I saw Barack Obama speak today at a Women For Obama event at UM. I got the invitation via email and I’m not working or anything so I have the days free and I’ve been thinking about politics a lot recently and so there I was, trying to get parking in the Gables and standing in a huge line in the hot sun without my water bottle or my granola bar because you couldn’t have bags and they wouldn’t fit in my pockets.
It was fun to see who all was in line with me—some students, some older people, some parents with kids. I finally saw some people with interesting hair and tattoos, which made me feel a little more at home, and for a while I just listened clandestinely to the juniors behind me talking about their study abroad plans. I ended up getting out of that line and going to another entrance, whereupon I had a really ridiculous phone conversation with Manya, who was going to be there too, and who was actually sitting about five seats away from me, as we discovered when I snapped “Well just stand up so I can see you!” and then all the people in my row totally laughed at me.
I was sitting with some pretty interesting people. The guy on my left was originally from Liberia; he told me that he owns his own business but can’t afford health insurance, and that he’d never had a chance to hear a presidential candidate speak before. (I hadn’t either). The two guys to the right of me were eighteen and nineteen years old and told me “we’re just getting into voting” and that they’d registered to do so on the beach. I asked them what they liked about Obama so far and one of them went “I don’t really know, but he’s charismatic!” and the other one went “John McCain always shows up in a suit, but Obama has his sleeves rolled up, like he’s ready to get to work.”
All four of us talked about the campaign so far and the war and the Caribbean a little and about voter fraud and what it would have been like in 2000 if Gore had won. One of the young kids said, when I mentioned that his taxes go to pay for the war in Iraq, “Wait, so my taxes pay for…death?” One of the preliminary speakers mentioned “suffrage” and the other one went “I know what that means! I remember history!
While we waited for everything to start I kept looking around at all the different people there in the stadium: people wearing “Obama Mama” shirts and people texting on their iPhones and this one little old lady in a pink sweatsuit who danced near the floor when “Signed Sealed Delivered” came on the loudspeakers. Everyone in the world, by the way, loves that song—everyone, everyone. It was a really good choice for the rally.
There was quite a lag between the introductory speakers and when Obama himself came out to speak, which was a little weird in terms of energy—they didn’t play any music and people just kind of sat there (or went out to the concession stands to buy soft pretzels, hilariously) wondering what was happening. At some point some people started a wave, like at a basketball game, but of course I was sitting in the section that couldn’t be bothered; people were actively yelling “Sit down! Don’t let it continue!”
Finally he came out and people went crazy at first; I could hardly see him and my pictures are pretty much worthless, but it was cool just to be there and think that I was participating in a new way, politically speaking. His speech was pretty straightforward; he talked a lot about “women’s issues,”—you know, all those silly things that only the ladies care about, like taxes and healthcare (including abortion rights) and the Family Medical Leave Act—and actually he did say, later in the speech, that those issues aren’t just about women at all, that they’re about everyone. He talked about universal healthcare and the Violence Against Women Act and Social Security and pay equality and gas prices (one of the young kids went wild clapping about that one, and then gave me this long blank stare when I told him that I used to fill my tank up for ten bucks when I was in high school).
I had seen some of Obama’s ads on YouTube and I’d heard part of one of his speeches on the radio but never heard him speak at length. (I have also never been able to sit through an entire Bush speech without absolutely losing my mind with lava-hot rage.) I definitely got the charisma thing but I found myself being pretty analytic about the whole thing; the Liberian guy, who was more my age, and I would look over at each other every time he mentioned healthcare or taxes and make a face at each other to signify (on my end at least) “That sounds awesome; how will it happen though?” I did appreciate that he mentioned some really concrete facts of life for most people: day care, work/life balance, gas prices again. All through the speech people were going “Yeah!” and “Speak it!” (and even a couple of “Preach it!” like at an old-style tent revival meeting) and behind me one woman yelled out, when he started talking about the economy and just trying to make ends meet, “You’re talking about ME!”
One really weird thing happened in the middle though: a bunch of protestors started yelling “Go home!” and held up signs that I think said KKK on them, which really blew my mind, especially since most of them were African-American. The crowd got really mad and started yelling and booing and security made them leave; Obama, interestingly, just went “Guys, you can hold your signs up if you want but let me just talk here.” He just went on with his speech, although I think no one was really listening during the “Na na na gooooodbye” chanting for a minute. When that was over he just went “Okay, let’s get back to work,” and everyone really did shush immediately, like we were all at a meeting and needed to get on with the agenda items for the planning committee—which, actually, as I think about it, we were.
And then it was over, and they played more Stevie Wonder (excellent campaign song choice, Women For Obama!) Manya waved goodbye and I struggled out to the street and found my car and looked very much forward to getting my new Florida driver’s license on Monday so I can get registered to vote here at the eleventh hour, when I wasn’t cursing the heat and the traffic. I have been lukewarmish about politics lately but I find myself getting more interested as the days go by. I liked a lot of the points Obama made in his speech, although I did notice that there was no mention of true poverty at all, and not much about the war, and also not much about women outside of their roles in their families; it was all “Women need to have more access to the boardrooms and the factories and to equal pay…so that they can be there for their families” and while, yes, that is totally true, what about those of us who don’t have “families,” by which I am guessing he means “children?” I assume we’re included in that rhetoric as well, but maybe some specific talk about non-family roles for women would have been cool.
But all in all I’m glad I went. I’m glad I got to hear what he has to say with my own two ears instead of depending on the news or the blogs to spin it for me. I’m glad I got to confirm first-hand that I think Obama will do a fine job as President. I’m glad I got to be in a room with so many Democrats in Florida. I’m glad when people shouted out “WE LOVE YOU!” he stopped in the middle of his sentence and went “I love you back!” I’m glad people chanted “Si se puede!” as well as “Yes we can!” I’m glad I sat next to interesting people who are very different from me yet who had similar thoughts and ideas about the kind of America they want to live in and the kind of Americans they want to be.
And I’m really glad I happened to walk out to the parking garage with this one guy who was with his two young daughters, maybe nine and seven years old. He and I talked about the speech and the protestors for a while and then I asked “How did you girls like the speech?”
“Fiiiiiiine,” they sing-songed, like kids do. I told the dad I thought it was so great he’d brought them to the rally. He said that they’re both really mad that they’re too young to vote. Super cute.
“What did you like about it?” I asked them.
“We got to get out of school!” said the younger one.
“And!” went the older one, “we got to see the next president!”
You would have got goosebumps too.