It was a long walk in the humidity, a long line to get through security, and a long wait in the hot sun, but finally, at long last, Senator Barack Obama, the man everybody has been talking about, emerged from a nearby building, jogged up on the grandstand, and I was 50 feet away.
Earlier that morning, I drove five miles from my house in McAllen to the University of Texas Pan American campus in Edinburg, parked my Ford about a mile from the chapel courtyard where the event was held, and walked across the entire campus. Along the way, I encountered groups of Edinburg police, bomb-sniffing dogs, and several barriers. It was a cloudy, humid day (about 80 degrees), so by the time I finally arrived at the venue, I was sweating profusely. The line wating to get through security was really daunting, and a little discouraging, but I got in line to wait my turn like everybody else.
Sammy called me on his cell phone to say that he was up further, so I moved up about 100 spots, and still had to wait in line more than 45 minutes. Obama volunteers were everywhere, getting names and addresses on clipboards, passing out bumper stickers and reminding us that, “Obama needs you twice, guys. Once to vote today, and again to caucus in the evening of March 4!” The atmosphere was expectant and electric.
By the time we finally arrived at the x-ray machine, the crowd had become huge, and the line behind us stretched for at least 200 yards and around a building. I took the change out of my pocket, telling the screener, “This is change you can believe in,” but I don’t think he got the joke. After getting through the x-ray machine, I was wanded by two secret service agents. Looking around, I noticed a LOT of secret service agents, and several guys with FBI jackets. Sammy also noticed lots of plainclothes cops milling through the crowd as well.
Once inside the courtyard, we found ourselves in a sea of humanity, thousands of people pressed together holding “Texas for Obama” and “Change We Can Believe In” signs. We made our way around the perimeter, admonished by cops to “keep moving, please”, until we found a good spot next to a grandstand, about 50 feet from the platform.
By now, music was pumping through the speakers – I recognized some Paul Simon stuff and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”.
I chatted with a lady sitting on the grandstand next to us who said that she was at a Hillary rally a few days earlier that was not as electric and not as diverse and young. “It was a bunch of senior citizens and politicos,” she said. “This is a lot cooler.” I told her it might have something to do with the fact that we are on a University campus. She asked who I was supporting and I said, “I would rather not discuss that in this venue.”
Sadly, I did not have my video camera with me, so I asked Sammy to take a picture of me with his cell phone. As he was about to snap the picture, a lady behind us handed me her “Texas for Obama” sign and said, “You need that in the photo, but I want it back!”
As the crowd grew, I became more convinced that this was a terrible venue…too small, not enough field of vision and really cramped. I think the Obama advance team thought that since Hillary was popular here in South Texas, they wouldn’t get numbers. Boy, were they wrong…
Finally, after another 30 minutes of waiting, a loud, annoying lady who could barely speak English, I think her name was Lydia Torres, stood up and started telling the crowd how tired she was of “beesnees as ujual” in “Wachingtone” About halfway through her speech, Obama appeared from behind a building and jogged toward the raised platform, shaking hands along the ropeline. The lady started screaming even louder, “Let me introduce heem”, but the crowd kept chanting “Obama, Obama” until she gave up and said, and now, eet ees my honor to present to ju the next Presidente of the Junited States of America, Baracko Obamaaaaaaaa!” She didn’t even know his name….crazy. The crowd, already whipped up, erupted in cheers and chants of “Obama, Obama”.
Just as Obama stepped up onto the platform, the clouds parted and the sun broke through. He was wearing a blue, long-sleeved shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, and a tie, and grinning from ear to ear. “I want to thank whoever arranged for this 70 degree weather,” he said. “I’ve had a tough winter.”
Here are the first few minutes from live coverage on local television
Here is a perspective from the back of the crowd – cell phone video
A wild perspective of people directly on the ropeline within hand-shaking distance
He then told us how he had decided to run even though “it wasn’t his turn” according to many in Washington. “They thought I should stew for a while until they boiled all the hope out of me”. He then explained that, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “the fierce urgency of the now” compelled him to get involved.
The first part of the speech was full of language about unity, that we should not be divided by race or gender, but that we are all Americans. That was nice, until he began to divide us, when his speech hit themes of rich vs. poor, environmentalists vs. auto manufacturers, CEO’s vs. workers, Bush vs. everybody, big oil vs. average people, etc.
I clapped twice. Once when he said that “our troops have done everything we have asked them to do, and have done it with honor,” and again when he said, “we deserve a president who tells us the truth.” I can’t argue with those statements.
The crowd seemed positive, but not over-the-top Obama worshipers. One lady on our left kept repeating what he said in an annoying voice until those around her told her to be quiet. Obama got the most applause when he talked about getting out of Iraq and when he said that Bush and Cheney would not be on the ballot. He got a lot of laughs when he talked about the geneological study that discovered that he and Cheney were distant cousins. “Man, I was hoping I would be related to “somebody cool, and then….it’s Cheney!”
He finished his 30-minute talk by mentioning a telegram that Martin Luther King, Jr. sent to Cesar Chavez, saying that their struggle was the same.
As soon as he finished with “Thank you and God bless you”, Lyle Lovett’s voice came booming out of the speakers singing, “That’s right you’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway”. People surged forward to shake his hand, but we were too far back to make it up to the ropeline.
I enjoy political rallies during presidential election years. There is nothing like the spectacle and the hoopla surrounding one of these events.
I would put Barack Obama up there with Reagan in his ability to connect with people and engender affection. You can’t help but like this guy. He has a charisma and charm that is undeniable.
I can’t vote for him because of his position on the war, on abortion, on gay marriage, on the kind of supreme court justices he would appoint, and many other issues, but I know a winner when I see one.
Get used to saying “President Barack Obama”
Watch more highlights of his speech here.