Spike Lee braves Liberty City- and gets dissed by a cantankerous old man- for Obama

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Yeah, so Matt Damon did the whole get-out-the-vote-for-Obama thing earlier this week. But he did it in West Palm Beach- home of soccer moms and Froodles. It's a whole 'nother thing for a celebrity to traverse galaxies away from the Starbucks-beaten path, and approximately eighteen thousand miles away from the nearest shiatsu parlor or Braman dealership, to Miami's very own 24-hour war zone known as Liberty City. That takes the same dude who willfully braved New Orleans days after Katrina hit: director Spike Lee.

The plan was this: Lee was to arrive at Liberty Square Housing Projects- or as it's commonly known, the "Pork n' Beans"- this morning, pack as many people onto a coach bus as he could fit, and shuttle them to the nearest voting center to cast early ballots.

Only problem: when Riptide arrived this morning at the PJs- a '30s-built barracks-like complex that bears a depressing resemblance to the soul-crushing Baltimore projects shot in The Wire- there were three people sitting on a stoop waiting for Lee. Turns out this event was a well-kept secret in the 'hood. When an Obama campaigner pulled up to prep the site for Lee, he was mildly freaked at this lack of turn-out. Although he sent the three people, all women, off to knock on friends' doors, it seemed unlikely they'd be able to scare up a busload.

Enter (da, da, da!) Ken Knight... also known as a local guy with a '80s-era Toyota Camry stuffed with Obama flyers, and mounted with a megaphone. The Obama campaigner convinced Knight to troll the neighborhood blasting word of the Lee event, and Riptide convinced him to let us ride shotgun.

First of all, an introduction to Liberty City for the un-acquainted: take your average middle-class inner-city neighborhood. Flood it with crack, heroin, and guns. Zap it with 80-percent unemployment. Add a liberal sprinkling of communal self-loathing, and lather the whole casserole with eight decades of governmental ineptitude, apathy, and corruption. Add a few lovingly painted Colt .45 murals. And voila, you got this place: an eerily-quiet, bombed-out slab of a hood' where all the windows are completely obscured by metal armor, and outside of every bodega, a dozen people slouch the day away-- the older, mostly toothless, set drinking; the younger, white-T'd-set hustling, or so Young Jeezy informs me.

"We have Spike Lee and the Spike Lee bus down at the Pork n' Beans!" improvised Knight as he tooled down these desolate streets. "Come show him love!"

"He ain't showing us love!" retorted one woman in front of a corner store.

"He'll show you some love once you get there," Knight reasoned back.

He recognized one man sitting in an idling van, and boomed through his megaphone, "Hey, I been looking for you; what happened to your hot dog stand?"

"I got something else going on," yelled back the old acquaintance.

"You aint got nothing going on. Come on down and see Spike Lee."

Knight didn't seem to be getting much of a reception. For the most part, those who didn't respond with blank faces took the opportunity to half-heartedly announce their brokedness: "Is he giving away the jobs, or what?"; "Yo, Spike Lee, let me get some cash!"

At one point, to Knight's simple inquiry of "How you doing?" a woman answered bluntly, "We want a job!"

"They don't seem very enthused about the Spike Lee event," I ruminated.

"You'll see," replied Knight. "We'll see when we get there."

Indeed, when the Camry pulled back up to Liberty Square after its expedition, a crowd now awaited Lee. All of those people who had seemingly shrugged off Knight's announcement had wandered, one by one, to the meeting-place.

And then Lee showed up, popped from a gleaming SUV, wearing an Obama t-shirt and a Yankees cap. If the crowd was expecting a speech from the director, they might have been disappointed. The closest thing to a public announcement I heard from Lee was the following declaration, and I shit you not:

"Get on the bus! Do the right thing! Don't be bamboozled!"

But the salvaged crowd was energized by his mere presence, and they all piled onto a bus with him and traveled to the Joseph Caleb Center, where Lee shook hands with everybody already on line to vote. Perhaps the best reaction there came from a older black man wheeling through the ensuing fracas in a wheelchair, who clearly didn't give two shits about the famous guy trying to shake his hand. The old man nudged Lee's grips away and, perhaps thinking Lee was a stumping politician, declared: "Let me through, dammit! I already done voted!"

Oh yeah, and Congressman Kendrick Meek accompanied Lee throughout, dressed in jeans and a glittery Obama t-shirt. The reason I didn't mention it: nobody else seemed to notice his presence. Maybe that's because his face isn't too recognizable around these parts. As community organizer Eric Thompson put it: "We be calling Meek all the time, and he never comes. We be calling him for murders, poverty, and all sorts of other things, and we can't get him to visit us for the life of us. It's a shame, too, because he's from here originally. But we'll put that aside today. If it takes Obama and Spike Lee to get him down here, we'll take it."

-Gus Garcia-Roberts


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