Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Sunny Thing Happened Today at the Forum

It seemed, to me, like clouds parting and light pouring down instead of rain; like tears evaporating from the warm apples of a child's now-smiling face when despair is supplanted by thoughts of good things to come.

Normally I shy away from big crowds: I'm rather irrationally claustrophobic, and large numbers of people packed into one building, well, just thinking about such a scene makes me feel uneasy--unnerved, even. So much so, in fact, I seriously considered skipping Barack Obama's rally in Tampa today, knowing I'd be one human in a sea of many thousands, wondering if the crowds would be as huge as they were in Portland, Oregon this weekend, when Obama's supporters filled a park, a river, and a bridge (the Tampa event actually drew roughly 20,000, but unlike the Portland crowd, we would be indoors, enclosed in the St. Petersburg Times Forum.)

Then I reminded myself how much I'd looked forward to seeing the Senator speak, having watched him on television countless times and read--and quoted--his books. And having shaken my head that at my medium-oldish age, I could even be brought near a place of such optimism and renewed faith in what America is supposed to be like--much less find myself smack-dab in the middle of it. So I charged my camera battery, threw on my favorite skirt, and drove my neurotic self to downtown Tampa.

I parked in one of the various dirt lots on Channelside Drive, directly across from the city's glass-walled ice-hockey stadium, and within seconds, was smack-dab in the middle of it.

Walking across Channelside, I noticed a small group of Hillary-shirt-wearers, one of whom said something I couldn't hear over the traffic and crowd noise. Then he gestured toward the hand-lettered sign he was holding: It's a Primary, Not a Coronation.

"Sorry, guy, I'm British. I like a nice coronation--they're good fun!" I said.

There were dozens upon dozens of security guards--on one side of the building alone--and even more metal detectors than that. I walked through one while guards searched my purse, cheerfully opening a pack of gum and dismantling my camera. Then I joined the thousands of attendees snaking through the doors and up the stairs like reversed lava flow. Since I was alone, I was able to find a seat fairly close to the stage; to my left sat a teenaged Cuban girl, her mother, and her grandmother; to my right, an African-American couple, both of whom, the young man confided, had cut classes at USF to be there.

The Forum is, in a word, enormous. And so was the crowd within. I saw college kids springing to their feet to help elderly people navigate the risers and locate empty seats; I watched a parade of fathers with babies tucked into Snuglis as well as a few doctors from Tampa General waving at patients who recognized them and a half-dozen sixty-something women dancing to Stevie Wonder and career men and women in office-proper pinstripes. I saw gray French twists and multicolored dreadlocks and long blonde ponytails and the brown, blowdried helmet-hair of the professionally camera-ready. I spoke to my neighbors in English and Spanish; I picked out bits of Italian (hey, I'm working on it!) and Caribbean French, too.

It was America--the good America. The real one that's been here all along: her best ideas, her best emotions, her best dreams, and they were in front of my eyes--all twenty joyous thousand of them, all under one roof--and I never felt freer or happier or less afraid than I did at noon today.

And it wasn't just me. The local pols, including Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, were so excited when they took the stage, they practically levitated.

And then Senator Obama came out, speaking to us as though we were old friends, telling us to sit down, get comfortable, and yeah, he loved us back. The scene was such that if someone were to describe it to me, I'd immediately accuse him of being another Obamabot--Silly person, get a grip--and I've long been a supporter of the elegant and eloquent Senator. But still, I'd have said, Get a grip.

And yet.

You've undoubtedly seen at least parts of Obama's speeches televised. If you have the opportunity to attend a live rally, though, I'd highly recommend going--in person, the man is nothing short of amazing to watch. Today, for some sixty minutes and without a notecard or teleprompter, Obama spoke to a massive crowd about the specifics of what he'll do, as President, to put things right, and not just in national terms, either. He talked about concerns especially important to Floridians, like disaster relief, mass-transit initiatives, and improving education (our state's public school system has consistently ranked among the lowest in the nation.)

You really had to be there. I include a few photos that I took; forgive their slight fuzziness, which is partly due to Senator Obama being lit by a strong spotlight and partly due to his energy level--he reminds me of Son Three, a perpetual motion machine with lean arms gesturing nonstop while lanky legs take him to and fro, to and fro.

Onward to the White House, then!

Also at TRex & Cogitamus.

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