After years of being an Obama supporter and months of being a campaign volunteer, it's been a bit surreal this week to find that Barack was going to be in Columbia Missouri where I was already scheduled to do work this weekend and that he's speaking tonight down the street from my house in Highland, Indiana. I went with a group of friends last night to the rally at the University of Missouri. Being women of a certain age, we decided to avoid the mile long lines (which began at noon) and to go over to a side of campus where we could (kind of) see the stage from a parking lot. A local t-shirt shop was selling $5 t-shirts with "Missouri for Obama" logos, and during the afternoon, campaign volunteers were out with clipboards signing up people to work on Election Day. One of the many impressive things about this campaign is their emphasis on grassroots work and commitment-even now, just a few days away from the election.
Our group included a university faculty member, two lawyers, and an arts administrator, all white women, some who are in domestic partnerships. It was a beautiful night, unseasonably warm, but not hot, that perfect temperature where the air feels like a caress. As we walked toward the rally, "Missouri for Change" in white letters glowed in the darkness against the backdrop of the dramatically lit dome of Jesse Hall. We joined a group in the parking lot, some standing on folding chairs which included young co-eds in Halloween costumes (cat ears with painted on whiskers, a tiara wearing student in a black raincoat, and several in short skirts and high heels); a woman in a flannel shirt smoking a cigarette, families, and lots and lots of students of every race and color, many wearing "Mizzou" T-shirts and other campus gear. There was a group of four young men with a "firefighters against socialism" poster, but they seemed as forlorn as the single McCain/Palin sign next to a Fox News Satellite truck - all off to the side as if already disappearing from the scene. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan spoke to cheers from my group as she talked about Democratic candidates. I moved around taking photos of the crowd and then we saw the press buses pull up and knew that Senator Obama was about to speak. Several songs played, I honestly can't remember which ones, (a mix of R&B and country) but many of the crowd danced and a young couple did a great swing dance together. The speech, which we could hear perfectly, was well received, especially when Obama talked about making college affordable. Many of the crowd we were with are too young to understand the implications of health care insurance issues, but our group cheered lustily for his pitch to make the same health care senators receive available and affordable to everyone. What impressed me about the crowd was the diversity- six years ago, when one of my sons entered Mizzou as a freshman, the orientation speaker joked that there was great diversity at Mizzou, "we let people from Kansas attend." That was only a partially a joke in this state, where "show me" is the motto and my son was shocked at some of the attitudes of his classmates having grown up in a liberal integrated urban suburb on the west side of Chicago. To see a crowd where a black male student had a white female student sitting on his shoulders so she could see the stage represents a sea change.
Imagine my surprise, when I arrived back at my hotel last night to find a Secret Service guy and a Columbia policewoman standing nearly outside of my door. As a peace activist and a child of the 60s, my first thought was to be mildly paranoid. I was arrested last year for civil disobedience as part of the Occupation Project (http://vcnv.org/project/the-occupation-project) for refusing to leave the doorway of Senator Evan Bayh's Hammond IN office until he would speak to Hoosier constituents about the war in Iraq. Although the charges were dropped, (with Bayh finally speaking in person to 50 of us after three months of negotiations with his staff), I still get a little nervous-those of us who spent our youth as activists remember being routinely followed and photographed and some experiences are hard to shake.
It turned out that Senator Obama was staying here, meaning that this blogger is just barely 'off the bus', two of which were parked outside. I was awoken this morning by officers outside my window letting dogs out to search the area so got up and spent part of the morning chatting with "Barbara" the policewoman and her fellow officer "Bob, (who pulled an all night shift) a genial African-American man. Barbara is a Republican but I think she may vote for Obama (she wouldn't tell me) -she studied psychology and did a research project on post-traumatic stress and we talked about the problems for so many veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's a VA hospital in Columbia and they come here for treatment, but often end up homeless with no support system. I also chatted with a family from Alabama who are here for a wedding-one of the women is an Obama supporter (and a teacher) and she told me that she can't even put up a yard sign. Her sister in law is a die hard Republican and we had a brief exchange about tax implications on small businesses (she is convinced they will be taxed 50%- I tried to convince her that she was wrong-she also thinks of the New York Times as a" liberal lie machine") before she wisely said we should just let it drop. (I'm one of those volunteers who have a hard time following the directive to just say "thank you" when you run into a "Strong McCain" supporter.)
Having spent last night straining to see Senator Obama at the rally, I figured it was worth it to wait in the lobby-our little group drank the free coffee and watched the elevator. Barbara went out to the parking lot and a lot more men in suits with earpieces came down into the lobby and then "whoosh"- a huddle came out of the elevator, jumped into a car and was gone. We were convinced that Senator Obama had gone out of a fire exit, but the officers told us he was in the huddle. A group of journalists and camera crew, who had been hanging out in the lobby, went out the front door and got on their bus. The next group of journalists came down, (I guess they get to sleep a few minutes later) and I recognized Richard Wolffe, Newsweek's Senior White House correspondent, who I know from his appearances on Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC. My friends the officers told me to go say "hi" so I did and told him how much we enjoy his commentary. He was incredibly gracious, I don't know how often Newsweek writers get recognized; so perhaps he isn't cynical about press groupies. I went back to work on this entry but heard a lot of noise outside my room. It turns out that Senator Obama hadn't left Columbia; he had gone to work out-and was back to change. I spent a half hour chatting with another member of the wedding party, "Kelly," who went to the J School (Journalism) at Mizzou and lives in Kansas City. She is an independent but has drunk the kool aid (sorry Kelly) and is voting for McCain. She's well read, is home schooling her young children, and has made up her mind that John McCain and Sarah Palin are better for the country than Barack Obama. Her big issue seemed to be feeling that Obama hadn't voted enough and she has also bought into the "socialism" diatribe. I urged her to read "Factcheck.org" before she voted and she agreed she might, but she seemed pretty convinced. After many more minutes of waiting and watching the Secret Service, the hotel staff went out for a photo op and we thought we had missed our chance, but two minutes later, Senator Obama came strolling back into the lobby, shook hands and asked three young children their names, told them he wished he could get back in his pj's, waved to the rest of us and left. He looked tired but when he greeted those kids, his face lit up. I can't imagine what it's like to be Barack Obama, but being on just a portion of his road trip this week makes me amazed at his dedication and stamina and even more importantly, thrilled, that someone who will take that extra moment for a child is going to be our next President.