History lures new and old voters to polls

On a workaday morning outside the College Hill Library on Tampa's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, an old man's knees begin to buckle.

He is standing outside along with dozens of others, most of them black, some who lined up even before the library-turned-early-voting-site opened its doors.

As the man starts to crumple, people rush out of line to help. Get a chair, they are saying, and give him air, and somebody call an ambulance.

By the time paramedics come, as a stranger fans the man with a hunk of cardboard, he looks a little better. I'm diabetic, he explains.

When asked if he wants to go to the hospital, his eyes are clear. No, he says.

Voters came to the little brick library in church vans and family cars and work trucks. They were young people who never voted before and longtime Democrats and older folks leaning on canes. They waited in hot sun and cool drizzle. They came by the thousands.

“Is it worth it? To be a part of history in the making? Yes, ma'am,” John Jones, who is mid line after about an hour, tells me. “I'll wait ‘til tomorrow if I have to.”

The old man who buckled is not the first to rally here in the name of democracy. Earlier in the week, an elderly woman was similarly overtaken, perhaps by the heat. Once revived, she too said no, she would not go.

“She said she'd never have this chance again,” says Bernadine White-King. “Too many people died for this.”

As traffic flies past, people stand talking about Barack Obama and all that electing the first black president might mean. They also talk about work and day care and lunch and whether the rain plans to keep up.

From her front porch across the street, Jacqueline Johnson watches the voters come and go, come and go.

She's a former nursing assistant. We chat awhile, and after a time I say goodbye. As I latch the chain-link gate behind me, she calls from her porch.

“Don't forget to vote.”