25 April, 2007

Baraka for Barack

So, I recently attended a rally for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. He is the young Senator from Illinois who is setting fires beneath many jaded Americans and spreading hope that we, as a country, can live up to our ideals. I am young enough to have missed the 1960s, but to listen to people talk about why this man either has their support or is tipping them in his favor I am reminded of newsreel footage of supporters of Robert Kennedy during his tragic campaign.

For those of your overseas or who simply aren't up on American politics (unfortunately a whole lot of registered voters), Obama is the bi-racial son of an American mother and a Kenyan father. He's written a great book about his life and struggles with identity. Some people believe, thanks to the idiots at the news networks often substituting "Osama" for "Obama", he is Muslim, which he's not. I have heard more than one nervous call to C-Span or whispered question put to me about this. These are the same fools that still can't deal with Rep. Keith Ellison's election to US Congress and continue to go nuts about his use of Thomas Jefferson's Quran in his private swearing in ceremony. In other words, no friends of mine or, in my opinion, this country. I digress....

Our rally drew 20,000 people (later reported to be his largest so far) to a local college campus despite threats of thunderstorms. People streamed through the streets of downtown towards the grassy expanse. Students, elderly, all races and at least several creeds (including the young Muslima standing near me and the Quaker that brought me), and people in various military uniforms. The latter was interesting in light of Sen. Obama's original NO vote on the war and continued criticism; you can lead a recruit through basic, but you can't stop him/her from thinking for themselves (thankfully). My friends attended a rally for Bill Clinton in the heart of his first campaign and said it was nowhere near as large as the crowd we stood in the middle of. The local paper later said Clinton drew about 10,ooo and Bush the Younger only drew 2,200 to a rally in a nearby town in 2000.

As is often the case at one of these things, everything was off schedule. A young woman from the campus campaign for Obama tried diligently to get us roused after an hour and a half wait. I will say the selection of music being blasted over the sound system was better, I suspect, than what you might hear at a Republican rally; all of it could have made it to my iPod and some already resides there.

The first to speak that day was Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, one of the greats from the movement for civil rights in this country. He asked us to bow our heads and join hands; every single face turned to the earth as a stunning quiet rolled across the crowd. Even the woman who insisted on jabbering away uselessly on her mobile through his remarks lowered her voice. He voice was like two strong arms reach out around us, encircling the crowd and drawing us together. Dr. Lowery spoke eloquently and mournfully of the state this country is in and what those of us in the crowd are seeking. He called Sen. Obama a "voice crying out in the political wilderness". Dr. Lowery moved many of us to tears with his message. I do not believe you find many men like that these days.

Sen. Obama took the stage and I can tell you the man gathers cheers as though he has already won the election. He is, indeed, a rock star. He is also a phenomenal speaker. I read that he is one of the few politicians in this country who writes his own speeches. I also heard a political commentator note that he is one of the few politicians whose speeches are typically less effective when written by others.

He made a lot of promises: end the war, open dialogues with those our current government has been unwilling to budge on, make the country energy independent, make America what it should be. It was eloquent, hopeful, and inspiring. I appreciated his reminder that nobody, not even he, can do what need to be done on their own. He called for people to get involved and take action. I am hoping to hear a more well-rounded environmental platform from him; his energy plan is focused on higher fuel efficiency for cars, which is good, but not the end-all-be-all in that discussion. I will admit, I walked away from the rally riding quite a buzz. Hope is infectious. However, it's still early and I am doing my homework carefully before picking a suitor.

I like him. I also like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Unfortunately, Gov. Richardson seems to be getting lost in the shuffle as the media helps whip up the Obama vs. Clinton frenzy; pretty much presenting them as the only candidates. Maybe they throw in a mention about former Sen. John Edwards, but the spotlight is already squarely on Senators Clinton and Obama. I think this is unfortunate; not because the two candidates are unworthy, but because it's still early. This will be one of the most crucial elections in our history and the voters deserve the opportunity to hear from each of the candidates at this point.

Be a citizen; go do your homework and decide for yourself.

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