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.

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.

Cadet helped Joan Haire to the voting booth (above), then soon returned to work in his cab
Colby Katz
Cadet helped Joan Haire to the voting booth (above), then soon returned to work in his cab

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 rights.

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 the point.

"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 and pigs.

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."

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