Fear, Loathing and Ignorance on "Calle Ocho"
Versailles Restaurant is located on Miami's "Calle Ocho" (Eight Street) near the western edge of Miami's "Little Havana" neighborhood, but in the realm of Cuban exile politics, it is the virtual center of the universe. On an average day, tourists disembark buses, local "politicos" hold court at tables, regulars discuss politics at the outdoor coffee window, and major news organization scramble for interviews gauging reactions to the latest events in Cuba or changes in US policy towards the communist island nation. On Election Day, the epicenter of Miami exile politics bubbles with anticipation and develops a bellicose, circus-like atmosphere, creating scenes worthy of the best comedic tragedies. A local radio station aware of the excitement sets up shop at the restaurant, inviting all candidates to pass by and address their listeners (with worthless chatter), while news crews from around the world set up in the parking lot. By early morning the scene is set, and the protagonists begin to arrive. When it comes to partisan politics, a majority of Cuban exiles choose the Republican label. Democrats do exist within the ranks of Miami Cubans, and are barely tolerated by their Republican "compadres" (the feeling is mutual). The more radical Republican elements view Democrats as de facto communists. Evidence of this was abundant on Election Day when a guest on a popular radio program stated, "If you want to vote for the candidate Fidel (Castro) would vote for, vote for Kerry," ironically giving the decrepit septuagenarian tyrant more credit, publicity, and clout than he deserves. It's mid morning and the crowd at Versailles begins to swell with Bush supporters wearing buttons and waving signs in the parking lot and on the sidewalk. Across from the from the Republican stronghold, a Kerry For President campaign office had been set up (the nerve). Democratic Party faithful don T-shirts and arm themselves with placards and banners, preparing to face their Republican rivals. Chanting descends to the screaming of epitaphs, and soon the Kerry partisans cross the street (an apparent attempt to conquer the coveted coffee window). The shouts and insults grow louder. In an instant, blows are exchanged and the police intervene, forcing the Kerry lovers back to the south side of the street and the Bush faithful to the north (defending the coveted Cuban coffee window). The line in the asphalt of Calle Ocho has been drawn and the battle of shouts, sign and flag waving resumes. In order to placate any human rights observers that may be present, Democrats are allowed safe passage to the coffee window for the occasional fix of Cuban coffee and helping of "pasteliltos" (miniature pies). The afternoon wears on, but the frenzy on "Calle Ocho" (Eight Street) continues at a fevered pitch. Chants, screams, and car horns drown out any attempt at measured or reasonable discourse. Drivers on Calle Ocho are confronted with signs waved at their windshields in an attempt to get them to honk for the "appropriate" candidate. Late in the afternoon, a Kerry supporter raises a Mexican flag on the south side, yet no raccoon skin caps are visible to the north. Perhaps someone ought to inform the flag waver this is Versailles and not The Alamo (a tricolor cockade perhaps being more appropriate). As the sun sets on Versailles, the ranks of the party faithful begin to thin out. Most are either heading home to watch the results of the election (and their grand exercise in futility) on television, others are headed to their respective party's "victory" celebration. By midnight the Republican faithful will be in a euphonious state, which will lead them to (falsely) feel that they have achieved heaven on earth. The democrats will sulk into the early morning hours (mistakenly) believing that things would have been better if their man had captured the prize (power). What motivates people to participate in demonstrations or vote for one candidate or another? Fear? "If Bush is reelected, we will all be wearing swastikas, drinking lots of beer and eating mass quantities of knackwurst, while the elderly starve on our streets." "If Kerry is elected, we will all be beheaded by turban-wearing barbarians and be force fed croissants." Loathing? "Kerry is a pinko who bad-mouthed the U S of A during the Vietnam War." "Bush hid behind his father's influence to avoid combat, while spending his days in a drunken stupor." Ignorance? "I vote Republican because they will lower my taxes and preserve the Second Amendment" (yeah, right!). "I voted for Kerry because he will end the war in Iraq and give all Americans 'adequate' healthcare." (Oh really?) The despot trapped in every voter shows its ugly face on Election Day. Behind almost every piercing of a chad or touch of the screen is the will to impose one's beliefs on others. Your neighbors head to the polls on Election Day hoping to impose their will on you, and if you vote, more than likely you are trying to have your way with them. Rarely is a vote cast to liberate, evidence the results of every election since 1776 has only served to further curtail our freedoms. Standing in the crowd of noisy, rabid and blind partisans, you can't help but feel sorrow for humanity, trapped between the despotism of a few and the tyranny of the many. Will humans ever really be free? Considering the current makeup of the human species, probably not. The events at Versailles unfortunately are not isolated. In fact, they are duplicated at election time throughout our country and the world. These events and the actions of their participants remind us of the words reportedly uttered by a past occupant of the French castle named Versailles (Marie Antoinette): "Let them eat cake." If alive today and present at Versailles in Miami (amongst the modern day Sans Coulettes), she would probably say, "Let them vote for dog catcher."