05 April 2013

And We're Off

Meet and Greet at The Smiling Phoenix, the soon-to-open coffeehouse, last night to introduce mayoral candidate Kelvin Buck. It was soooo good to get out of the house and drink a little too much wine and hang out peacefully in a room with other humans.

I mingled. I made mental notes. I am not a student of American politics so a lot about political process baffles me. Here's what I have 24 hours later:

  • 90% of the conversations, no matter where they started, wound back round to and ended with Race.
  • Kelvin summarized the electoral decision as "If you're okay with the way things are in Holly Springs, vote for my opponent. If you're dissatisfied and want a new direction, vote for me." 
  • There were two or three "white" people to every "black" person in the room. I learned during the evening that when the candidate took the mic and talked about "all of us working together" it was a euphemism for racial harmony and what he was NOT saying was that race relations in Holly Springs are part of The Problem.
  • Finally met Shannon McNally. She provided music for the event. Best part of the night was hanging with her and Jenifer (wife of the husband/wife team that own the coffeehouse), comparing notes about Life in Holly Springs.
  • Casual follow-up investigations today on the streets of Holly Springs reveal that some people did not attend last night fearing reprisals by the current administration should Kelvin lose the election.
  • A reporter from the local paper dropped by. I was standing near the front door when she came in and watched her walk through the room, stopping three or four times for brief conversation, and leave less than 10 minutes after arriving. There were no other representatives from "the press" in attendance.
  • There is support here for launching community theater.

I had the opportunity for a few minutes of one-on-one with Kelvin and asked him during the open Q&A to summarize the three big differences between his vision and that of the current administration. He's a nice man. I would not go so far as to characterize him as the lesser of two evils because, well, he's a nice man. Though I was not impressed or fired up by the vague, generic platform he outlined, I could sorta feel his heart as we talked. I can and will vote for him in May but it's not clear to me that his election will bring about great change here. But it may be change enough to make continued residence here possible for me.

As I listened to his comments and the questions that followed I became aware of how tricky it would be to run for office, here or possibly anywhere in the state. I had the clear sense that if one spoke with too much eloquence or specificity or passion, the community would not "like" them, would view them as alien and likely not vote for them. On the question of Race, for example, there was vigorous applause when he talked about "all of us working together". Likely if he'd been more specific -- talked about, for example, the divide between the college (the president's wife was present but not her husband) and the townspeople or the white-black divide or the segregated schools or severe economic divide -- his remarks would not have been applauded and some folks would have taken offense at such plain spoken truth.

So. You go with what you have sometimes, I guess. I'll trust that, as a native, he knows better than I how much change and how much "telling it like it is" the community will tolerate.