By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
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 sleeping tonight."
Soon the conversation turns to Cadet's homeland.
"Haiti is where a lot of great things started happening for black folk," Jackson declares.
"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 precinct lists.
"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 precincts."
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 Buchanan.
"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 his homeland.
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 Ronald Reagan.
"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," Francois says.
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 Election Day.
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 mess."
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 business.
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 year.
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 was ruined."
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 vote."
"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 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."