Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Barack Obama Rally in Kansas City

I promised more details about the Obama Rally Greg and I went to in Kansas City on Saturday. Multiple people have asked for lots of specifics so I'm going to try and answer the questions here.

The upshot of it was that it was a moment. A real moment. I felt honored to be a witness to it.

Obama gives me hope. True hope that things can be better - for everyone - rich and poor alike. He gives me hope that there will never be another New Orleans, where our fellow Americans are left to die because the party in the white house has no compassion for those who are not rich enough to contribute to political campaigns. He gives me hope that all children will have an opportunity to go to school, because education really is the key to changing a life. He gives me hope we can have an administration that believes health care for everyone is a right, not a privilege only for those who can pay more than a thousand dollars a month for insurance. He gives me hope we can do better for the environment and improve our standing in the world.

It was incredible to be present with such a diverse group of people all focused on one goal - to elect this man president.

It was a process to get to the point where we were able to witness this. I found out about the KC rally Thursday evening at the Obama rally in Hutchinson. Apparently I had gotten an email but they come in so fast and furious I hadn't yet read it. But, Samantha Finke, the Obama person in Kansas, mentioned it in her remarks.

I asked her afterwards about the possibility of press credentials and she told me what I had heard before - that the Obama folks are pretty friendly to bloggers. It makes complete sense, of course, particularly for bloggers like me who are very friendly to the campaign to begin with. Obviously, I'm not likely to say much negative. This blog isn't news. I did impartial news for a long time. This blog is just my opinion and thoughts - not news - and I have no reason to be impartial. So, they're likely to get some really positive comments, which are then read by others, who may pick them up and spread them further, making it the very definition of grass roots. Of course, they also gave press credentials to bloggers not so friendly to them at the convention.

Anyway, that night I emailed my board asking if someone could work Saturday afternoon for me at a health fair the MHA was committed to. Two folks said yes, and that meant I could proceed with going to Kansas City. The doors were supposed to open for the Obama rally at 4 p.m., and he was supposed to speak at 6, so I figured we'd get there in time to get through the doors since we're about a four hour drive from KC.

Friday Greg and I applied for press credentials. They said they would let us know if they could not accommodate us. We kept checking our email all afternoon and evening, relieved every time that didn't have an email from them.

Saturday morning I went to the MHA event and Greg called the press contact to confirm we were good to go. He also talked with the editor of a magazine we had worked for before, who sent us an assignment letter in case we needed it because she wanted some material from the event, too.

By 12:05, we were leaving Hutchinson because my board member arrived early. Thank you, Betsy! We made a beeline for KC.

We came in on 70, and planned to take Main Street but saw the sign that it was closed from 4-6 p.m. So, we went in on Broadway. We were stopped as the motorcade passed by. We can't say specifically that it was Obama, but we could see the media in one bus, secret service in multiple vehicles, and the whole convoy being escorted by police.

As we got closer to Liberty Memorial, but long before we were near the grounds, we could see people lined up waiting to get in. It was 4:08 p.m.

At first I was confused because people were headed both directions in places. Then I realized that people were walking toward the back of the line, which stretched blocks into the distance from Memorial Drive, which comes off of Main Street, where you walk up the hill to approach the long drives going to the memorial. Later we learned they had opened the doors early because the crowd was so large.

We proceeded on and eventually parked across from Union Cemetery at about 29th and Cherry Streets, up a hill that seemed much bigger when we were walking up it after the event was over.

I did this map so you could get a sense of the layout. It's followed by one of Greg's photos that shows the setup. You can see just how many people are there. They estimated 75,000.

The people sitting down here are in the handicapped section. There were no other seats for the public. The press platform is behind them. Greg took this from the far end of the platform.

I was standing right at the barricade between the press area and the handicap section and had an edge on view of the podium. Greg took this photo of me from the other press platform. You can see me in the green, and the edge of the press platform and steps to my right.

Before Obama spoke I moved up a few steps to the barricade, which was near the guy in the yellow shirt. He is leaning on it from the other side. Below is a photo I took from that location, where I stayed the whole time except one brief foray onto the podium to look out at the crowd.

I didn't crop this any closer so you could see the Secret Service guy in the lower right corner. They're always watching you watching whatever. And I'm thankful. I want them watching out for Obama.

An opening prayer was offered for Obama's safety, and also for McCain's safety, and that of all other candidates.

When we arrived, we had no idea where to check in for press, but eventually found it. We had to go through a security screening, as you would expect. We were wanded - like they do at the airport, and a dog sniffed our bags for explosives. Once we were in the press area we were not allowed to leave that secure area.

There was a tent set up for the traveling press to file their stories, and tables with power set up for other press outside the tent. There were two platforms. One to the south of the stage so you were looking at his left side, and one to the west so you were seeing him straight on.

You can see the press tent in the background here. I took a photo of the volunteer passing out the signs people are holding up. They just had a big stack of them on a table in the press area and when the speakers started they began passing them out.

The orange sticker you can see on this woman's Mizzou sweatshirt was an essential to get in. Everyone filled out a little form and you got a sticker to indicate you had done it.

It was shortly after 5 when Governor Sebelius came out and took a photo of the crowd with her phone.

She was one of the speakers along with the Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee, former Kansas City Mayor and current Congressman, Emanuel Cleaver, Representative Ike Skelton and others. They were all pretty brief, and Obama started speaking about 6:15. Greg shot a video of the introduction.

The crowd went nuts when he was introduced. People near me were beside themselves. People were clapping. People were cheering. People were crying. I was talking to an elderly lady nearby who said she "never thought she'd see the day" when she would be able to vote for a black man for president.

It was a moment to remember. Just to be witness to it was incredible. They say the 100,000 people in St. Louis was his largest crowd for a rally yet, so the 75,000 in KC had to be a close second I would think - and both of them were in the same day.

Obama gave his standard speech, with some slight changes, as is the norm at these sort of things. But I was moved to see him in person.

As I wrote the other day, he gives me hope. I want the things he talks about - not just for me, but for all of us. I want everyone to have healthcare and good education and decent jobs and a stake in the American dream. His ideals are mine. He's much more eloquent about them than I am, but his thoughts about how all Americans should be able to live are what I want.

I have no problem with people being rich. I know some people who would qualify as "rich," even by McCain's standard of making more than a half million dollars. They're nice folks. Many of them are Obama supporters. They, too, want education and healthcare and a better environment and economic well-being for everyone because they understand that when one of us suffers we are all diminished.

Seeing Obama was inspiring. Not just seeing him, but seeing people react to him. This is a moment in our nation's history. A real moment. It felt so wonderful to be in a crowd of people of all colors and ages, all of us supporting the same man to lead us from the dark days we are in now.

We are in definite need of change. No question about it.

I've never identified too much with the democratic party, as opposed to the individual candidates, until the last few years when the Republican party became the party of the Evangelical Christian Right. I'm afraid I can no longer distinguish the two- they are one and the same now. I keep expecting "true" republicans to split and form a new party, leaving the remains of the republican party to the religious right.

For the first time in ages, we have a democratic candidate who has served notice he will not allow attacks to go unanswered, he will not have his patriotism questioned, and he will put forth true ideals of how things can be for the average person.

We are close to having him elected. We are very close. But you need to make sure everyone you know votes on November 4. We're feeling good but we cannot let that become complacency and lose this in the last stretch. It's not done. Do what you can. Make sure those in your own circle are voting. Call people in swing states. If you can give money, do. Just don't assume we're done. We're not done until the polls close everywhere on November 4. I think I'm going to take the day off to make calls to swing states.

MoveOn.org offered these ideas today and I think they're good ones. Forward to your friends.


1. The polls may be wrong.
This is an unprecedented election. No one knows how racism may affect what voters tell pollsters—or what they do in the voting booth. And the polls are narrowing anyway. In the last few days, John McCain has gained ground in most national polls, as his campaign has gone even more negative.

2. Dirty tricks. Republicans are already illegally purging voters from the rolls in some states. They're whipping up hysteria over ACORN to justify more challenges to new voters. Misleading flyers about the voting process have started appearing in black neighborhoods. And of course, many counties still use unsecure voting machines.

3. October surprise. In politics, 15 days is a long time. The next McCain smear could dominate the news for a week. There could be a crisis with Iran, or Bin Laden could release another tape, or worse.

4. Those who forget history... In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote after trailing by seven points in the final days of the race. In 1980, Reagan was eight points down in the polls in late October and came back to win. Races can shift—fast.

5. Landslide. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, passing universal health care and a new clean-energy policy is going to be hard. Insurance, drug and oil companies will fight us every step of the way. We need the kind of landslide that will give Barack a huge mandate.


Many of the photos here were taken by Greg.
See Greg's post about the event:

See my earlier post:

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