Our trip to see Barack Obama speak in Indianapolis yesterday was worth every minute of the drive, the wait in the incredibly long line, and the additional wait in the damp, cool outdoor grandstand where we sat. The man is a tremendous presence, and he spoke of working together, of making our country and the world a better place, of making sure that average people can lead good lives. He was phenomenal.
We arrived an hour before the gates opened, and the line was already at least a quarter mile long, wrapping around the buildings of the Indiana State Fairgrounds, with more people arriving constantly from all directions. It was the most diverse crowd I’ve ever been part of — black and white; older people, 20-somethings, and elementary school groups; union groups wearing matching shirts; people in all varieties of Obama-wear. While we waited, volunteers went up and down the line asking people to consider volunteering to help the campaign for a few hours between now and Nov. 4. Other folks demonstrated the spirit of free enterprise by selling buttons, hats, and t-shirts.
Once the gates opened, the line moved fairly quickly. At the base of the Security personnel checked all bags and belongings, and everyone walked through a metal detector. Volunteers were everywhere, directing people to seating. One of them pointed out the way to the infield, where we could be near the stage. It sounded good, so we gave it a try; and yes, we were probably only about 50 feet from the podium, but we were also standing in about 4 inches of mud — and would be for at least 3 hours, packed into the crowd. Sitting in the grandstand began to look like a good idea, so we moved up into the seats. Because we were there so early, we got excellent seats near the center and not too far up, close enough to see the speakers’ faces.
We were surrounded by happy, excited humanity. A couple with a sweet and charming 9-month-old girl sat in front of us. The 2 hours of waiting passed quickly, and the constant influx of people continued. An excellent assortment of music played over the loudspeakers; we agreed that we’d buy a CD compilation of Obama campaign music (and it looks like we can!). We were interested to see six sharpshooters setting up on top of two large vans to either side of the stage area; their weapons were in bags, not visible but within easy reach, and they spent the entire event scanning the surrounding area with binoculars. (Talk about a stressful job: constant vigilance, all the while hoping you never have to do what you’ve been trained to do.)
By 11:45, when the first speaker came to the podium, the grandstand was full (it holds about 14,000) and latecomers were being directed to the infield. We heard from a volunteer organizer, from the Indianapolis congressman, and from Jill Long Thompson, who’s running for governor. Then there was a short break, followed by an amazing new song; I didn’t know what it was at the time, but told Doug that it sounded like Lionel Ritchie. Turns out I was right: It’s a song called “Eternity,” with Ritchie’s singing mixed with Obama’s words. You can hear a sample here. (It gives me chills.) At the same moment, Obama’s motorcade entered the fairgounds area, and the crowd erupted.
First on the stage was Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, who was in the running for VP. He gave an excellent short speech, including the story of how his father took him to see Lyndon Johnson speak in Indianapolis — the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry Indiana. Bayh brought his two sons to hear Obama yesterday, hoping that they’ll once again witness a Democrat carrying the state. It appears astonishingly possible. Then, Bayh introduced “the next President of the United States: Barack Obama!”
Obama walked onto the stage to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.” He began by commenting, “What a magnificent crowd!” I agree, particularly because it was the middle of the day on a rainy, cool weekday in Indiana. He spoke for about 45 minutes, covering all his major campaign themes but also touching on some new points and covering economic issues in more depth. (Speaking about those who will get a tax cut: “Let’s see a show of hands: How many of you are making less than a quarter million dollars a year? [Pretty much every hand goes up] Yeah, that looks like a majority!”) Several times, he got really fired up in a way I haven’t seen at the Democratic Convention or in the debates, and it was marvelous to hear the emotion and commitment in his voice. As he finished, the music came up: Stevie Wonder singing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Perfect.
As we made our way out, my son commented, “That was amazing.” We left feeling energized, excited, hopeful, and most of all positive. Obama made no personal attacks; he talked about the need to make changes that will transform our country and help all Americans. It was a message of cohesion, of national pride and strength, of the hopes that we all share, and of his readiness to lead the country forward.
It was a great day, and we heard a great message from a great man.