A marching band, singing, and the National Anthem preceded long-time Civil Rights activist and Southern Christian Leadership Conference co-founder, Reverend Joseph Lowery, who asked everyone to hold hands and bow their heads, and then gave the invocation.
Obama regaled the multiracial, multi-generational crowd by saying that before declaring his candidacy he checked with his two higher powers: God and his wife.
National challenges and proposed solutions. Among challenges facing the country, the candidate cited the lack of universal health care, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal, and the petty politics in Washington. Also, a failing educational system, pollution, energy dependency, a sluggish economy, and the struggles of the middle class.
Obama outlined highlights of his political agenda: universal health care and more money for preventive medicine, raising the minimum wage and allowing more unions to organize, paying teachers more, and helping the U.S. automotive industry to increase fuel efficiency. The crowd cheered loudest when he condemned the war in Iraq. "But we're not going to be able to even get started on some of these problems unless we bring an end to this senseless war in Iraq," Obama said.
Remembering earlier struggles and campaigns. The rally evoked for Carolyn and me memories of our student years. I remembered hearing John F. Kennedy give a campaign stump speech in my girlhood neighborhood, New York City's Upper West Side. We both felt nostalgia for the wondrously heart-lifting and faintly dispiriting rallies and protest marches we participated in during the 1960s Civil Rights and Vietnam War era — I in Boston and she in South Carolina, Atlanta, and Washington, DC (in the 1969 March on Washington).
Reunion with Donovan! One of my sweet chance encounters today was bumping into Donovan (posing with me on the left). I met him, his mom, and younger brother, Davis, last summer at an interview with John Lewis, my Georgia US Congressman. (I took a photo of Davis at the interview, and added it to my previous blog entry on Incident, a powerful poem I was thinking about a lot during that dreadful summer when my cousin was killed.)
Donovan has big plans — attend law school, become mayor of Atlanta, then run for the US presidency. On hearing such an itinerary, Carolyn, an attorney, offered to visit his class (she does this often to encourage young people to explore law as a career) and gave the aspiring candidate her number. This evening, his mother emailed me this: "... Donovan did get a chance to meet Obama." Then she sent me the photo at the top of this post!
Feeling good inside about being an American. I don’t yet know who I’m supporting for the nomination. Yet so far, Obama is one of the candidates I’m following so I came to the rally for the chance to get a good look at him — what he says (and doesn’t say), the substance versus slogans that form his messages, and how he relates with people — his language, tone, attitude, sense of humor, and body language, which tell me what he thinks of himself and the rest of us.
At the rally, I was feeling good inside about being an American. I had a renewed sense and hope — the kind I had in the sixties, that seemingly intractable systems and priorities can change, and that we might embrace the prophet Mica's vision, as Reverend Lowery evoked in his prayer, that we "beat our swords into plowshares.” And I sensed and hoped that our government would increasingly model and reward equal respect and tangible encouragement to any Donovan — no matter the age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and faith tradition or none.