My journey though the Midwest starts in the city of Milwaukee in Wisconsin. I’m sitting at the back of a vast auditorium at the Parklawn Assembly of God listening to the spine-tinglingly beautiful voice of the singer on stage. It’s joyful, energising and full of hope. The socially-distanced parishioners raise their hands and sway. But it’s been a brutal year for many among this congregation. The pandemic has disproportionately killed members of the African American community, while unrest over systemic racism and police brutality has reached new levels.
As the sound of their singing carries out into the parking lot, some are making sure their voices will be heard as far away as Washington DC. At the church exit there’s a stall set-up for people to drop-off their absentee ballots. I speak to Cookie Taylor as she posts her paperwork. "This administration is racist," she tells me.
"This pandemic has uncovered what the African American and the brown people and the minorities in this country have always known: it is systemic and he is a hate-bater.
'He is a hate-bater'
But some voters I speak to are still undecided. Henry Washington asks: “If I vote Democrat what are they going to do about police brutality? I’m thinking about voting Republican, I’m in between right now.” Then I see Marchelle Luckett with her three young sons. When I ask her about their futures she responds with passion: “Now you’re talking.
“That’s why it’s so important for me to vote because I have African American sons and I have to teach them to protect themselves.” As we’re about to leave we notice dozens upon dozens of cars queuing up. We ask what’s happening. They are waiting to pick up donated food, basic groceries and toilet paper. It seems the pandemic has exposed the fragility of those with the very least.
'I have African American sons and I have to teach them to protect themselves'
Milwaukee is ranked one of worst places in the US to be black. African Americans here face vastly higher rates of poverty, unemployment and imprisonment.
It’s also described as one of the most segregated cities. So I walk to the Groppi Unity Bridge to find out more. The bridge has become a symbol of the segregation that scars this city, the line that once separated black neighbourhoods in the north and white neighbourhoods in the south. In the ‘60s, hundreds of people marched along the bridge protesting against discrimination. It feels depressing that decades on, the battle against systemic racism is far from over - in fact it’s now a central theme of this election.
In 2016, turnout among Milwaukee’s black voters was low, seen as one of the reasons why Trump took this swing state, with a tiny margin. There was just 0.7 percentage points in it - that’s just 23,000 votes
There are posters everywhere urging people to vote - there’s even a plane buzzing overhead with a banner reminding people to exercise their democratic right. In a community garden, on the outskirts of a neglected northern neighbourhood, we warm our hands on a bonfire. As we watch the wood burn, I talk to a family about life under the 45th president - a man often accused of “fanning the flames” of hate.
Venice Williams tells me: “Most of the people in my world, no, all of the people in my world want the “45” (Donald Trump) out of office. But we are not deceived to think that if Biden is elected that this country is magically going to change for us.”
DJ and Demetri are first time voters, but aren’t exactly enthusiastic about the candidates on offer. Demetri tells me: “Right now, I do not trust the system.” While Sojourner White is afraid there’ll be violence after next week’s election.
She said: “I’m fearful for what’s going to happen in November and there after because people really believe what he’s saying and he has a following that is putting a lot of us - black people, brown people, immigrants - all of us in jeopardy.” Whoever wins next week, he will first need to unite the United States.
Watch Trump vs Biden: The Results on Tuesday 3rd November from 11pm on ITV