Desiline Victor at 102 queued for six hours to vote for Obama. Now 106, she just early voted for Hillary Clinton

Desiline Victor sets an example as Democrats battle to get African Americans to turn out

David Usborne
North Miami
Monday 07 November 2016 00:32
106-year-old woman heads to the polls

In a wide-brim, purple Sunday-best hat, Desiline Victor was not about to repeat her feat of four years ago when she gained national attention standing in line for six hours to vote for Barack Obama at an early voting station inside the North Miami Public Library at 102 years of age.

The queue to get in was as long again this Sunday afternoon as African-Americans from the surrounding neighborhoods, many Haitians, converged in a near carnival-like atmosphere in a bid to defy the experts who have been talking gloomily of depressed black voter turn-out, and take advantage of the last of fourteen days of early voting in Florida.

She is 106 years old now and too frail to be doing that again. But she has also become a celebrity since 2012; the extension to the library where voting takes place now bears her name. Instead, running a little late, she arrived by stretch-limousine to be greeted by a ceremony to honour her for doing what the Democrats need most - inspiring black Americans to vote.

Her small frame settled in a wheel chair, Ms Victor was silent as local dignitaries extolled her importance, not to mention longevity, and her son, Matthew Pierre Louis, shared his excitement that she had made it. “I can’t tell you how happy I am today,” he declared before, finally, the microphone was handed tentatively to the guest of honour. The assembled crowd hushed. Ms Victor, we had been told, has her good days and bad. She may or not have something to say.

“Clinton!”, she suddenly declared, making clear she knew exactly what was going on around her, before finishing her very brief intervention in her native French, “Voter, voter, voter”. For those confused an interpreter kindly clarified. “Vote, vote, vote”.

And from the ceremony, under a small open-side tent, she was pushed by Matthew in her chair across the road to the library, accompanied by Haitian dancers and a local singing star who, in rare voice, was her troubadour for the short journey. This time, the lines parted, as Ms Victor was wheeled to the front and straight into the building.

It was not the first time Ms Victor, who only left Haiti when she was 75, abandoning her small restaurant, had been feted in such style. For what she did four years ago at the same spot, President Barack Obama invited her to his State of the Union in 2013, called out her name and prompted an instant standing ovation by all in attendance.

Long lines at early voting stations are one of the complaints of many Democrats here and in other states, including North Carolina, who, sixty years after blacks were given the vote, say obstacles are still put in their way.

“What we’ve seen in Florida are systemic attempts to stop Black and Brown people from making it to the polls,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of the New Florida Majority which helped arrange the event for Ms Victor. “The presence of long lines at the polls is one of the most apparent obstacles that communities of color face on Election Day.”

Last week Mr Obama was among those sounding the alarm after early voting data suggested that black turnout was depressed compared to four years and eight years ago when he was the candidate for president. For the last few days, the Clinton campaign has being full tilt urging blacks either take the opportunity to vote early or at least turn out on Tuesday.

It is why Ms Clinton spent part of Sunday, for example, appearing at rally in Cleveland, Ohio, another important concentration of back voters in a state as crucial to her as Florida, alongside the basketball mega-star LeBron James. And why she was in the same city three days earlier at a free concert given by rapper Jay Z and his wife, Beyonce Carter Knowles.

Ms Victor listening to officials praise her before declaring her intention to vote for Ms Clinton

There are signs now that the lag in black early voting may have been partially closed since last week, in part thanks to ‘Souls to the Polls’, a faith-based program that is strictly non-partisan but which helps congregations get to early voting stations after Sunday worship.

Many of those at the North Miami library on Sunday afternoon had marched from the nearby Shalom Community Church, though not before pausing for a fried chicken lunch in the parking lot first, with a bouncy castle for the children.

“We encourage all the Christians to go out an vote,” confirmed Pastor Joanem Frandy Floreal, better known to his flock as Pastor Fanfan, in a spiffy white linen suit and bowtie. “As Christians we are on our way to Heaven but while we are on Earth we have to make a difference”. He was not afraid to admit that most of his congregation would be tending to Ms Clinton.

“I think that they were a little concerned at the beginning,” Renee Mowatz, an official with the New Florida Majority, a group dedicated to boosting the democratic participation of fringe members of the community. But she too is convinced that the gap that seemed to threaten last week may now have been closed. “We have been doing a lot of work getting people out vote."

Among those enjoying the lunch and planning to join the line that Ms Victor was allowed to skip was Roseanne, also a Haitian-American who was shy about giving her last name. "I have to vote, its a responsibillity. I am going to eat something and after that go to vote.”

She was shy too about the choice she had made, but intimated it had not been easy this year. “I know who am I going to vote for…this is private. It is really difficult because of a lot of talking, - talking, talking - but anyway I know what I have to do.'

There is no secret of how Ms Victor voted. "Last time, like she already told you, she was voting for Obama, right now as she just told us, she is gong to for Hillary Clinton,” her son Matthew, told The Independent.

They call her the Matron of Democracy, who four years ago - as a Haitian - voted for the re-election of the nation’s first black president and this year - as a 106-year old woman - for Ms Clinton to be the nation’s first woman president.

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