed 21-year-old who has a brother in jail. "This war's not right," said Sedrick, who said he has been unable to find work at warehouses and carpeting companies. "Innocent people are dying over there, and there's no jobs in this area."
It was because of people like Derrick Walker, 21, a curbside ticket agent at the Miami airport and father of a 3-month-old daughter, who said he was angry that it seemed so easy for Bush to send working-class and poor men and women off to war. He was so angry it was worth missing four hours of work and maybe $50 in tips. "It's a sacrifice, but it's more important to vote than to worry about my little tip."
Some of the young black men said the civic campaign of hip-hop artists kept voting in their heads. "If Puff Daddy says it's serious to vote, I figured it must be," said Dontrell Pray, 19, a shelf stocker at a grocery store. Others, like Ham and Darrell Bilisle, 18, a high school senior concerned about teen pregnancy, poor school security, and the dropout rate, were brought to the polls by their mothers.
Altydo Estel, 20, a housekeeper at the downtown sports arena, said his sister hounded him all week. He said he voted because he knows his job is a dead end. "We need a good leader who will better the minimum wage," he said. "Who can live off $5.50 an hour? I came here to get my little opinion in on that." Asked how he felt when he voted, Estel said, "I said to myself, `I think I just did good.' "
Some of the young voters are doing good against all odds, like Nakeeva Davis, 21, a senior in criminal justice at Johnson and Wales North Miami campus. Despite having two sons, 4 years old and 10 months, she is the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She has a cousin in Iraq.
"Around here, it's almost like the Great Depression," Davis said. "I voted because poverty is personal to me. They're cutting off housing programs and day care. And all for what? To get the oil in Iraq, killing innocent people to do that? It's scary."
The presence of voters younger than himself surprised Avery Tolbert, 28. Tolbert, who served as a Marine from 1995-99, has a cousin who was shot in Iraq. The father of two children, with another on the way, he said that when he hears young people talk in the street: "They talk so much ignorant stuff, even the 22-year-old ones, that I sometimes think they're lost. I guess they want to make a change."
In the final minutes of polling, Larleetar Andrews, 22, came with her 9-month-old child, escorted by three sisters, 15, 13, and 12, and a 14-year-old cousin. Andrews said she voted with a reminder call at 2 p.m. from a 25-year-old cousin. As Andrews voted, the sisters said they could not wait to vote one day themselves.
"They said Vote or Die," said 13-year-old Ashley, "Well, we ain't gonna die."
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