When I heard that people were sleeping outside the coliseum to see Barack Obama, it occurred to me that I might not be able to stroll into the rally on my leisurely day off (much needed mental health day). There was an alleged bike ride to the Obama rally leaving from VCU at 11am, but my calls to friends already in line at 10am told me that I better get down there early and check things out for myself.
As I rode up to Marshall Street from 5th, I saw the line of people waiting. Looking left, away from the coliseum, the line stretched as far as I could see. So, I followed it to its source. The line of patient people continued down Marshall, left on 7th Street, past the coliseum (bypassing the entrance that I'm familiar with), all the way down to Jackson St, back up to 5th Street, and up to the back door of the coliseum. Wow. That's over a mile. If this wasn't impressive enough, another line started from those doors and went the other direction toward Marshall and ultimately to a spot I never saw. Two enormous lines at 10:30am. My plan B was to go to the MCV gym and work out. Doh! I forgot my gym shorts and shirt.
I'm not going to tell you what happened next. But I will say that I locked up my bike and was inside the coliseum scoping out seats in under ten minutes. If this makes you seethe, I'm sorry. Your anger is justified. The good news is that Obama may very well be deserving of the presidency, whereas, I'm hardly deserving of having him as my president. That's how I'm feeling after taking in what was probably a run of the mill stump speech in the last leg of Barack Obama's pursuit of the high office. The guy is damned good! A potentially historic figure in more ways than his demographics. Non-believers, take another look.
Going into the Obama event, I had to turn off a number of the averse reactions that I've developed regarding the major political parties. Although I was jazzed for Clinton in 1992 and kinda in 1996 too, as my critical analysis developed, the Democratic party started making my skin crawl almost as much as the Republicans. It was as if they sold out common people for a ticket to the ball with corporate interests (see Clinton's Welfare reform, free trade agreements, and backing away from universal healthcare for starters, but I know that the crappy-ness predates my ability to vote). Since Clinton sold his soul for blow-jobs, we've had Democratic candidates going hat-in-hand to their corporate paymasters and all that they presented to voters was an unconvincing case for the lesser of two evils, spineless defense of their nonexistent integrity, and ultimately flaccid campaigns that commanded minimal respect (stolen elections or otherwise).
It should be clear that I have been burned by believing in the Democratic party and I am still very hesitant. I didn't go to the Obama rally to chant and shout, or clap and do the wave. I went because Obama has slowly made me a believer in his leadership abilities and I wanted to witness history in the making. Let me repeat that: Obama made history by campaigning seriously in Virginia, and WE VIRGINIANS are going to make history by delivering our electoral votes for a Democratic ticket for the first time in over four decades. People, I'm not editorializing here. The positive energy was in the air inside and outside that coliseum and it conveyed very clearly: "YES WE CAN."
If those last few sentences sound like fanaticism, don't worry. I'm surprised at myself too. But, I know what defeatism smells like, and right now the movement to elect Barack Obama is bold and surging, not tentative and jaded. I'm impressed with the campaign, the voters, and the candidate. For once, I don't feel like I could do a better job. The admiration that came across from the crowd seemed really genuine to me - not blind party allegiance, but devotion on a more personal level; loyalty that only competence can inspired (obviously, something we've been lacking in the White House for a while). Obama is striking a chord with voters that transcends a set of single issues that generally make one throw the switch one way or the other. It's refreshing.
It's not the pursuit of power and validation that drives so many Republicans and evangelical Christians. I think Obama is winning because his supporters feel he is truly deserving; that he has earned the presidency through concerted effort regardless of the debacle of the past eight years, and that his brand of leadership couldn't come from anyone else in the Democratic party. This is Barack Obama's time, whether he has the experience, or not. And, my projection is that Obama has more potential to lead all of America and both sides of the isle in Congress than any presidential candidate from either party in my lifetime. And I think that's what voters want: results.
A couple observations
I brought loads of contraband into the coliseum. Being on bike, I was loaded down with a water bottle, hot coffee in a thermal mug, and a laptop, as well as books for my graduate course, bike tools, cell phone, and a blinky light. This only slowed me down briefly at the security checkpoint. Inside, I discovered that I couldn't get online during the 2.5 hour wait for Obama to speak. And taking in the spectacle of 13,000 plus people really distracted me from my homework. Oh, and I was sitting next to the author of this awesome article on voter fraud.
One thing I recall from surveying the line of people headed into the coliseum: this gathering was gonna be 70-80% black. Inside, a white couple told me that they were offered tickets to sit straight back from the podium (presumably to provide a diverse backdrop for the TV cameras). Looking around the coliseum, the group seated behind Obama did seem to be closer to 50/50 than the rest of the place. I point this out, not to indict the campaign. Perception is part of any presentation and putting forward a particular image is just part of the political game (obviously, the Republicans have to struggle harder to achieve an equitable facade).
My point here is that the Obama troops on the ground in Richmond are not predominately white bloggers, or West End Whole Foods shoppers, or the liberal elite. I think most main stream media as well as our popular online forums tend to have enormous blindspots where it really matters (this blog included). Hopefully, the four year celebration of Obama's probable victory will give us ample opportunities to borrow and share power across racial and cultural lines, and indeed spread the wealth and privilege, access, and opportunities. The spirit of this campaign has tremendous potential on the local level and I hope that this healer of a national politician will have an effect on us right here in Richmond.
Rather than provide highlights of the speech (cuz I didn't take notes), I'll provide a link to the transcript of his speech.