(In lieu of my roundup, Mr. Abshier’s account will do just fine. – promoted by Clark)
NOTE: This is crossposted from Daily Kos.
What a difference three months make. Back in October, I attended a Barack Obama rally that was held in a parking lot at Union Station where he spoke before 800-1,000 people; I wrote a diary about attending the rally, which I got to watch from the front row, after which I encountered the Senator in a most unusual way. At that time Hillary Clinton still had a commanding lead in the national polls and in most of the states, including Missouri.
Now, in February, things have changed, and a mere parking lot (and not even all of that) cannot contain the sheer numbers of listeners and supporters that turn out for Obama these days. Last night’s rally took an indoor football stadium to hold the crowds, and there was no hope of us getting anywhere near the front!
There was a lot going on in downtown St. Louis last night, so we decided to park out near Forest Park and take the Metrolink in. We shared the ride with St. Louis Blues fans and young people going to the Soulard Mardi Gras. Even after all those people got off the train, we still had a lot left–then most of us got out at the Convention Center stop, the one closest to the Edward Jones Dome.
The only protestors (and not really that) was a pitifully small band of Ron Paul supporters:
One of the RP supporters had a hand-painted sign, apparently without irony or levity, that read, “real man of genius.” Someone has been listening to too many Bud Light radio ads!
It was immediately apparent that this was going to be a huge event. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch later reported that the line to get in stretched four blocks. Inside the erstwhile football stadium had the turf removed with a vast, bare, concrete floor revealed for the public to stand on. Even though we got there just after 7PM, it was impossible to get a spot close to the stage. Poor Nancy, wearing very fashionable high-heeled boots, ended up with sore feet well before the night was over.
Even after we got in, the crowds kept coming. By 8:30, they were just about filling in the entire floor of the Dome:
The crowd looked like an about equal mix of black and white, all standing together. Some of the attendees were dressed very nicely, others looked like they just crawled in from the Soulard Mardi Gras!
At 9PM the dignitaries took the stage, and Rep. William Lacy Clay (MO-1) introduced the event. From where we were standing, I couldn’t recognize him because he was so small; worse, the sound in our area was echoing so bad the only reason I knew it was Rep. Clay was because recognized his voice from the October 2007 rally! I was just about to give up on the event, then Nancy suggested we move to another area to see if it sounded better. We did find a spot where the speakers were just understandable, so we stayed there for the rest of the rally.
Claire McCaskill, the new Senator from Missouri, came out to introduce Obama, telling us to big cheers that the fire marshall estimated our crowd to be 20,000! After her introduction, Obama took the stage:
Two views of the vastness of the crowd. The top view is from the Obama campaign website; the bottom view is what we saw! That’s Obama on stage, just to the left of the raised arm and Claire McCaskill, in the red blazer. I think.
Obama began by thanking the politicans on stage who endorsed him, and got right to his stump speech. I had heard parts of the speech before, but I could tell he had refined his text since October of last year. He did not take any direct jabs at Hillary Clinton, other than his stock “end business as usual in Washington” meme. What he did do in this speech was get some more policy specifics out there, on health care, education, and the economy in particular.
I was struck by three lines in the speech (rush transcript from C-SPAN’s coverage), this first one concerning the economy and wages:
I will be a president who does not raise the minimum wage every 10 years, I will raise it every year to keep pace with inflation, because I believe that if you work in this country, you should not be poor. I want to lift people who work out of poverty, when I’m President of the United States!
Nancy and I looked at each other and said, “Edwards” at the same time, while the crowd cheered. I know I hadn’t heard that in his stump speech before. He was very complimentary towards John Edwards earlier in his speech. Just afterward he tied the plight of inner-city children to all children, much like his “brother’s keeper” section of his 2004 DNC speech.
The second thing I heard was this (again, from the C-SPAN coverage), discussing foreign policy and the Constitution:
We will lead by closing Guantanamo, restoring habeas corpus, and respecting human rights, and civil rights. We will lead by example, and being true to our values and our Constitution….If you are ready for change, you will have a President who taught the Constitution, believes the Constitution, and will obey the Constitution of the United States of America.
That brought the biggest cheers of the night, and brought the dignitaries on stage to their feet as he was delivering it, and chants of “Yes, we can!” from the crowd. I was glad to hear a straight-up defense of the Constitution and his promise to abide by it in a future Administration; but I could not escape the irony that he was making this argument in front of Claire McCaskill, who required damn near heaven and earth to move away from granting immunity to the telecoms in the FISA bill. I hope he worked on her some more on this behind the scenes.
In this third excerpt, Obama discusses the scurrilous emails making the rounds, tying it to those in Washington who do not want change:
I don’t know where these emails are coming from….when I read these emails saying, ‘I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag,’ I’ve been pledging allegiance since I was three!….When you hear some of these attacks, understand that folks are running the “okie-doke” on you. They are trying to bamboozle you. They are trying to hoodwink you.
A black man near us said out loud, “did he just say okie-doke?” It at least told me that some of us on the edges of the crowd were engaged! I later looked up the term on the Urban Dictionary:
Okie-doke: 1. Believing a lie;falling for a scam;a con-game;untruths;fraud etc. 2. A responder’s affirmation or confirmation to any directive or suggestion no matter how simple or rediculous.
Nice pushback, for those who know the meaning!
He finished with the section on hope that he introduced after the New Hampshire primary I believe, to thunderous effect, especially when he said, “This is our time! This is our moment!”. The cheering afterward was great, but we heard only a little bit of it, because we were racing out of the Dome to make the next Metrolink back to Forest Park.
I noticed that around the point that the speech moved past 20 minutes, people s
tarted to leave. Nearly all of them were in the very back, like us, and I suspect they were standing in sections that had the bad echoing that made the speeches virtually unintelligible. Quite a few were obvious Obama supporters, judging from the button collections on their lapels, and their disappointment was visible. They should re-think the Edwards Jones Dome as a good venue should Obama win the general election. Nonetheless, it was something to be a part of history in St. Louis. I have a feeling we will be seeing Barack Obama again, and not too long from now.