GALEN HOLLEY: Taking the pulse of downtown Tupelo as the election nears

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

“Hear me people: We have now to deal with another race….These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.” – Chief Sitting Bull, speaking at the Powder River Conference in 1877.
The upcoming mid-term elections were on everybody’s mind in downtown Tupelo last Friday.
The climate of anticipation was already reaching a fever pitch, and as the weekend drew near otherwise mild-mannered, church-going citizens found themselves embroiled in serious conversations. On street corners and in line at grocery checkouts, they were forced to defend their views about everything from race relations and unemployment to government spending.
From Mill Village to Park Hill, from Madison Street, east, to Front Street, a man couldn’t sit and read his Daily Journal in any public place without wading knee-deep into an old-fashioned political debate.
Along North Madison, many African-Americans of retirement age sat on their porches, enjoying the mild afternoon and waving at passing cars.
I dropped in on a friend, a black minister, just as he was headed to lunch.
“This congressional election is going to be close,” I told him.
My friend had a stern look on his face. He was very concerned about the black turnout at the polls on Nov. 2. At the beginning of the week he’d gone door to door canvassing black neighborhoods. Among his fellow volunteers, the word “apathy” had been spoken more than once.
The presidential election had been a high, bright wave of emotion, the minister said, but he worried that the mid-term didn’t carry the same mystique.
“Unemployment seemed like the most important thing in the neighborhoods,” I told him, recalling what people had said as I’d tagged along with the canvassers, covering the story.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, as of Sept. 13, that the unemployment rate among blacks was 16.3 percent. Maybe, the minister said, the chance to have some say about a grim financial climate would get black voters to the polls.
At a downtown bar and grill the mood was every bit as serious. The lawyer-banker crowd was forking in tuna salad and fruit, while the less inhibited folks, worried that lunch on Friday might be a late drinking start to get properly revved up for SEC football, sipped sour mash and tilted back sweaty, amber-colored bottles of beer.
Their political opinions were as different as their lunch selections.
“If X wins, the people of north Mississippi will have absolutely no representation, whatsoever,” a fired-up vet told me. “The common man will have about as much of a chance as the South Vietnamese had against the Viet Cong.” The off-duty lawyer sitting next to him nodded solemnly and sipped his beer.
A local gadfly couldn’t hold his tongue. “They should have a bus down there in Jackson, waiting to cart off to jail anybody who passes a budget that isn’t balanced,” he barked. “It’s a crime!”
On a television at the end of the bar, a news program showed the silent image of recently fired NPR political analyst, Juan Williams.
One man, who’d been enjoying his light beer and his grilled chicken salad, put down his fork and pointed at the screen. He looked around for somebody to share his outrage. Then he threw up his hands and shook his head in exasperation.

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.