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6104: Florida Haitian Voters Denied Vote (fwd)
From: radman <email@example.com>
One Man, One Vote
Haitian immigrants like Gerlyn Cadet know in their marrow that a ballot is
a precious thing. But this
election leaves them feeling robbed.
By Bob Norman
Gerlyn Cadet is a driver in the ground war, and he has the feeling his side
is going to win. It is Election Day, and the word in
Broward County is that people are coming out in record numbers to vote for
Vice President Al Gore.
Not all the news on this warm and sunny day is good for Democrats, though.
Cadet, a Haitian immigrant, hoped to be driving
stranded voters to the polls. Instead he's driving Gloria Jackson around
town, and she is trying to deal with some serious voting
problems. A former chairwoman for Broward's Democratic Party, Jackson is
supervising the party's headquarters in the
predominantly black town of Lauderdale Lakes. The office has been barraged
with complaints that voters -- many of them
Haitians -- are being turned away from the polls because their names aren't
listed on the rolls. When precinct workers call the
elections office to confirm registrations with the master voter list, they
can't get through. All the phone lines are jammed.
"A lot of black folk are being turned around at the polls," Jackson says
from the passenger's seat of Cadet's Toyota RAV4.
"What we're going to try and do is get a special phone line opened up so we
can get through to the elections office."
Cadet is dressed casually in a black baseball cap and a black golf shirt.
His manner is as easy as his dress. He seems perfectly
suited for his chauffeur's role, perhaps because he drives a taxi for a
living. He's 39 years old, but his almost boyish face, with a
wisp of neatly trimmed mustache, could easily pass for ten years younger.
His youthfulness can, in part, be attributed to the fact
that he's a family man, a devoted father who doesn't drink or smoke and who
tries to play his favorite sport, soccer, at least
once a week.
Cadet's almost preternatural calm, however, is only a veneer. A political
fire burns in his belly, though it can't be seen as he
drives his little sport-utility vehicle south on Andrews Avenue while
Jackson talks about the presidential election.
"Florida determines who will win the nation, and Broward County will
determine Florida," she says presciently. "Broward
County is the key to everything. If we can turn over 180,000 votes in this
county for Gore, he will win. I know I won't be
Soon the conversation turns to Cadet's homeland.
"Haiti is where a lot of great things started happening for black folk,"
"Yes, Haiti was the first that said no to slavery," Cadet agrees in a
Creole-accented voice that is soft and melodic. "It was
1804. The slaves want to send a message to each other, they sing it so the
slave master won't understand what they gonna do."
The problems Haitians are having on this Election Day seem rather
insignificant in comparison to that epic struggle. But still the
complaints from voters indicate that Haitians feel their right to vote is
being taken away, says Jackson. "The problem at the polls
is, if there is nobody there who speaks their language, who is going to
help them?" she asks.
The answer is nobody, according to numerous Haitian and African-American
leaders, including NAACP president Kweisi
Mfume. They say Haitian immigrants, many of whom speak little English, were
lost in the shuffle during this election, turned
away from the polls, confused by the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County,
and given no help when they asked questions of
poll workers. While the extent of some of the problems has surely been
inflated because of the closeness of the race and the
ensuing flurry of Democratic political muckraking, little doubt exists that
Haitians, an ever-growing group in terms of political
power and sheer numbers in South Florida, were disenfranchised from the
presidential contest in large numbers. Perhaps even
in numbers large enough to have changed the result of this presidential
election -- which many Haitians expected to be their
coming-out party in American politics.
The general problems Haitians encountered at South Florida polls have been
widely reported in the past couple of weeks.
Untold are the stories of the people themselves, people who cherish the
right to vote in ways many Americans can't
comprehend. They grew up under the thumb of a corrupt dictator, and their
country suffered fablelike calamities as a result.
Tyranny drove politics into their bones, and coming to America did not sap
their political fervor. The Haitian community's
number one political concern now, for instance, is staying in America. Many
believe, rightly or wrongly, that Republicans are
going to deport them if Texas governor George W. Bush wins the White House.
All of this helps explain why Cadet, who supports his family on a cab
driver's salary, spent many days volunteering for Gore's
campaign and devoted every waking minute of Election Day to delivering votes.
That day was only the beginning of this strange presidential season, of
course, and Cadet has not wavered in his enthusiasm. He
was there when hundreds of Haitians took to the streets of South Florida,
peacefully voicing their protests, and he was there
when the Democratic lawsuits were taking shape. In this extraordinary time
in history, he would stay on the front lines of this
proverbial "ground zero" and witness firsthand some of the ugliness that
erupts in such a high-stakes fight.
Through it all, the Haitian immigrant would prove that American politics,
no matter how low it sinks, is still driven by the myriad
inspirations of people like Gerlyn Cadet.
Cadet's first stop is the Melrose Park Community House, a polling place in
a predominantly black section of Fort Lauderdale.
There Gloria Jackson hears from precinct volunteers that there is a record
turnout and also confirms that several voters have
been turned away. "Everybody is scared of what will happen if Bush gets
in," Jackson says to no one in particular as she leaves.
From there it's east on Broward Boulevard to the downtown governmental
center. Cadet and Jackson walk down the
cave-like hall on the first floor to the elections office, where workers
sit at their desks, almost all of them on the phone. Jackson
gets the attention of Evan Kolodny, an office manager she knows. She asks
Kolodny, a big, gray-haired man whose usually
calm demeanor seems uncharacteristically harried, if Supervisor of
Elections Jane Carroll is available. He disappears into a
back room for a few minutes before re-emerging. "She isn't seeing anybody
now," he says.
So Jackson tells Kolodny about the complaints of voters who are being
turned away because their names are not on the
"I know," Kolodny responds, throwing his arms in the air. "We're
overwhelmed. Most of these are address changes from
people who never bothered to tell us. We're having major problems keeping
up with this."
"Is there a special line I can give them to get through?" Jackson asks.
Kolodny gives her his own extension but warns her that few people are
getting through even to him.
"You need more staff," Jackson admonishes Kolodny, who shrugs. "And you
need to have Haitians working in those
Another Democratic volunteer in the office tells Jackson of news
circulating among ground-war soldiers: In some Palm Beach
precincts, if you punch the ballot for Gore, you actually vote for Pat
"Oh my," Jackson says. "That's terrible."
Cadet, who has been waiting quietly for Jackson, next ferries her to Joe
Carter Park, another predominantly black Broward
precinct. While Jackson is inside the polling place, Cadet spies a tall,
aging black woman outside the building who seems to be
in need of help. She stands with one arm resting on the building, her face
contorted in pain. A man, already there to help, kneels
behind her feverishly rubbing the back of her leg. She cries out in a way
that makes onlookers cringe. While others idly stare or
turn away, Cadet hurries over and helps her to a nearby chair. With a
coolness and assurance that suggests the manner of a
professional physical therapist, he slips off the woman's shoe and massages
her foot and calf. The woman, whose name is
Maggie West, sighs with relief. Her face relaxes, and she smiles at Cadet.
"Oh, thank you," West says. "I was working inside, and I was just sitting
too long on that hard chair in there. I must have cut off
the circulation. It hurt so bad!"
As Cadet puts the woman's shoe back on, Jackson exits the building. There
are more stops to make.
After returning Jackson to the Lauderdale Lakes campaign office, Cadet
drives to the Democratic headquarters in Sunrise,
where he is assigned to help a 63-year-old wheelchair-bound widow get to
the voting booth. The woman, Joan Haire, has a
badly fractured foot and no ride. She's stuck on the second floor of her
apartment building in North Lauderdale.
Soon Cadet and two other volunteers are on their way. They find Haire
waiting anxiously outside her door at the top of a
stairwell and carefully lift her wheelchair and carry her down to a van.
Thirty minutes later she punches the ballot for Gore.
"I waited out there for them because I wanted to make sure they saw me,"
Haire says. "I was ready to go. I am ever so
grateful, and they were so nice. Bless their hearts. This is one thing I
truly wanted to do as an American."
In the hectic days to come, in the maelstrom over recounts and the cries
for revotes for the presidency, no one could know
better than Cadet what a single vote is worth. And no one could tell him
that Gore didn't win Florida, either. He was there. He
fought for it. He won. Bush lost.
Cadet -- who goes by his middle name, Leslie -- learned about the high
stakes of politics as a little boy in the village of St.
Louis in Haiti. His education started with something as basic as trees. In
need of fuel, peasants cut down almost all of the trees
that grew in the mountains outside the town. The dictator in Haiti at the
time, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, did nothing to stop
the destruction. Cadet says Duvalier wanted the trees gone to deny his
political enemies a hiding place. Whatever the
motivation, the island nation was almost entirely deforested. The results,
predictably, were calamitous. The soil, without roots to
hold it firm, washed to the sea, destroying the country's crops and,
ultimately, its economy.
Cadet's family, along with most Haitians, then relied mainly on pigs for
extra money. In the depressed economy, pigs were
almost all that was left with value. When Cadet's parents couldn't pay his
school fees, for instance, they sold a few pigs to make
up the difference.
Then Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who took power in
1971, eradicated all the pigs in 1983. Cadet was
23 years old when the eradication began. Government workers killed some
pigs on the spot, he recalls, while others were
loaded onto trucks and hauled away. The ostensible reason was something
called African swine fever. The U.S. government
initiated the order to kill the pigs, and Duvalier, whom Cadet and most of
the populace believed was nothing but a U.S. puppet,
went along with it. The eradication didn't affect Duvalier or his
millionaire friends, but it deeply hurt the 99 percent or so of the
population that was dirt-poor.
Cadet and countless other Haitians suspected the pig-killing was nothing
but an American ploy to make their country more
dependent on imports. The government promised to give the Haitians new
pigs, pink ones from America, but Cadet says his
family was never reimbursed. The new American pigs didn't go over well in
Haiti, he says, mainly because they were more
expensive to keep, didn't adapt well to the stark, tough life in Haiti, and
didn't taste as good as Haitian pigs, either.
When Cadet, as a student, wanted to speak out against Duvalier, he didn't.
Duvalier knew the people were talking about
revolution, and the dictator set out to muzzle them. Every time students
came together in those years, police broke up the
gatherings. Cadet's parents warned him against participating, told him to
keep quiet. They worried he might be taken away and
never come back. Indeed there was a place of no return in Haiti, a prison
called Fort Dimanche. "You go there, you not coming
back," Cadet explains. Tens of thousands of political prisoners were
tortured and killed there by Duvalier's men.
Despite the horrifying political landscape in Haiti, Cadet still speaks
wistfully of his home country. He has fond memories of his
village, where he grew up in a three-room, cement-block house with his
parents and ten siblings. There was no plumbing or
electricity and often little to eat. But Cadet says there was a sense of
community there that helped the Haitian people overcome
their troubles. "In my town we are all family," he says.
The son of a cargo boat captain, Cadet went to sea as a young man and split
his time among Haiti, the United States, and the
Bahamas. Though he was a wanderer, he managed to make some lasting
friendships during those years. His most enduring
friendship has been with an older man named Jean Hyppolite, a cab driver in
Freeport who taught Cadet about cars. Hyppolite
became like a father to him.
Duvalier was finally overthrown in 1986, paving the way for the eventual
rule of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest who
gained strong popular support. Aristide promised democracy and social
reforms, giving Cadet hope that things would change in
In 1988 Cadet decided to try for a better life in the U.S. Armed with a
tourist's visa, he got a job working on citrus farms in
Central Florida and obtained a green card. In 1990 he became a cab driver
in Broward County, a decision that ultimately
allowed him to do what he was afraid to do in Haiti: speak out against the
powers that be. In America he knew he could speak
freely. His political convictions, meanwhile, had been hardened by the
nightmares of Haiti, by the killing of trees and pigs and
the stories of torture at Fort Dimanche. Cadet, like most Haitian
immigrants, didn't come here ignorant of U.S. politics. Because
America had long pulled strings in Haiti, he knew about the two-party
system, and he had opinions of Presidents past. Like
"Duvalier was Reagan's puppet," Cadet explains, pronouncing puppet as
"poopet." He also knows Reagan was a Republican
("Republicans always support dictators," Cadet says) and that his vice
president was a man named Bush.
When Cadet became a U.S. citizen in the early 1990s, he immediately
registered as a Democrat.
On the Thursday following the 2000 presidential election, Cadet and his
friend, Leconte Francois, motor up to West Palm
Beach for a rally led by Jesse Jackson. The two men want to join in the
fight for a new vote -- or at least a recount -- in Palm
Beach County. Cadet, in a way, is still on the front lines for the
Democrats, while generals like Warren Christopher and William
Daley fight for Gore in the media and in court.
Francois, age 36, is no stranger to politics. He was a member of a
revolutionary group of students in Haiti that precipitated
Baby Doc's ouster. Today he's running a nonprofit company called Minority
Development and Empowerment, Inc., which
offers services to Haitian immigrants in Fort Lauderdale. The topsy-turvy
experience of the previous morning is still fresh in their
minds as they head north from Broward Boulevard on Interstate 95. Neither
can forget the feeling he had when, at about 3 a.m.
Wednesday, George W. Bush was declared President. Francois, who spent
Election Day on the streets of Fort Lauderdale
encouraging Haitians to vote, says the news stunned him, quite literally.
"It was like I died," he says. "My whole nerves -- I
couldn't feel anything. It was like I passed out. I was like asleep for a
good 45 minutes, but I wasn't asleep. I just didn't move."
Cadet says he paced in his kitchen after hearing of Bush's apparent victory
and listened as incensed callers to the Broward
Haitian radio station WLQY-AM (1320) cried foul. When the networks reversed
their predictions and declared the race too
close to call, a relieved Cadet tried to rest. But he couldn't. "I feel
sleepy, I feel tired," he explains. "But that morning I couldn't
stay in bed."
Francois drives north in the right-hand lane at a clip just below 60 miles
per hour. The leisurely pace gives the two men time to
talk. They alternate between English and Creole and, not surprisingly, the
topic is politics. They say they have lots of reasons to
vote Democratic, not all of them historical. Democrats, they point out, are
far more accepting of Haitian immigration, while most
Republicans want to deport them. "Republicans care only about Cubans,"
Democrats, he adds, reach out to minorities while Republicans traditionally
freeze them out. "There are only a few Haitians who
support Bush, and they are Haitians who used to work for Duvalier," says
Francois, who has an economics degree from
Florida International University and a better grasp of English than Cadet.
"Some Haitians who are doing good economically
also support Bush, because they want the tax cut. Democrats open up their
arms to all black people. Affirmative action, for
instance. Bush talks about "affirmative access.' What does that mean?
Republicans seem only to want more jails. We can't vote
Republican because it wouldn't reflect our values and our needs."
Francois says that Haitians are becoming an increasingly powerful political
force in Broward County. While concrete numbers
aren't known --and some U.S. Census reports estimate less than 35,000
Haitian-born residents in the county -- Francois
claims the Haitian community in Broward has grown to number more than
100,000. Perhaps a fifth, he says, are registered
voters. "We are no longer outsiders," Francois asserts. "We are part of the
system. A lot of us are becoming U.S. citizens. As a
community we understand that we need to be involved in the political process."
Even if Bush is eventually declared the winner in Florida, Cadet and
Francois are certain that black voters, including Haitians,
won the election for Gore in Florida. Broward County alone should have
provided Gore a large cushion for victory, they say.
They point to the 6686 ballots cast mainly in Democratic precincts on which
no vote was registered for President. They bring
up the butterfly ballot and the 19,000 double-punched ballots in Palm Beach
County, along with the inordinate number of votes
for Pat Buchanan. And more important, they point to the record turnout on
Across the state blacks mobilized politically in a way never seen before.
It was driven, says Gloria Jackson, by black voters'
distrust of the entire Bush family, from the former President to the
current governor of Florida. She points to Jeb Bush's
controversial One Florida plan, an initiative to end affirmative action, as
one of the black community's chief motivations to get to
the polls. "We saw right through that "compassionate conservative' stuff,"
she says. "We didn't believe that for one second."
Exit polls indicate that registered black voters in Broward, who number
nearly 120,000, had a record turnout rate of about 68
percent (compared to a mere 46 percent in the last presidential election).
While Jackson believed Gore would win the state if
Broward gave the vice president a margin of 180,000 votes, the votes far
exceeded that number, giving Gore a 210,000-vote
cushion over Bush. Statewide, blacks made up 16 percent of the vote -- more
than twice the average proportion. More than
90 percent voted for Gore, and that's not counting the voters who were
turned away. Mitch Ceasar, the Broward County
Democratic chairman, says he believes hundreds lost their right to vote
because of the logjam of calls to the elections office.
Gore isn't being robbed, the men insist -- they are. A Bush win is
unacceptable to them, and that's why they are going to
today's rally. "If they count the votes right, we will win," says Cadet, as
they look for a place to park in the crowded downtown
of West Palm Beach.
Francois then cuts to his core argument. "This is really about civil
rights," he says.
The slow drive, it turns out, will cost them. As they arrive in front of
the government building just past 3 p.m., Jesse Jackson has
already finished speaking. His bus is about to leave. Some protesters
remain, but there now seem to be as many reporters and
green-uniformed deputies as rallygoers. Small bands of Gore supporters roam
the streets, holding signs with slogans like "Don't
Mess With Our Vote." At one point they begin chanting, "Re-vote! Re-vote!
Re-vote!" If one didn't know better, one would
almost think they are calling for a "revolt."
A dozen or so Bush supporters congregate and are approached by a group of
Democratic protesters. Blood runs high, and
words are exchanged. The Bush supporters call the protesters sore losers.
There is tension but no violence, a feeling in the air
very much like that between opposing football fans. At times the bickering
becomes downright childish, as when a middle-aged
Boca Raton woman named Millie Cestone stands on Olive Avenue and, in the
manner of a derisive school girl, incessantly
shouts, "Clinton is a liiiiar, Hillary is a liiiiar, Gore is a liiiiar,
Lieberman is a liiiiar. Liiiiiar liiiiiar liiiiiar!" She shouts this mantra for
ten solid minutes.
At one point a Gore partisan, not understanding what Cestone is saying,
shouts back at her, "No, Bush is the whiner!"
Though such antics prove harmless, watching politics play out on the
streets brings back bad memories for Cadet. "This kind of
thing makes me anxious," he says. "This is why I left Haiti, this kind of
stuff. If this happened in Haiti, this would be a bloody
Soon Cadet and Francois leave the hoopla for nearby St. Mary's Hospital.
Cadet's father figure, Jean Hyppolite, who moved
to South Florida ten years ago, is a patient there. Hyppolite suffers from
kidney failure and acute heart problems. Cadet, who is
taking care of Hyppolite's affairs, says the doctors believe Hyppolite may
not make it. When Cadet walks into Hyppolite's
small hospital room, which has a window and a chair, the sick, gray-haired
man is sleeping soundly. He seems at peace but for
an occasional light shudder that runs through him. His body is emaciated,
the ribs visible through his gown in this dim late
afternoon. Cadet decides not to wake him.
They leave the hospital at 4:30 p.m. Francois is scheduled to speak on
WHSR-AM (980), a popular Haitian radio station in
Boca Raton, in 30 minutes. Radio provides a cultural and economic base for
the Haitian population in South Florida. Many
Haitians, especially those lacking higher education, get all their news
from Creole-language radio shows rather than newspapers
or TV. Francois is in a hurry: He has bought a half-hour to talk about
social services available to Haitians -- and the election, of
course. If he doesn't make it by 5 p.m., he will lose both the time and the
$130 he paid for it. He realizes the scope of the
problem when he drives back onto I-95 south. The traffic is jammed. For the
next 50 minutes, the normally cautious Francois
drives too fast in the tight traffic. Cars honk at him as he quickly shifts
lanes, trying to make time.
When they finally reach the station, which is located on the second floor
of a small office building in Boca Raton, it is 5:20.
Francois can salvage ten minutes of air time. Speaking in his place before
he arrived was Barry Silver, a lawyer and former
Democratic state representative. Silver is there to alert Haitians to a
lawsuit he's planning specifically on behalf of Haitian voters
over the Palm Beach butterfly ballot. He claims an inordinate number of
Haitians were cheated out of their vote by the ballot, or
worse, accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan. "The Haitian community had
extreme difficulty understanding the ballot; 99.9
percent of Haitians [intended to vote] for Gore," Silver says, "and there
was no one at the voting precincts to help them or give
them answers to their questions."
After Francois' time is up, Silver, who is getting free time, gets back on
the air to promote a Haitian political rally in Delray
Beach scheduled for two days later, on the post-election Saturday. When
Cadet hears about the rally, he knows one thing:
He's going to be there.
One of the epicenters of Haitian politics can be found in an unusual place:
the taxi holding yard near Fort
Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. There Cadet cut his teeth on
political organizing and continues to fight the kind of
battle he couldn't wage in his native Haiti. The taxi business in Broward
County, he says, is a microcosm of old Haiti, complete
with a dictator and the suffering common people.
On the Saturday following the election, Broward County's taxi holding yard
is alive with political fervor. A half-dozen Haitian
drivers seem to dance as they excitedly discuss the presidential election
in the large paved lot, which is hidden behind a
rental-car agency east of the airport. Some of the drivers, however, don't
seem quite so concerned. They eat, play dominoes,
or simply rest nearby. The thick and sweet smell of Haitian cooking, of
boiled chicken and grease, black beans and rice,
plantains, and yams, fills the air. Two raccoons knock around a soda can
nearby, trying to get the sugary remains inside.
Most of the men belong to the American Professional Cab Drivers Association
of Broward County, which was formed in 1997
by Cadet. Roughly half of the county's 800 Haitian cab drivers belong to
Cadet's association, which he formed to help him fight
a man named Jesse Gaddis, the owner of the Yellow Cab company.
Gaddis, by and large, controls Broward's taxi industry. He has the
exclusive contract to provide taxi service at the airport.
Gaddis also owns the county's taxi dispatch system, holds roughly half of
the county's taxi permits, and until recently owned the
company that insures his cab drivers. (He sold the company to his partner,
Phil Morgaman.) Gaddis packages all those services
into one Yellow Cab contract, which ends up forcing each starting driver to
pay his company some $450 a week -- or about
$22,000 a year -- just to get on the road.
Cadet, who owns his own cab and holds his own permit, pays less than half
that amount to drive for Yellow Cab. But he says
too many of his fellow Haitian cabbies are suffering under Gaddis' system
and complains that many cabbies work six days a
week and make only $10,000 to $15,000 a year after paying Gaddis. With his
association backing him up, Cadet has tried in
vain to negotiate with Gaddis, one of the top political contributors in
Broward County, to improve working conditions for
drivers. "Mr. Gaddis uses his political muscle to do everything," Cadet
says. "I find out that money and politics are two things
that keep this country moving. Seeing the monopoly here, it reminds me of
back home in Haiti."
Cadet has a nickname for Gaddis' Yellow Cab building on Oakland Park
Boulevard: Fort Dimanche. In the past two years,
Cadet has staged numerous demonstrations and work stoppages among Haitian
drivers, and last October he was arrested for
leading dozens of cabs in a slowdown of traffic around the airport. The
charges -- failing to obey an officer and traffic rules --
were later dropped, but Cadet's problems had just begun. Gaddis sued for an
injunction to keep Cadet from organizing taxi
drivers and to seek monetary damages that Gaddis claims he suffered from
Cadet's "conspiracy" to interfere in Yellow Cab's
Gaddis himself calls Cadet a "nice guy" and says he simply wants Cadet to
stop organizing work stoppages. Gaddis claims all
the fees he charges are necessary and a cab driver who hits the streets and
works hard takes home a minimum of $30,000 a
The taxi conflicts are the crucible in which the politics of many Haitian
cab drivers have been tempered. But the drivers on this
sunny Saturday don't seem worried about their own battles. Instead, they're
talking about the presidential contest and how it
might affect elections in their home country. (Just this past weekend
Aristide won the Haitian presidency in an election marked
by mysterious bombings and low turnout.)
The cab drivers, standing by a trailer where food is cooked, wonder aloud
if the controversy in the U.S. presidential election
proves that America ought to keep its nose out of Haiti's electoral
process. "The government of Haiti should be sending
investigators here to decide if the U.S. election was fair," says
40-year-old driver Lionel Bastien wryly.
Many of them also say they want recounts and revotes in Palm Beach County.
"Gore won," Bastien says. "We will never vote
for Bush! Never! His brother gave him Florida!"
"This is amazing," interjects 43-year-old Emanuel Jossain. "It's a shame.
The world is watching us. I voted for Gore, and I want
a fair election. Whether it is Bush or it is Gore, I want it to be clean."
The conversation continues, but Cadet has to go. It's rally time. He drives
his taxi to Palm Beach County's South County
Courthouse on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. Already a couple hundred
protesters are there, waving signs. Ten minutes
later the crowd has tripled. Cars pass and honk as protesters stand by the
road waving signs and chanting, "Revote!"
Leading the rally is Carly Richardson, an African-American who works with
the Haitian American Community Council in
Delray Beach. Richardson tells of upset Haitian voters flooding into her
office the day after the election, saying they were
confused by the ballot. Richardson says they also complained of getting no
help from volunteers at the precincts. "A lot of them
were first-time voters, and they were very emotional," Richardson explains.
"This was their opportunity to participate, and it
Ruined for Haitian voters like Ares Aristild. The 54-year-old Aristild
showed up at the Delray Beach rally because he had
problems at the polls. When asked what his problems were, he is silent for
a time before he manages to say, "I not sure what I
"He no speak English," explains Ismelie Petion, a young woman who came to
the rally with Aristild. "He's just confused and
doesn't know what happened."
At the rally, clipboard-carrying Democratic volunteers, or "operatives" as
they are called, hand out affidavits for registered
voters who say they were confused by the ballot. Thousands of similar
affidavits have been incorporated into various court
battles over the butterfly ballot. While the names on the affidavits are
kept secret, a volunteer does allow a reporter to view a
few. "The name holes was too close together," reads one. "Double page.
Confusing with numbers. Had trouble finding correct
number to punch," reads another. A third plaintive voter wrote: "I think I
did not vote right."
The most telling reads, "The way they have they vote book that was very
dificult to enderstand to vote for Al Gore I thought the
second whole that for Al Gore bit it wasn't." This explanation, in its
mangled glory, seems to underscore the difficulty Haitians
have overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers. In the close Florida
election, that barrier could have been enough to put Bush
over the top. Bush enthusiasts, not surprisingly, have little sympathy for
these problems. They've taken to the streets of West
Palm Beach carrying signs that read, "Felons No Vote, Children No Vote,
Stupid No Vote," and "Recount Their IQs."
Cadet doesn't seem to register these attacks. To him they're just more
people voicing their opinions. His own will not change:
He wants a revote and as many recounts as possible. That is justice, and
rallies are the key to getting a fair result, he has
decided. The next one he plans to attend is scheduled two days later in
West Palm Beach. Again Jesse Jackson is scheduled to
speak. Cadet isn't about to miss him this time.
When Cadet arrives at the downtown rally at about 4:30 p.m. November 13, it
seems Jackson might not speak at all. The civil
rights leader has left the makeshift stage area on Olive Avenue after a
rowdy band of Bush supporters stationed themselves
nearby and heckled him off the stage. "Jesse go home!" they chanted wildly.
Saying he fears for his own safety, Jackson makes his way five blocks south
to Meyer Amphitheater. The rowdy Bush fans
cheer when they realize that Jackson is leaving, as if this were a
successful fraternity prank.
An estimated 4000 people, including Cadet, follow Jackson to cheer him on.
Cadet walks into the crowd and waits for
Jackson to take the stage. News and police helicopters circle overhead.
Conducting the speech in a theater seem appropriate:
This is the nation's big show tonight. The omnipresent signs again tell the
story: "Jeb Crow," reads one. "Bush-it," reads another.
Numerous politicians and activists gather on the amphitheater's stage; most
are either black or Jewish (the other minority group
that has claimed special difficulty with the butterfly ballot), mirroring
their audience. "Machines did not get murdered in
Mississippi," yells one speaker into the microphone. "Machines did not
march for the right to vote!"
Cadet walks through the crowd and runs into some old friends. Lots of
Haitians are in the audience, including a cab driver
named Remy Elius, who has left Yellow Cab in Broward to start his own taxi
company in Palm Beach County.
When Jackson takes the stage, the crowd cheers wildly. News cameras roll,
and dozens of reporters from everywhere take to
their notebooks. Jackson starts softly with a prayer and then begins
talking about farm workers and Haitian immigrants. He
talks about the march 35 years ago in Selma, Alabama, about the sweat and
the blood poured by blacks and Jews to win civil
Cadet is moved so much that he begins to speak. "I'm very proud to be
here," he says. "My great-grandparents in Haiti, they
are the one who make this happen. They are the first to break the chain. No
more slavery. That is why today there are no more
chains. We must continue doing this until our vote will count."
Jackson orates about "language-challenged" immigrants, about rickety boats
coming from Haiti, about the example America
must set for the rest of the world, about civil rights, Roe v. Wade,
slavery, and universal health-care coverage. Then he gets to
"This is a dramatic battle for the soul of America!" he explodes. "Don't
panic! Don't let them break your spirit! Don't let them
take your eyes off the prize! Red, yellow, black, and white, we are all
precious in God's sight! Faith is our invisible weapon!"
Then comes his trademark refrain: "Keep hope alive!"
On his way back to the car, Cadet talks in reverent tones of the slaves in
Haiti and how they overthrew the French plantation
owners. This is his tradition, he says. The political fire is burning. And
it has become clear that the debate over this election is
much larger for Cadet and the protesters than the recount issue or keeping
the Bushes -- the anti-Kennedys -- out of the White
House. It's larger than the temporal blood sport of politics, with its
cutthroat competition and emotional wins and losses.
Francois was right: For Cadet and many other blacks, this fight for the
presidency seems to have become indistinguishable from
the civil rights struggle itself, from reconstruction to desegregation.
And for Haitians like Cadet, it harks back to the unique tragedy of his
country, of the Duvalier regime and the killing of trees
But some things are even more important than history. After the rally Cadet
goes to see his dying friend.
On this visit Jean Hyppolite is awake and sitting up in bed, his withered
arms resting in his lap. Though he's terribly ill, his eyes
are bright and alert, and he smiles at his visitor. Cadet sits down on the
bed right next to his friend.
Hyppolite says he was in good health until May 31, when he was rear-ended
in his car in downtown West Palm Beach. The
accident injured his back, and he was given strong medications for the
injury. His body had a terrible reaction to the medicine.
It caused his kidneys to fail and an infection to spread to his heart. He
is now undergoing kidney dialysis daily. "Every day they
push the needle in me and wash the blood," he says. "I need new kidney and
new heart. The doctor says that is big situation. If
I could get a heart, I would be happy."
Despite his dire condition, Hyppolite has followed the presidential
election. "I feel bad when I hear they make Bush President,"
he says. "I cried that day. His father didn't like Haitians, and neither do
he. No way. He can't be President."
While Hyppolite talks politics, Cadet begins expertly to massage the man's
neck and back. The sick man closes his eyes and
mutters, "Oh, that feel good."
"He's just like my son," Hyppolite says. "It like I born him. He is a good
guy. He does his best to help people. You see what he
do out there with his taxi? They lock him up. He don't care. He stand up
for Haitians. He stand up for all people."