Monday, September 1, 2008

Obama with my Mama

On Labor Day, presidential candidate Barack Obama came to Hart Plaza in Detroit and my mother and I decided to go see him. His speech was slated to begin at 11 AM and seating began at 8:30. We left our house, about 45 minutes from Detroit, in the vain hope that there would be room in Hart Plaza for us when we got there.

It turns out that Obama is kind of popular.

When we arrived on the perimeter of Hart Plaza, around 9AM, the police told us if we wanted to see Obama we'd have to go stand in the line.

The Detroit Free Press today reports that there were 20,000 people in Hart Plaza and another 10,000 on Jefferson on the plaza's perimeter.

I don't know if you're familiar with lines of 20,000 people, but they're pretty long. This one stretched four city blocks, turned a corner and snaked around another 2 blocks then turned in and around itself heading back the direction in which it had come.

We wondered if there was any chance of getting from the end of that line into Hart Plaza or if we should stay where we were near a giant viewing screen erected on Jefferson. We had a couple of hours and decided to take our chance in the line.

(That's me in the line) It was an orderly line. No one was pushing or shoving. People were resigned and curious. They'd make it to the front or they wouldn't. The Obama campaign had asked people not to bring signs or banners, but there were plenty of sales people with Obama badges and t-shirts pacing up and down along the crowd. Oh, and there were these guys.

The tall buildings of downtown Detroit shielded us from the rays of the sun and the 86 degree heat for most of our journey. We doubted there was much chance that we'd end up in Hart Plaza, but we did have some gratification seeing the line stretch out longer and longer behind us as we wound back around our old path. The members of the crowd were collectively photographing the each other. If they wouldn't get to see Obama at least they could record that they saw a lot of other people.

As 11 AM approached we had finally gotten to the end of the line in perfect time to find ourselves... right back at the video screen where we had started.

These guys had made it too.

The disorganized, but not unruly, throng gazed hopefully at the blackened video screen. Since we'd been told not to bring beverages, a few people were lying on the ground swooning in the heat. We heard a buzz of folks wondering if this video screen was actually going to show anything at all. One woman called a friend inside Hart Plaza to ask if Obama was in there speaking already. Meanwhile, we were trying to guess if the 6'4" guy in front of us was going to lean to the left or the right so we could position ourselves for the best view.

Finally at around 11:15 the screen came to life. At first there was no sound, but then the speakers began to cackle and a loud cheer erupted from the audience and after our long journey we finally caught our first glimpse of... this lady.

I have no idea who she is, and neither did anyone else, but for some reason the camera person decided not to focus on the introductory speaker, or even on the sign language interpreter (on the far left) but on the woman in the blue dress.

The enthusiastic crowd of Obama supporters was overcome with emotion and began to chant in unison: "Move-the-camera! Move-the-camera!"

And then came a change we could believe in. A new focus... for the camera. Just in time to avoid an outright mutiny, it was the candidate himself!

And yes, he looked just like he does on TV.

As for the speech itself. I leave that reporting up to the Detroit Free Press:

Obama said he planned to give a speech extolling organized labor, but said, “There is a time to argue politics and there’s a time to come together as Americans.”

Obama then asked the crowd of more than 10,000 to donate to the Red Cross, as Hurricane Gustav bore down on Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

He said showing solidarity with those who are evacuated or facing displacement shows the spirit of togetherness that his campaign has sought to inspire.

He then called for a brief, silent prayer, and ended an appearance that lasted less than 10 minutes.

Yes We Can - Barack Obama & WIll-I-Am