Sunday's star-studded rally at UCLA for Democratic hopeful Barack Obama offered his California supporters one last chance to gather together on behalf of their candidate before the state's primary on Tuesday. And while the email stated that doors open at 11:30, more than two hour's wait was required before the first speaker arrived.
Outside, Obama volunteers urged supporters to join the Get Out the Vote effort and passed out copies of phone numbers, complete with what to say and how to react. Other volunteers passed out the left-wing, bilingual paper, Nuestro Mundo, and a guide for environmentalists on the upcoming ballot measures ("VOTE NO on EVERYTHING (except Prop. 92 to help Community Colleges)")
Conversation in the lines ranged from the injustice of the prolonged Iraq War to the belief that Rep. Maxine Waters owed too many favors to the Clintons to afford endorsing anyone but Hillary. I asked Memphis, a youthful African American why he was supporting Obama. His response was similar to that of most other Obama supporters. "I love what he represents for the country. He has the opportunity to unite people, bring them together, be honest...he has a lot of integrity with him."
Mabel Suzuki, who came all the way from Hawaii, came in support of the native son. "He's a fresh voice, fresh ideas, and I must say I'm really impressed with his wife," she beams.
It's here in the rallies that you realize, first-hand, how staged the democratic process can be. I was given an Obama rally sign only after agreeing to sit in one of the "TV seats," where I could be filmed. The supporters sitting in front of the "UCLA hearts Obama" poster were asked to be seated elsewhere so the sign could be properly filmed.
The Pauley Pavilion was filled about halfway, and it was awkward watching the speakers face the side with only a few dozen people (but a lot of cameras) while the main supporters sat behind them. Non-Latinos raised "Latinos for Obama" signs while men were also given "Women for Obama" signs.
The constituency courted that afternoon rested primarily with women, and, indeed, all the speakers, save Stevie Wonder, were women. Four female campaign workers spoke on the need for change, their messages interrupted only with chants of "Yes, we can," "Sí, se puede," or simply, "Obama." And on this Super Bowl Sunday, the crowd was named as both the giants and the patriots of this country by the very first speaker.
A half hours' wait was required before the main attraction, the trifecta of Michelle Obama-Oprah Winfrey-Caroline Kennedy, would come. In the meanwhile, the crowd was shown the celeb-filled "Yes We Can" music video.
fter the wait, Kennedy came out first, proclaiming that you should ask not what our country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country. During her turn, Oprah shared with the world the fact that she was "dancing in [her] pjs" when she read Caroline Kennedy's endorsement. She also gave an anecdote about a friend's three-year-old, who, while watching a Republican debate, asked "Where's Obama?" A more serious note was raised when she addressed allegations that she was betraying her gender. "I've been a woman my entire life," she joked. "No, I'm not a traitor. I'm just following my own truth, and that truth has led me to Barack Obama." She also claimed that whether or not the candidate is female or African American shouldn't matter, and that voters should cast their ballot for Obama because he's "brilliant."
Michelle Obama also gave an eloquent performance, speaking about Sen. Barack Obama's days as a community organizer, working in the "toughest neighborhoods" and his years as a state senator, reforming the death penalty. She said she stood before them as a product of the nation's school system and addressed the realities of middle and working class Americans, juggling jobs and children to make ends meet.
And the crowd was pleasantly surprised to see first lady Maria Shriver attend the event, although her introduction suggested that she wasn't here to endorse Obama, but instead to talk about the political process. But endorse she did, in a state where Obama is coming neck in neck with Hillary Clinton in the polls. "I thought if Barack Obama would be a state, he'd be California, open, smart, independent, bucks tradition, inspiring, dreamer, leader," she said.
As we all do love political punches, here they are: One speaker proclaimed that to vote for more of the same is a "fairy tale." And Michelle Obama said that Obama was not naïve. But, mostly, the speeches focused on change and the promise that their candidate brought.
And while the audience was pumped up ("Fired up, Ready to Go" read one sign), it was also evident that Obama himself was not present, though it's not hard to miss his picture in the sea of supporters. Nor is it hard to miss the sense of optimism and preparation for change among the 9,000 some people who came out.