This will be a great place to win, but a hell of a place in which to lose. I’m staying at the oddly named Melbourne Hostel on the corner of Welton and 22nd Sts, Denver. It sits at the meeting point of areas dedicated to the two communities that have been the backbone of Obama’s support.
Follow the light rail up Welton St and you’re in Five Points, an area that claims to have been the center of black culture in the whole Mountain West from the 20s to the 60s. For much of that time it was the only place in Denver African Americans were effectively allowed to live. It still seems to be largely black, although there is a substantial Hispanic presence, including buses taking exclusively Hispanics who know’s where lined up right outside my door. The streets are filled with plaques celebrating the area’s history and honouring the leading citizens, with plenty to say about the local contribution to the civil rights movement.
Five Points really breathes pride. It’s clean — astonishingly so for an area so close to downtown and clearly not wealthy. It’s a challenge spotting the building on Welton St that doesn’t have an Obama sign in the window, and the front half of a shop made up of African-American crafts is almost a shrine to the candidate. It’s not surprising the campaign has not one but two offices on the street.
Although the University is on the other side of Downtown, if you head up 22nd St you’re into territory that is easy cycling or a stiff walk from campus, even if you skip the bus. It’s natural territory for students, and judging by the faces I pass, they’ve arrived.
A block away along 22nd St sits the Mercury Cafe, which claims that for 33 years its been bring arts and progressive politics together. It’s been at its current location for 18 years, in a building the owner could surely only have bought if the area had been remotely desirable at the time, before rich people caught on that there were advantages to living close to the city centre.
The weekly Friday performances of Vox Feminista were canceled for a late Halloween, but sit in the cafe long enough and you’ll have everything from the bellydancing classes to sessions on converting your car to biodiesel passing by. The cafe has a calender with at least one event there every day, and usually two or three. Tuesday reads “Vote, Vote, Vote, Vote”. In case you’d missed the message the specials have lost most of their issue based names (although the Single Payer Healthcare breakfast is still on offer). Instead they are called things like the “Barakalandslide”, “Take Every State” and “Tuesday Triumph”. I order a “World Wide Celebration” omlette. While I’m waiting the owner, Marilyn Meginity, tells me that on Tuesday “We’ll be watching the results and celebrating”.
Even the fired up 16-year-old bursting with potential in the poetry slam is wearing an Obama badge, despite his expressed cyncicism of big-party politics. The other entrants are practically swooning at the possiblity of an Obama victory, including one who tells me she voted Nader previously.
It’s going to be pretty bleak at the cafe if things go the wrong way, but a whole lot worse up Welton St. People are talking about riots if the election appears to be stolen. At this stage its hard to imagine any way McCain could win without it at least looking like theft, and you’d have to think that in few places would anger run deeper than Five Points. Seeing every black neighbourhood as a ticking timebomb is obscene of course, particularly an area with such a connection to King’s non-violence campaigns.
On the other hand, Five Points appears to have hope, in a way I imagine many other black neighbourhoods don’t. It’s a whole lot tougher having hope stripped from you than never having had it in the first place.