Every so often, you go to one of these events and see something special. I'm not talking about Maria Shriver, yet.
One of the first speakers was a woman named Susan, a 93 year-old Korean-American and veteran of the Navy in World War II. She talked about going to basic training in the deep South and seeing segregation up close for the first time. "We've come a long way," she said, and in an auditorium filled with people of all races and ethnicities, uniting around one candidate, it rang true.
Oh yeah, there was this too:
more on the flip...
Being on the campus of UCLA, the demographic was very young. It was the first time I've seen a crowd do "the wave' at a political event. There were homemade signs and banners everywhere, and a bunch of iconic-looking posters, designed by Shepard Fairey, with a roto-scoped drawing of Obama and the word "Hope." (We snagged one.)
After the pre-program, which featured Susan as well as some California legislative leaders (the two highest-ranking woman in the California Legislature, Asm. Majority Leader Karen Bass and Sen. Majority Leader Gloria Romero, are supporting Obama), Buffy Wicks, a field coordinator with the California campaign, took the stage. They instituted an "adopt-a-precinct program" at the event. Each attendee was given a call script and a sheet with a couple dozen names from the Voter Activation Network (VAN) list, which has been developed over the past couple years as a pretty well-scrubbed voter contact database. I'm not sure that this will result in a ton of calls, and certainly the campaign is relying on other sources than people who showed up to a rally. But it gives the people that attended a sense of investment in the campaign, a chance to do more than show up, to really participate in their democracy. And that's really an invaluable sense of empowerment.
After that, the JumboTron at Pauley Pavillion played the "Yes We Can" song that has been generating such buzz online (incidentally, Scarlet Johansson is the "Dan Aykroyd in We Are The World" of that song). And then, out came LA labor leader and campaign co-chair Maria Elena Durazo to introduce Caroline Kennedy. Caroline is not entirely comfortable in this format, but she held some authority as she addressed the crowd. She said that she is not normally involved in politics, but this year is different, and she saw in Obama someone that inspired her the way others tell her that her dad inspired them.
Oprah Winfrey was next, with a short but powerful speech that kind of seemed to be more about answering her own critics than talking about Sen. Obama. Oprah can definitely work a crowd, and she got them into a frenzy by speaking about how this campaign on the Democratic side is a declaration of victory for women's and civil rights. "I hear a lot of people say 'How could you, Oprah, you're a traitor to your gender.' But I'm a free woman, and I'm following my own truth." She recycled a Toni Morrison quote about how Obama has a creative imagination (that's certainly what you see in the "Yes We Can" song, which he didn't create, but inspired) and wisdom, in her view a gift that can't be taught or borne from experience.
Oprah brought out who we thought was the final speaker, and at Michelle Obama's side, unexpectedly, was Stevie Wonder. He connected the opportunity of Obama to the realizing of seeing an MLK holiday and the end of apartheid in South Africa. I'd say it was over the top, but it was Stevie Frackin' Wonder. He ended with a little musical number.
I had never seen Michelle Obama speak before. She has learned well for her experience in this campaign. Talking without notes, she told her own story, her husband's, and the story of America, with the struggles of the working classes at the forefront. It was almost a speech John Edwards could have given, with a good deal of populism and concern for the working man. She talked about how the nation is too isolated, too cynical, too guided by a fear which clouds our judgment and cuts us off from each other. "I am what an investment in public education looks like," she said as she discussed life on the South Side of Chicago, growing up with a father with a disability who nevertheless provided for his family in an era when a city worker's salary could do that much. She really kind of hearkened back to a simpler time in America, before the middle class squeeze, when regular folks didn't get the shaft. We have, Michelle said, evoking her husband's speech in an Atlanta church the day before the King holiday, an empathy deficit, a lack of fulfilling our mutual obligation to one another. "Our souls are broken in this nation."
It was striking, bold, almost angry at what has happened "through Democratic and Republican administrations" over the last few decades. I didn't expect a speech so focused on our forgotten commitments to family and community, on the needs of all of us to lift each other up, on the repeated phrase "to whom much is given, much is expected." Her recitation of Barack's resume was familiar, but it was the presentation, the stridency in the voice. "Sometimes we don't know what the truth looks like because we haven't seen it in so long... Barack will NEVER allow you to go back to your lives."
Look, I agree. We should be angry about what has been done to our country. We should demand more of our leaders and ourselves. We should have a persistent voice in our ears telling us that we can accomplish our goals, we can live out our dreams, that we "are better than anyone's limited expectations."
Then there was the bit of news made at this event, about a Mrs. Shriver who showed up at the end. I pasted the video above, so you can see it for yourself. I consider it very significant. It will be an above-the-fold story for two days in California, given all the drama of a family split, the mystique of the Kennedys, etc. Moreover, Democrats generally like the first family for whatever reason, and so it has a real-world residual effect. But really, Shriver's speech folded nicely into the Obama message, this idea that we are the ones we have been waiting for, that change begins with you, as it says on Obama's Super Bowl ad.
Obviously there have been significant gains for Obama in the Golden State over the past week. Based on what I had seen from the delegate allocation (particularly that practically every Congressional district with a heavy Latino population offers 4 delegates, which means Obama will split those while winning extra delegates elsewhere), I was ready to predict that Obama would lose the popular vote while taking the majority of the delegates. Now, I'm almost ready to believe the words of one supporter, moments after Shriver took the stage.
"We just took California. We just took California."
Here are some pics:
UPDATE: A few more pics (some aren't so hot):