On Saturday afternoon at Oakland City Hall, there was some R&B, some hip hop and jazz, and then there was Barack Obama.
The junior U.S. senator from Illinios drew a crowd of over 10,000 for his campaign speech at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Downtown Oakland, according to organizers.
“Just look at the crowd he has created,” said San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris from her front-row seat on Saturday. “He talks to the people like no one else. He reaches out to them like none other. I am here today as a supporter of Obama. He is a leader, a friend and someone who will take us to the next generation of leadership.”
Supporters of all ages and colors—some with “Vive Obama” and “Obama in ‘08” posters written in green to keep with the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day—cheered when Oakland mayor Ron Dellums presented Obama.
“We welcome Senator Obama to the city which has the audacity to see itself as a model city for the entire United States of America ... Mi casa es su casa,” said Dellums, as people roared.
Born to an American mother, from Kansas, and a Kenyan father, Obama began his career organizing community events in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. He went on to become the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, winning over both liberals and conservatives with his charisma.
“When people heard I was running for president, some said ‘he’s got the talent, but he doesn’t have the experience,” Obama told the crowd. “It’s true that I haven’t been in Washington long, but I have been in Washington long enough to know that Washington needs to change.
“My experience as a civil rights attorney has taught me that fairness and justice have to be practiced everyday. My experience as a senator has taught me that ordinary people have the ability to do extraordinary things,” he said. “This campaign is a vehicle for you, for your hopes and dreams. When a million people say a child will have better education, they cannot be stopped. When a million people say we need a better energy policy, they cannot be stopped. Oakland, California, I want to be a partner with you.”
Obama’s speech touched upon his theme of the “audacity of hope,” echoing his book by the same name that was published last year.
Hundreds of supporters ignored the chained barriers around the podium to get his signature, take a photograph, or grab his hand.
“I have made up my mind, I am voting for him” said Kevin Godchaux, a campaign volunteer from San Luis Obispo. “I am a veteran. I was in the Marines for four years and we need someone like him who will support people like us. Obama wants to increase money for veteran’s care and I like the way he supported the Walter Reed investigation. And, more importantly, I am glad that he didn’t support the war from the very first.”
Obama emphasized that he never voted to support the Iraq War.
“We're sending our young men and women to fight in Iraq and we have a duty to treat them right when they get back,” he said. “We understand that we are in the midst of a war that should not have been authorized. After seeing 3,200 precious lives lost and thousands of men wounded and trillions of dollars spent, we are less safe and our national image has been diminished ... We need to give the Iraqi government a chance to stand up. We need our young men and women to come back home.”
Criticizing President Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, Obama called upon the government to invest in teachers. “Leave some money behind,” he said. “Give our teachers a decent raise.”
Children, Obama said, were the country’s most precious resource.
“We need to invest in our young people to allow our economy to grow. Our country needs to produce more engineers. We need to pay attention to math and science,” he said. “We have been so consumed by the cynicism and pettiness in Washington that we don’t understand what’s going on in the lives of ordinary people. If we change the politics, we can change the nation.”