Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Barack Obama Movement Begins in Maryland

If I had more computer knowledge, I could transfer pictures and recordings from Monday's Obama rally in College Park. Sadly, I have the technological knowledge of a gnat. In my last article, I had entered the press arena with the assistance of an unnamed reporter of a major newspaper, affectionately referred to as "Angel of Mercy."

The press area at a political rally is not as glitzy as one may think. Tripods everywhere. People milling about. No one directing traffic. Tables set up in rows for laptops and notebooks. No red carpet to follow. It's a real free for all.

Reporters must come armed with knowledge. It's not as if movers and shakers wear name tags. You're checking them out, they're checking out you. If the big leagues don't recognize you, they walk on by. Leon Harris of ABC News walked right on over to Angel of Mercy, smiled my way and said hello, but I had no idea who he was. That was the end of a prime opportunity. I knew he had clout, that much was abundantly clear, but I couldn't finesse my own cluelessness without giving myself away. I remember trying to play down my bag lady appearance and act professionally. People were watching. I'm sure they thought I was out of my league.

Out of nowhere, Elijah Cummings walked by, heads turned, and in that small section of the room the atmosphere palpably changed. Congressman Elijah Cummings, political powerhouse, former Chairman of Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus, first African-American Speaker Pro Tem in Maryland's General Assembly. Electrons became politically charged. Straight behind him walked Peter Franchot, the Comptroller and number three guy in Annapolis. Wow. Star struck, I guess.

They both seemed to look around for a familiar face. Finding none, they kept walking. But then Mr. Franchot caught my eye. We shook hands. Exchanged pleasantries. How I wish I had brought a pen and pad. My tiny electronic recorder would never do for an interview. Then again, landing in the press area was a complete fluke, manna sent from heaven. I couldn't blame myself for arriving unprepared.

"Mr. Franchot, there's a lot of dissension in Annapolis over the two remaining Democratic candidates, but you put your support behind Senator Obama early on," I winged it, "Why? What was it about this candidate that made you pick him?"

"That's an easy one," he responded. "I saw early on, back before his campaign caught fire that he had something the other candidates lacked."

"What was that, Mr. Franchot?" I truly wanted to know.

"His ability to bring people together and unite them in support of common ideals."

Perhaps. I eyed him skeptically. "What makes you believe that? What has Senator Obama done to make you believe he's a uniter?"

"By the fact that you're here. That I'm here. That the different faces in the audience are here. That's what he's done."

My goodness. The Comptroller was right. This wasn't politics as usual. This was a movement. A political movement in its truest purest sense. And we were part of it. I had nothing more to say except "Thank you."

"But I do feel sorry for Senator Clinton," he quickly added.

That one caught me by surprise. "You do? Honestly? Why?"

"Because she's also qualified and has worked very hard for the nomination. I'm sorry that I can't support both of them."

Okay, Mr. Franchot, you lost me there. "She-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named" does not deserve to be President of the United States. She lacks integrity, she lacks experience, she can't even successfully manage her own campaign, for cripes sake, and you think she's qualified to lead this country into the twenty-first century? Not buying it.

And Peter was gone.

I made my way back to Angel of Mercy as she interviewed an Obama campaign staffer. Without my own pad and pen, I was just a cheesy eavesdropping wannabe. Honestly, I didn't know what to do with myself. Should I walk around or hang on? I am not from the hanger-onners, although without Angel of Mercy, I could be toast. Then again, at this point, no one was checking credentials. Maybe I had passed the smell test. I cut the cord without ever saying goodbye or thank you. What a louse. I am extremely thankful, but horribe with goodbyes. She probably never gave it a second thought anyway. Besides, she has my card. Perhaps one day she'll read this article and know how truly grateful I am.

Reporters are a funny lot. They have egos. They're not nice to one another. They cut each other out for scoops. And then there are people like Angel of Mercy. Willing to lend a hand to a complete stranger. I am a staunch believer in God. There are no coincidences. She walked into my life at that point for a reason, and when there was no more need, she walked out. In my book, that's miraculous.

Milling about, I landed a spot center court about ten yards back from the stage. I will be able to see Senator Obama without the aid of glasses, although cell phone pictures will catch little to nothing of the action on stage. My son, unfortunately, has the camera. Too far away for good pictures, I'm afraid. Leaving the floor is out of the question because the rally could start any minute. Anwan Glover from The Wire has spoken and left the stage. Obama cannot be too far behind.

Out of boredom, I turn to the girl manning the tripod next to me. She is a junior at the University and reporter for Maryland News Line, a college journal. Here is the transcript of our interview:

Me: I'm here with Arelis, a junior at University of Maryland. What do you think about Senator Obama's campaign?

Arelis: It's one of the most exciting campaigns of the race. It’s the first time I've ever been able to vote in a presidential election, so I'm super excited about it. I’m just glad there’s a bunch of qualified candidates out there, although they’re all duking it out, which is hard.

Me: Is Obama the person to lead America?

Arelis: I’m a little wary of Obama because of the experience. I think Hillary could manage the political powerhouses a little better than he could, but he promises change with that Kennedy-like attitude, so I don’t know. We’ll see. I know a lot of people are looking towards him.

Yes they are. A funny sight comes into view as the quickie interview ends. It's a white guy in glasses wearing a homemade T-shirt with "I Called in Sick for Obama" plastered over the front. Too hilarious. Suddenly, everyone is taking pictures as the cameras roll. I motion him over.

Me: There's a shot going around the Comcast Center that’s drawing a lot of attention and I'm here with the person wearing "I Called in Sick for Obama." Sir, what is your name?

Daniel: Daniel Horowitz.

Me: What do you do, Daniel? Are you a student?

Daniel: I'm a science teacher in NE Washington, DC.

Me: What gave you the idea for that great T-shirt?

Daniel: I thought since it was a Monday morning half the people in here did call in sick, but no one has the guts to say it. So I thought I’d advertise it. Hopefully the picture won’t reach my principal. I'm thinking about making copies of the shirt to sell to friends.

Me: I would buy one.

Daniel: Thanks.

Me: Why call in sick to come to the Comcast Center? What would make you miss a day of work to be here?

Daniel: I'm here to support Barack Obama. I think he really is going to bring the change necessary to the country. Once in a lifetime, a candidate comes along who can bring Democrats, Republicans, and Independents together to create change and end the in-fighting in Washington. And I think Barack Obama is that candidate, so I’m here to support him and hear what he has to say.

Me: What has he done to make you think he can inspire change?

Daniel: Just look around at the crowd here today. We have every color, every age here together. They’re all inspired by what he has to say. I think what he’s done in the past, in Illinois, in the U.S. Senate, and also on the campaign trail ... not playing to the old race cards that past elections have crumbled under, like Jesse Jackson. I think that he is really speaking to a new generation that doesn’t see race and really wants to just see somebody bring change to the country.

Thank you, Daniel, for your apt description of Senator Obama's campaign. Thank you for putting into words what others have had difficulty articulating.

Politicians come and go. But once in a lifetime, a politician comes along who sparks a movement. Who not only says what people want to hear, but who also says what people can believe. These last three remaining presidential candidates, they all talk a good game. On paper, there is very little difference in their policies. The problem is politics as usual. The American people are sick and tired of the lies. Yes, tell us what we want to hear, that's all fine and good, but we don't trust any of them any more. We know what's going on behind the scenes, power hungry so-and-so's.

In that respect, Barack Obama appears different. We may not like who he is, or what he stands for, or his associates, it's true. The difference between him and the others, however, is he isn't hiding any of it. He isn't speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He isn't changing his position on the major issues. He's campaigning on who he is, on the positions he believes in, trying to unite us, trying to change the political landscape.

It's refreshing to see a Washington outsider unite so many different types of people behind one political philosophy. It's called a movement. And if Barack Obama is elected and does what he says he's going to do, it will also be historic.

Now there's something worth supporting.

This concludes the series of articles about the Obama rally at University of Maryland, College Park. I may figure out how to turn the recording of Obama's speech into a podcast for another article. I may even figure out how to transfer a picture from my cell phone to this blog without a necessary cable. If not, I will try to post a transcript of his speech with some commentary, but no promises. Stay tuned.