The last time I attended a political rally was in 1992. I figured I was overdue, so I checked out Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s visit to Indianapolis Saturday. The Senator visited in advance of the May 6 Indiana primary, which given the closeness of the Democratic nomination race, is suddenly very important. Here are some observations and thoughts.
The event took place at a high school on the far west side of Indianapolis, near the airport, and was open only to people who had a ticket. I got one by being on the senator’s e-mail list. So nyah nyah nyah!
I ended up sitting by a woman in her late 40s, and since we had about two hours to kill, we talked a bit. Turned out she lives about three miles from me and is originally from St. Louis. We swapped stories about moving to Indianapolis, about her son and my daughters, and about what brought us to the event. Nice lady.
Just before Barack arrived, four African gentlemen took seats next to us. I know they were African because they mostly spoke French, and when they spoke English, they sounded like, well, West Africans. These guys were awesome. Think of when Prince Akeem goes to the Knicks game in <i>Coming to America</i>. At each applause line, all four jumped up, stomped their feet, and shouted, “YES!” They were feeling it!
Finally the Senator arrived and the place went crazy. The African fellows were really into the “Yes we can!” chant. I was seated about as far away from the stage as possible, although in the relatively small gym, I was probably 150 feet away. (Fuzziness in photo is from the distance and digital zoom.) It was interesting to see him in person after seeing him on TV so many times. Much of the stump speech was familiar to me. I always enjoy when politicians throw in lines for the local audience. As he was acknowledging the various labor unions present, he mentioned the boilermakers, which got a decidedly mixed response. He grinned, and said, “I was talking about the REAL boilermakers, but I know we have some Purdue folks here, too.” Pause for more mixed reaction. “But this is mostly IU country, right?” Huge cheers. I thought he was supposed to be a uniter!
After about a 15 minute speech, the floor opened up for a town hall style question session. I’ve heard often that he doesn’t do as well when he’s not working from a prepared text, and that was evident. It’s not he struggled, but you can see his mind working, making sure he’s hitting all his points. It’s also interesting to watch a politician answer a question by saying whatever he wants to say. That’s his job, after all. But I found myself thinking how a regular person would lose confidence at the end of such a response. “I don’t know if I answered your question or not,” is what many of us would say if we got away from the initial question. A politician, though, throws in an applause line and then moves on to the next question.
I went mostly to see him and be part of the event. I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know. And given how sore my behind was from sitting on a wooden bench for 3.5 hours, you could say it was a monumental waste of time when I could have caught the highlights on the news. But I really wanted to be there. When you believe in a candidate, it’s easy to get swept up in the momentum of the campaign. I felt like it was important to be there, to show my support visibly. There’s an interesting energy at a political rally. You feel empowered. You feel a sense of community despite the wide diversity in the crowd. You wonder how anyone could think differently.
More than anything, I felt as though the rally was a refuge. I’m not living in a state where very many people share my mix of political views. Most Democrats here are rather conservative. I would characterize myself as a strong social liberal, which might as well make me a Marxist in Indiana (Which is ironic, since Marxism was extreme leftist economic policy, and I consider myself only slightly left of center on economic matters). I’m always reluctant to talk about politics outside a small group of friends and family who share my core beliefs. That isn’t because I prefer an echo chamber environment where my views are reinforced and validated, or because I can’t defend my views. Rather, it’s because I tend to see politics as akin to religion: if you believe strongly in something, it is deeply personal. While I have no problem lambasting conservative politicians and talking heads who are in the public eye, I do have a hard time arguing with friends, family, and other regular people who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me. I don’t want them telling me that I am wrong, when they know little about how I came to hold the beliefs I hold. So I certainly can’t feel comfortable criticizing their beliefs. Being around 2000 other people who shared at least a few core beliefs while hearing a man we believe can make our country a better place is tremendously empowering.
Leaving the rally, I was filled with an energy and excitement about the process. I’m not a bumper sticker person when it comes to politics, and I have a firm policy about not giving money to political candidates. But I’ve been thinking about making a small donation to the campaign after I get my next paycheck. As much as I liked Obama to being with, I like the fact that his campaign is largely fueled by small donors who are regular people like me. I figure I can sacrifice two albums on iTunes to make a tiny statement in support of what he’s doing.
Also, I saw a man at the rally who reminded me of Oscar Robertson, who is an Indianapolis native. He was the original Big O, you know. Oprah has endorsed Barack. Just think if Oscar, Oprah, and Obama were in the same room. I think we’d be a Greg Ostertag away from opening some kind of space-time portal.
Oh, one other tidbit. I was sitting right above the media area, so I could watch the row of TV cameras and mostly regional reporters working. Right in front of me though, was CNN’s <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/CNN/anchors_reporters/malveaux.suzanne.html”>Suzanne Malveaux</a>. All I’ll say is I was surprised at how much I enjoyed watching her work.