Wednesday 9 May 2012

Letter from North Carolina: Barack Obama (and Amendment One)

by Tom Macarte

If you were on the internet over the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen Barack Obama slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots.

What the rest of the episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon made clear was that it was filmed in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This photo was posted by the White House Twitter account.
The filming came after Obama gave a speech about student loans to thousands of students, some of whom had waited outside overnight to get tickets. Fallon tickets, on the other hand, were distributed only to Seniors (as in, fourth year undergraduates) first through an online ‘reservation’ lottery, which gave you the right to queue up for hours to hopefully get a seat assignment. They made it very clear that, with all the security, students should pick one or the other, they would not be able to get across campus in time.

I picked Fallon. I slyly entered the lottery through the link emailed out to Seniors, and queued for three hours, getting fairly good seats.

I’m maybe 60% sure this is me. I was around that area, in a Carolina blue sweater, so at least you get the idea.
Obama was preaching to the converted here, reminding students why they (probably) voted for him. It didn’t hurt that he’d predicted the UNC Tar Heels basketball team to win the NCAA Championship (WE WERE ROBBED: mostly down to poorly timed injuries).

I’d seen a tweet explaining that POTUS had chosen UNC because it was such a great academic institution, which is partially true but a fairly naïve assessment.  With North Carolina a swing state for Obama, where the young voters would make all the difference, there was clearly an ulterior motive.

There was also a reason he’d chosen UNC, and not just his college basketball fandom. North Carolina’s universities are all pretty great, local rivalries aside (DUKE SUCKS), but Chapel Hill is often referred to as the liberal centre of the State, sometimes of the whole American South. When someone asked Jesse Helms, notorious early '90s right-winger (his name should be familiar to any Bill Hicks fans), about a state zoo, he responded by suggesting they just fence off Chapel Hill. As you can imagine, this quote is recounted with rather a lot of pride.

But back to Obama. He was as wonderful and charming as a liberal foreigner would imagine. I was still hoping for a full musical number (he has been known to sing, and if it was going to happen under any circumstances, it would’ve been then, backed by the Roots), but it was all pretty great. I wasn’t anticipating seeing POTUS, but it was a great day, a real treat for an American Studies student on his year abroad.

Something else happened really recently (yesterday, at the time of writing) that I wanted to write about in terms of Chapel Hill being a liberal centre. You might be aware of Amendment One, a motion to rewrite the state constitution to redefine marriage and civil partnership. It’s largely a move against gay marriage, but that is far from the only thing that the amendment affects.

This morning, I found out that, as I had feared, the majority of the vote yesterday had been FOR rather than against the Amendment. I just wanted to say that that is not the North Carolina that I know. Yes, a lot of this has to do with the liberal bubble I’m in, but I hate that this vote sends out a particular message about the state. It only recently dawned on me that it was likely to pass: here, in Chapel Hill, it seemed that everyone was strongly against such a breach of rights. So basically, I just wanted to work against the message it sends out. North Carolina is a beautiful state, and I have encountered nothing but friendliness and compassion, both in Chapel Hill and further out, in the mountains and on the coast.

The message that Amendment One sends out: that is not the North Carolina that I know.

Editor's note: in the wake of Amendment One, President Obama has just declared his support for same-sex marriage“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

No comments: