On Florida’s last day of early voting, I was visiting polls making sure things were running smoothly. When I arrived at the the North Dade Regional Library, 850 people were patiently waiting in line, and many more were rushing to join before the poll shut down. With two minutes left before closing, poll workers made their way to the end of the snaking queue to stop anyone else from joining. A woman pulled up and pleaded with poll workers to give her time to find parking, but they said it was impossible. We looked at each other—and even though we were complete strangers, she threw me her keys and scrambled to join the line without looking back. I jumped in and drove off to find parking. Later, I found her in line to return her keys. We said nothing to each other, but we didn’t need to—we knew what this was about. One of our organizers gave her a card, and she called the offices of Florida New Majority two days later to report that she voted at 12:34 am. And she asked us: what’s next?
In a sense, the results of this year’s presidential election were perplexing. How could a president with an economy in the doldrums, an energized opposition, and an approval rating that had been sagging for years actually pull off a re-election victory? Was it the early branding of Mitt Romney as a vulture capitalist? Was it the Latino reaction to an anti-immigrant tone? Was it the sophisticated data mavens in Chicago who combined behavioral science with “big data” methods to facilitate a remarkably accurate approach to voter targeting?
All those reasons make some sense; all contributed to President Obama’s victory in November. But there was something else happening on the ground that all these analyses miss—and by missing it, fail to capture a reality that we need to understand in order to push the racial justice movement forward in years to come: this time, it wasn’t just about Obama.