Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Hitting the ground running: Obama campaign in Ohio
With less than twenty-four hours notice, the Cincinnati Obama campaign volunteer meeting convened at New Friendship Baptist a block from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. tonight. Scheduled for 6:00 p.m., I arrived minutes after 6:00 scrambling for a parking place.
Reading Rd. became a gridlock of parking-spot-seeking vehicles. People of every age, color, both genders, both parties streamed into the Baptist church slipping on ice, shaking snow off of coats, squeezing through the narrow entryway, scooting together to make space for one another in the pews, aisles, along the walls. The event organizers had prepared for 5-600 people, but were overwhelmed by the estimated 1,000+ who showed up. They were turning people away from the doors after the event started! (Not until after the late Obama supporters filled out the vital volunteer information sheets, I'm sure!) The traffic jam lasted until halfway through our meeting... so many people kept trying to get to the church.
The event began with a bang! Right out of the gate, chants and cheers spontaneously erupted from all quarters. Any time a speaker moved to the mike, more chants, more cheers, more applause. A call and response of "Fired up?" "Ready to go!" boomed through the sanctuary.
The Obama ground crew who arrived just yesterday from the east coast were blown away by the turn out. As it is, I had several friends who couldn't make it but wanted to go. I shudder to think of how many more would have come had there been "advanced" warning of say, 48 hours or more!
I had a nice chat with a Democrat woman as we entered the building. She told me that she had worked the Kerry campaign and had been ambivalent between Hillary and Obama, when a friend invited her to this meeting. She read up on Obama and realized that she really could get behind his campaign and suddenly felt caught up in the momentum and enthusiasm of the race.
I sat with another woman who enthused that she loves being a part of campaigns and was thrilled to hear that it was my first. I was far from alone, however. At that moment, in walked another woman who explained that this was the first time she's ever been moved to be involved in a political campaign. We were all warmly welcomed by the old timers.
So much fun to have these little conversations.
I climbed the narrow staircase with the late ones who didn't fit in the lower level and sat in the balcony pews of the church, squeezed between two white middle-aged women on my left and a white 30 something father of two and several twenty-somethings (girls and guys) to my right. All around us were African Americans too. All together I looked out at the crowd and it was as diverse as any I've ever been a part of: elderly, young couples, children, ex-hippies, preppies, business men and women, Cincinnati orthodox and new-to-towners.
The main speaker (an African-American state senator) declared: "I think we've found a way to get white folk into a black church!" Indeed. At least fifty-fifty white/black and loads of women. Who says women are all for Hillary?
The walls were lined with those who couldn't find seats, those of us in the balconies had to prop ourselves on the backs of pews to see over the railing to the sea of people below. Glowing chandeliers, tall green stained glass, the baptismal hinting blue - all these were backdrop to energy, clapping, cheers, neighbors greeting neighbors. It's true that it felt more like a rally than an organizational meeting for volunteers. An eruption of cheering followed every announcement right down to "pass your volunteer information sheets to the center aisles." By then, the room was giddy with joy.
One woman (who is a major volunteer coordinator for the democrats in Cinci and had worked the Kerry campaign) explained how she had organized the volunteers in the past. She loves grassroots movements. But then she went on to explain: she had never seen anything like this before. The whole team seemed moved and startled by the turn out and gushes of enthusiasm!
We were commissioned to talk to ten people and get them to vote early or by absentee ballot. The team said that it's crucial that we set a pace for Obama before the official election date.
Additionally there was a call to talk to ten local women - we want to let women know why Obama is the better choice over Hillary and bring them to his team. It blew me away how many women are for Obama.
The team from the national campaign is very organized for moving in so quickly. All the areas of Cinci have been divided up with team leaders who've done it all before. No one expected the race to be this tight for Ohio so the campaign is utterly out of yard signs, buttons, t-shirts etc. They are having them special delivered this weekend.
Toward the end of the night, the event organizer asked for Republicans and Independents to raise their hands so he could see just how many were supporting Obama. I sheepishly raised mine. I looked out. Wow! Such a surprising number of R's and Indies!! Just in the balcony, there were 15-20. We got applause and then after we broke, several people stopped to talk to me. The guy on my right was terrific. He told me his wife has been a lifelong R also but that after 8 years with Bush, she is throwing in the towel too and turning to Obama.
One thing he said that I enjoyed hearing: he likes Obama's tone in this race. He mentioned what has troubled me about her stump speeches. She often makes inadvertent negative remarks that reflect badly on conservatives, even the ones who support her. I wondered if I was the only one who noticed that. It was nice to hear a died-in-the-wool democrat make the same observation unprompted by me.
We were urged to email our friends in Ohio about why we are supporting Barack, to write letters to the editor, to call into radio shows. We were then told sternly that this is a positive campaign and that they do not want us attacking Hillary or being negative to get votes. Our job is to tell the world why we think Obama is the best candidate, not to attack any others. Isn't that awesome? The "positive campaign" statement brought thundering applause.
I gave my email address to the woman organizing the women for Obama and met the coordinator for our suburb. We have a honk and wave downtown at 5:15 tomorrow night (for those in Cincinnati interested in attending). We're meeting at Grater's in Fountain Square. Saturday, we'll meet at the Cinci HQ at 10:00 for our first widespread canvassing event. If you want to come, email me and I'll give you directions and information.
Truly an inspirational, exciting time in our city. One of our state level officials (now in his 60s) made the comment that his first election was when JFK was running for office. He said that this is the first time since then that he's had the same kind of optimism for and inspiration from a candidate. Something's different. That's for sure.
Photos were taken before the event started. It was too packed once it got going to take any more!