My initial thoughts on this blog entry were going to center on the racial challenges facing the nation as it comes, at large, to grips with the prospect of Barack Obama as President. Essentially, the issues and views on the issues held by Obama would make him a very attractive candidate to me in an of themselves. His complex racial make-up and what that means in the context of our America is, to me at least, an added bonus. Others, of course, see his race as the only issue, a hindrance, either to themselves or to his prospects of becoming President, or both. Of this, I cannot say. The only thing I can offer in terms of understanding race and how it affects the Obama candidacy is this: If you are culturally isolated, you will probably hesitate to vote for Obama, regardless of the issues. Sad, but real. If you only surround yourself with white people, or all of your friends are old and Jewish, chances are at this point slim that you’ll be supporting Obama come November.
To me, he could be green for all I care. His position on the issues of the day make him far and above the best candidate for this or any other election.
So I was in the midst of this blog when I get a call from my buddy Birago. Did I want to go see Barack Obama today? He is speaking at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, which is down the street. Hmm, I was going to see the new Indiana Jones movie. Hmmm, Barack or Indiana, Indiana or Barack…. ok, I’m in! Let’s go.
The culturally isolated folks I mention above would do well to hang with my friend Birago. If you saw him on the street, you would probably call him “black”. But B is really what I call the new American, a blend of Caribbean and African cultures that can only get melded in a modern America. He is Dominican, Puerto Rican, with a dash of the Cherokee tribe thrown in. He has ancestors who were slaves in the south. He is highly educated, a teacher and computer programmer. He speaks fluent Spanish, is a practicing Buddhist and even hosts his own dance music radio show on satellite radio. Not to mention, he is the best griller I know. So, when attending a political rally for Barack Obama, who better to go with than one Birago Jones.
Idealism firmly in place, we arrived at the Bank Atlantic Center about 2 hours before Obama scheduled speech. I didn’t know what to expect from a South Florida crowd that is notoriously fickle and fair-weathered. Sports teams down here suffer from shaky attendance regularly, and if and when people do show up for an event, be it a concert or sporting contest, they are restless, inattentive and early exiters. My fear, for the campaign of Barack Obama, was one of these fair-weathered South Florida crowds would partially show up on the Friday afternoon leading into the Memorial Day Weekend.
Thankfully, I was wrong. When we arrived, there were, in my estimation, around 6,000 people waiting to get in. The crowd was as diverse as one could imagine: Big, small, young, old, black, brown, white, latin, asian, straight, gay, mixed mutts and at least one blind guy. We were all baking in the Florida sun, urging the occasional cloud to shade us. As more people arrived, conversations about politics, gas prices and the Bush crime family could be heard. Finally, around 2:30 PM, the crowd was rewarded for their patience and allowed into the wonderfully air conditioned arena.
In the interest of preserving security, I won’t get into the specifics of the screening and security process. Suffice it to say it was thorough and I was pretty impressed. I know I would have given someone like me a pretty good look, and they did. For that, I was thankful.
Birago and I found ourselves on the club level mixed in with a lot of diverse folks. Conversations were easy, and most of the people we ran across were well informed and as embracing of the cultural diversity as we were. Comments like “I have never seen a crowd like this” were often overheard. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there were a few whack-a-doodles in there too, people more drawn to personality than policy, but that can probably be said for any successful candidate.
At one point, some subversive passed around these misleading flyers, which must of cost a fortune to make. On one side, they had a picture of Ted Kennedy and Obama together. People saw this and clamoured for them, shrieking with delight when they finally got their hands on one. But, once one flipped it over and read it, they came to the realization that this was an ugly piece of propoganda, questioning the heritage, patriotism and motives of Barack Obama. It took a while, but most people caught on to it and got rid of theirs. Others, however, clutched it like a prize they had won. Curious.
In spite of that little buzz kil, the crowd remained in a positive mood. They had a great warm-up band playing, and as the time for the speech drew near, the crowd grew as did the energy level. Seats filled in, previously empty sections became packed (the crowd was estimated to be around 16,000 by time everyone got there) and, as can only happen in South Florida, people started doing “The Wave”. This was a funny thing, a wave at a political rally. Amazing. And just as Rep. Robert Wexler was ready to cash in on the moment and release the crowd into a frenzy, he announced that Barack Obama was running late.
So we wait.
We wait some more.
The people try another half-hearted wave.
Nearly an hour passes until Barack Obama finally arrives. There were moments in the lead up and throughout his stump speech that I got chills. Not from any particular thing he had said, as I had pretty much heard it before. The chills were from the energy exhibited by an enthusiastic and passionate crowd. Chills grown from the knowledge that I was no longer alone in my perspective. Many, many more people, beautiful people, open minded, forward thinking and talented who believed as I did that a better America existed. People who believe that a better America can be made, and that this man before us was the agent of that change.
Obama’s speech was a bit short, but I expect he was making up for being a bit off schedule at our expense. That’s ok. I had waited longer in worse conditions for things that mattered far less. I came away hopeful that with a few more months of campaigning, with a Summer of imparting his position on policy to a mentally malnourished nation, the substance of Barack Obama would make its way to the forefront and captivate those who aren’t paying attention. Given time, I have confidence that it will.
As Birago and I were leaving the event, we got stuck in traffic. Seems there was only one exit open, and as he tried to be a polite driver in horrendous parking lot traffic, we were saddened to find ourselves confronted with the usual assholes not letting us in, or blocking the way.
Amazing. I always thought the assholes on the road were all Republicans.