I didn’t see one demoralized Democrat at the University of Southern California’s Alumni Park on Friday as 37,500 of President Obama’s admirers stood for hours to hear him rally the base for November’s midterm elections. The corporate-controlled media with its relentless parade of polls is predicting a Democratic bloodbath. But the audience was reminded that the most important poll is the one on Election Day.
My mom, sister and I rose early to catch the bus to USC at just after 7:30 am to arrive sometime before the gates opened at 10 am (driving was not an option, for obvious reasons). I heard some Obama fans had arrived as early as 2 or 3 am — no doubt many of them students who probably camped out overnight. When we arrived at the campus just before 9 am, several thousand people were already in a line that snaked around several blocks. Obama’s rock star status was on full display. Not only was the event part political revival, but billed as the world’s longest phonebank, as fresh-faced volunteers cheerily handed out lists of voters for people waiting in line to call. Smart use of passing the time away.
Once past the airport-like security, we stepped into a festive atmosphere inside the park. A large, blue “America Moving Forward” banner stretched across the stage, above bleachers reserved for a select group of USC students and VIPs to sit and wave signs. Although the program started at just after noon, the man himself wouldn’t appear until about 2 pm. Until then, the crowd had to content itself with standing through a medley of speeches by various USC student leaders, celebrities and politicos, in addition to musical performances by a middle school choir, the USC Trojan marching band, and L.A.-based rock/rap/Latin fusion band Ozomatli. But each name called that wasn’t Obama’s elicited some moans from the crush of people surrounding me.
Among the other speakers were L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, California Assembly Speaker John Perez, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Sen. Barbara Boxer, former actor and now Obama staffer Kal Penn (House, Harold and Kumar movies) and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. Some speeches were more scintillating than others, but the overall theme was to galvanize Democrats, especially young Democrats, to show up at the polls. Foxx, whose memorable performance as Ray Charles won him the Academy Award, was especially lively as an emcee. The actor stood at the podium with his phone to record the crowd reaction for his Twitter page, while at the same time leading them in a chant of “We not exhausted!” a reference to a woman who told Obama at a recent town hall that she was tired of defending him. Foxx’s impromptu use of social media was certainly a 21st century moment.
Just before Boxer introduced the President, the atmosphere was electric with anticipation. Obama walked out to a roar of screams and cheers, multitudes of blue “America Moving Forward” signs, and thousands of upraised hands frantically shooting pictures. In his typical easygoing style, Obama appeared sans jacket, wearing a blue tie and the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up. This was my first time seeing Obama live. Actually, it was my first time seeing any U.S. president in person. I could only get intermittent glimpses of him through the forest of bobbing heads in front of me, but that was thrilling enough. Next to me, a young woman, shorter than myself, had to hop up on her toes to catch a view. She squealed with delight each time she got a peek of the commander in chief.
The Speech was signature Obama: filled with flashes of humor, fiery rhetoric against the Republicans, and fist-pumping calls to Democrats to “knock on some doors” and support the party’s ticket in the election. My limited cell phone camera could only record a few minutes of the Speech, and Obama himself was merely a speck through the lens, but at least I have proof that I Was There. Being a part of Obamamania for just a few minutes was definitely worth standing for five hours amid a sea of bodies so packed that I almost felt claustrophobic. I kept worrying about my 77-year-old mother standing behind me, and I was prepared to lead her out of the crowd if she needed to sit down. Thanks to the fact that she exercises regularly, amazingly, she made it through. She didn’t want to miss a thing.
We all left the rally on a high, fired up and ready to go again. My mom and I have been answering the President’s call to “make some phone calls and knock on some doors,” by volunteering to get out the vote in our neighborhood. To be honest, my feelings about Obama’s presidency has been a roller coaster ride these last two years. It’s like being with someone you love who irritates you from time to time. I’ve disagreed with some of the things he’s done (or not done), and I’ve yelled at him through the television screen, but I still swooned when I saw him. Unlike some of my progressive friends who have fallen out of love, I still count myself a fan.
Sometimes the ones we love need understanding and time to make things right. Obama has only had less than two years to turn around an economy and society that took the GOP 30 years to destroy. And, he is hamstrung by an archaic, corrupt and dysfunctional political system that desperately needs fundamental structural reform. It will probably take several more Democratic administrations after Obama to undo the damage. Obama needs more time to help the country heal, and he needs more progressive Democrats to push him to do the right thing. It is foolish to abandon him and the Democrats now. Doing so on November 2 would only put us back to where we were during the bad old Bush years.
So vote Democrat on November 2. Hold your nose if you need to, but vote Democrat. And then we can continue to making that change we want into a reality.
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