My friends, a couple and their two young girls, and I drove from Arkansas, two hours north to Springfield, Missouri for the Obama rally held Saturday night at a high school football field named JFK Stadium. We are not native Arkansans - we are the careerist transferees found in Corporate America who have lived in many big cities and small towns.
Once we arrived in the vicinity of the high school around 4 PM, we waited in very long line for three hours to pass through the security checkpoints. In the line, we had interesting conversations with others in the crowd, some of whom were wearing "Rednecks for Obama" bumper stickers on their jackets and shirts.
The long line stretched out for several blocks in a residential area. The Obama volunteers kept people moving in an orderly fashion and made sure we did not stray off the sidewalks into the street which had not been closed to traffic. There were a small number of protesters driving up and down the street, waving anti-Obama signs out their car windows, but they did not cause any problems. One man who lived in a house on the street had placed his van in his driveway, its boom box blasting the Sean Hannity radio show. He was screaming at the people lined up in front of his property but none of the Obama supporters in our portion of the line took his bait and yelled back at him. The man was very angry that thousands of Obama supporters were walking right in front of his home.
The crowd was estimated to be 30,000 to 40,000, far more than had turned up last week to see Governor Palin at the parking lot of the world headquarters of the Bass Pro Shop. It was a very polite and respectful crowd. I saw no pushing and shoving to get ahead of others in the long line to be admitted into the stadium and for the restrooms in the stadium. McCain/Palin strategists who have tried to scare small town and rural voters that Obama is a terrorist and a socialist should have been in Springfield last night - they would have seen firsthand that their fear mongering has not worked.
As we were standing in the end bleachers, listening to the warm up music, we were the first to see the caravan of SUVs and charter buses carrying Senator Obama, his family and the press corps driving up a long hill towards the stadium. It was very exciting to see all the flashing lights coming closer. Our section started cheering and waving, thus signaling to the rest of the stadium that the Senator was soon to arrive.
After the Invocation, the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of our National Anthem, and short speeches by local politicians, the highlight of the evening came. First, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, one of Senator Obama's earliest supporters, gave him a heartfelt endorsement and assured the hunters in the crowd that Senator Obama would not take away their guns as claimed by Republican robocalls. Then, Michelle Obama introduced her husband, and their beautiful daughters ran out onto stage with Senator Obama. Michelle and the girls left the stage while Senator Obama gave his rousing stump speech updated with a few jokes about Dick Cheney campaigning this weekend for Senator McCain and McCain having dressed up as George Bush for Halloween. Obama's voice was strained as he had been in Nevada and Colorado before arriving at the Missouri stadium around 9:15 PM. Unlike his opponents, there was nothing mean spirited in his remarks. He was talking about his policy differences with the Bush Administration and Senator McCain, not engaging in personal attacks.
What inspired me the most about the long afternoon and evening was the crowd. It really represented what Obama has reached out to throughout his long campaign - democrats, republicans and independents; blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians; young and young at heart; straight and gay; disabled and able bodied; and workers, farmers, business owners, health care professionals, and teachers. Even though he wants to bring back the Clinton era taxes on people earning more than $250,000 - there was no class warfare rhetoric that some other Democratic politicians have used.
I stood there with my friends and thousands of others cheering "Yes We Can", wearing my Obama/Biden T-shirt, "Republicans for Obama" button, and my White Sox baseball cap, since I, like Michelle Robinson Obama, was on the south side of Chicago.
The overwhelming spirit of the crowd and its leader was truly one of hope - hope that under an Obama presidency, we will move away from the divisive and ugly politics we have seen in recent years, and become unified as one nation - "indivisible with liberty and justice for all."