What an interesting morning it was. After scurrying about getting ready for some Trustees who were visiting, I scurried to campus...only to find the secret service had blocked my only route to my office/parking spot. Now, I was forewarned that this might be a possibility, but I think the email used vague terminology like "possibly" etc. So, I ended up driving in a different entrance and going the wrong way for a few hundred yards (rebel!).
Anywho...all the hub-bub was for Barack Obama, who visited campus today for a 10 am campaign stop. Several of us had procured tickets just to see the excitement and witness an historical event. I have great respect for Senator Obama, who seems to be the first viable black man to run for President (I don't count anyone who has preceded him as viable--my opinion, I guess). Rock Hill is known for the "Friendship Nine" a group of young men who staged one of the earliest lunch-counter sit-ins in the Civil Rights movement (you can still eat lunch there...now it's called the Old Town Bistro). We're a town who just this week had their mayor apologize to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga) for his getting beaten up at a bus station here years and years ago on a Freedom Riders stop-over. And today, I saw all colors, shapes, and sizes gathered to hear the words of Barack Obama, whose star is obviously rising. So I had to be proud of our gathering...several hundred strong to at least LISTEN to a man who would never have had this opportunity just 20 or 30 years ago.
My co-worker pulled rank in grand style to help a group of us skip the hundreds-long security line and get bumped to the VIP entrance (ha! Go Betty!). We walked through airport-style security with the step-through, wands, hand searching of bags, etc. It all felt very important.
Mostly I sat and absorbed the secret service men and women in their efficient black suits, green lapel pins, walkietalkie watches, and alert eyes. One of them was nearly 7' tall and BIG. I would not like to tangle with him. The room was abuzz with excitement each time someone stepped up to the podium. Some of the "in the know" volunteers began chanting "FIRED UP!" to which folks responded "READY TO GO!" and back and forth for several minutes they went as more and more voices joined them like a high school pep rally.
We were impatient--waiting through sound checks, local organizers, and some lady who was supposed to warm up the crowd and had the personality of day-old bread (sorry, she was really not a warmer-upper...I'm sure she's lovely over lunch).
I cannot pretend to agree with all of his stances. I'm a conservative at heart without a party to call my own. But I realize that just because we have come to expect everything in our lives to be customized exactly to our liking, that I will not find a candidate who is just as passionate about relieving tax pressures and he (or she) is about reforming the education system and making large strides toward environmental wellness. So, I pick my battles with my vote. Ultimately, I can't ask much more of the government than I'm willing to do with my own time and resources. But I digress...
For a Pentecostal girl, the speech and reaction felt very natural. There was the familiar call and response of his saying something that folks agreed with and the applause that erupted. There were those familiar with that process who would verbally "Ummm Hmmmm" in agreement, and then those (mostly white folk) who wanted to respond in some way and without the benefit of such church-training would belt out a "Whoooo!" I don't judge. However you want to affirm, go for it. It was just enjoyable to watch everyone sort that out. He said a few things that made me clap...talking about equity in education, paying teachers what they deserve, NAFTA-bashing, and bringing jobs/labor back to American soil. He said a few things I decidedly did NOT clap for, as I won't disrespect a sitting President/VP for whom I seem to have a great deal more tolerance than most of those present. But again, he's just doing his "job." I was waiting for the Hammond B3 organ to kick in and start the double time special, boom-chick style and for the robed gospel choir to come rolling out of the crowd. (that sentence was primarily for my Pentecostal/black church friends) Not to be stereotypical, but there was that feeling...that feeling of hope and excitement and unity...and imminent singing.
I don't have to agree with him, but I applaud him and his staff members for pulling off something I wasn't sure I'd ever see in my lifetime. Maybe it's especially poignant in this week of Martin Luther King, Jr. day celebrations, having recently seen the "I Have a Dream" footage, and having revisited images of "colored" bathrooms and water fountains...
I have been blessed to have grown up in a world where we have been taught not to judge a man by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. Sadly, we have many more generations to go before that might be the norm. The sins of our forefathers are still catching up to us in that regard. Hatreds run deep, and forgiveness is slow-growing in pockets of our country. Tensions are still high in 2008, but we're getting there. I enjoyed my moments with the Barack-star today.