Obama Rally 3-21-08

I met Barack Obama today. It was quite an intense experience, and if you’ll be patient with this post, hopefully you will understand why.

Today was the 10th anniversary of our marriage, and rather than go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner, we decided to take our kids to witness history in the making. My family (Husband, Daughter-16, Daughter-14) and I attended the event in Salem, OR today, arriving at about 8:30A for the announced 11:30 doors open time. Obama was speaking in Portland that morning, after the Richardson endorsement. There were about 50 people lined up when we arrived with our hot drinks in 40-degree weather, ready to hunker down for the wait.

The wind blew cold, and it threatened to rain. We watched the TSA screeners arrive, along with bomb-sniffing dogs that were taken up and down the now long line into the Salem Armory. The GOTV people came by at least three times to ask if anyone needed to register. From the front of the line, a cheer rose as the gates were finally opened at 11:30A, as promised.

The TSA searched us thoroughly. I was even wanded. We were allowed to bring in our bottled water and sandwiches packed from home. Into the Armory we went, searching out the closest seats we could. We ended up several rows back, but within 50 feet of the stage. A contingent of union farm workers (PCUN) sat nearby in bright red t-shirts, chanting “Si Se Puede!” every so often. We ate our sandwiches, watched the crowd pour in and enjoyed the creativity of the t-shirts people made at home (“Barak Rocks!”, “Obama Kid”, “Obama Mama”, just to name a few).

Finally, Earl Blumenauer, our beloved bow-tie wearing US Representative came out to introduce Obama. Earl gave a very nice speech, the details of which I can’t recall due to what came next.

Obama took the stage to a cheering, hooting and hollering standing ovation. He spoke on every topic- the economy, Iraq, foreign diplomatic policy, education, health care, energy, jobs, veteran’s affairs, etc. He was clear, unwavering and gave specifics for achieving these goals. Obama then took questions from the audience for about 30 minutes. At one point, and 74 year-old man stood up to tell Barack that he was now blind- color blind, specifically due to the speech he gave this week. Another woman asked him to give her talking points for her Democratic friends still on the fence about Obama v. Clinton. He gladly obliged.

“Senator Clinton is smart, she is capable and she is tenacious. She would be a vast improvement over the status quo… but she’s gotten caught up in the conventional thinking in Washington. When I get that phone call at 3 in the morning, I will do what a good president should do, which is to get the facts, to talk with your advisers, to gather good intelligence and then to exercise good judgment. Senator Clinton, all too often I think, all too often over the last five years on foreign policy debates, has calibrated her responses based on politics instead of good judgment. That’s what happened on Iraq.”

“Now, here’s the condensed version of the difference on both domestic and foreign policy. It’s a question of leadership. I believe that it’s not enough just to change political parties. We have to change the culture, and part of changing the culture is recognizing that the special interests, the lobbyists, the insurance companies, the banks, the drug companies, HMO’s, they have come to dictate the agenda in Washington. The only way you break out of that so that ordinary people’s voices are heard is if you stop taking money from PACs and lobbyists like I have- she still does- and you recognize that they’re a problem- she doesn’t.”

“If you believe in transparency and accountability, which is why I passed the toughest ethics reform legislation since Watergate last year- this is not an issue she’s ever worked on because she doesn’t think it’s a priority- I passed laws to post on the internet a searchable database of every dollar of federal spending out there. Your tax money will continue to be wasted until you know when a “Bridge to Nowhere” is being built. She doesn’t believe in transparency and hasn’t even released her earmarks just like she hasn’t released her income tax returns. She doesn’t believe, I think, in bottom-up democracy, and if you don’t believe in that, then you’re not going to change Washington. You’ll tinker around the edges, but you’re not going to bring about the kind of changes the American people are desperate for. That’s why you should vote for Barack Obama.”

Obama then got a question on immigration reform from the farm worker union, and stuck to his guns, not pandering to a much-needed demographic:

From the Statesman-Journal:
“He pledged that if elected president, he would seek a comprehensive approach to resolving immigration issues by insisting on secure borders and cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers. “We have used this issue as a political football instead of solving the problem,” he said in response to a question by a farmworker. He said undocumented immigrants should learn English, pay penalties, and be part of a path to legal presence and citizenship.”

At the close of the questions, Obama made a few final remarks and closed the show to resounding applause and shouts of support. I made a beeline for the state barrier with my daughters, hoping for a handshake. I got a lot more.
As Obama worked his way down the line, he efficiently glad-handed, smiled and thanked supporters for coming. When he got to us, my youngest shook his hand and thanked him for running. He said, “You’re very welcome.” I was next- I reached out to shake his hand saying, “Senator Obama, please talk more about the economy and the mortgage crisis. My mother is losing her home to foreclosure.” Obama stopped in front of me, still holding my hand. “What is the situation, how did it happen?” he asked. “She is moving in with us,” I responded, “She got into a bad loan, high rates, and couldn’t keep going when the economy tanked.” He asked, “Have you been able to get any help locally?” “No.” I said. Obama then talked about a number of non-profit organizations that could assist with the situation, and wished us luck in getting things settled. And he thanked me for coming out today. All the while, he held my hand, looked me right in the eye, and really listened. It was really amazing. I was teary-eyed and a bit shell-shocked when it was over.

My oldest was next. She shook his hand, and asked, “Senator Obama, what do you plan to do about the situation in Darfur and the refugees in Chad?” His response was immediate and unwavering. “We need to get conflagration troops on the ground, and a no-fly zone over the camps in Chad.” Then he shook her hand again. I was so proud of my girls!

We were delighted, giddy and in awe of what just happened. We ran back to the others in our group and recounted the exchanges. We’d just talked with and shook the hand of our next president! Our group made plans to meet at a local restaurant for a late lunch, and after buying a few campaign buttons, off we went.

At the restaurant, we all talked about the rally, our personal encounter with Obama, and were overheard by a table of diners nearby. Two elderly men came up to us to talk about what we’d witnessed. One told us, “He made me see that his being black doesn’t matter. After his speech this week, I see that now. And that’s not a small thing- I’m a redneck, and proud of it. And a republican too, but he’s got my vote. He reminds me of John F. Kennedy.” He recalled McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five scandal, saying he could never forgive McCain for violating seniors like him during that time. “Anybody who tells you to vote for McCain, you remind them of the Keating Five. He can’t be trusted.” The other gentleman said he was also a republican, but was considering changing his registration to vote for Obama in the primary.

I’ve never witnessed the kind of excitement and energy about a candidate from so many people- to the point that strangers stop to join the discussion with you.

We are thrilled to have the experience we did today as a family with Barack. We will never forget it.

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