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Paul Wellman

Obama Addresses 4,000 at City College

Presidential Campaign Emphasizes Hope, the American Dream


In the middle of presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s speech Saturday at Santa Barbara City College, a woman near the front of the crowd became sick, prompting Obama to stop and call for help. As emergency responders treated the woman, a man from the audience yelled out to Obama, “Heal her!”

The comment got a chuckle out of those around him, but the enthusiasm and energy from the crowd that day showed that his comment wasn’t too far off from how people see the democratic candidate. Crowds lining up at about 9:30 a.m. at City College were eager to hear it. Local, state and national media packed the risers reserved for their cameras, and the crowd quickly swelled to more than 4,000 people. The campus provided a beautiful backdrop for Obama’s speech, which was filled with the message of hope that’s become the backbone of his campaign.

Barack Obama stops for a "Grassroots Rally" at Santa Barbara City College Campus Saturday afternoon Sept. 8, 2007 on his way to a fundraiser at  Oprah Winfrey's house in Montecito.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Barack Obama stops for a “Grassroots Rally” at Santa Barbara City College Campus Saturday afternoon Sept. 8, 2007 on his way to a fundraiser at Oprah Winfrey’s house in Montecito.

The crowd was warmed up by Obama’s California state director Mitchell Schwartz, who gave the crowd a peek inside the campaign’s strategy. Schwartz claimed the only other democratic candidate who would be able to run a national campaign is New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom Obama is trailing in most polls. But, Schwartz warned, polls aren’t that important, pointing out that Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, hadn’t even entered the race at this point in 1992 presidential election. He also told the crowd how no other campaign was hosting public rallies like Obama’s. “No other campaign thinks it’s important,” Schwartz said. “Or maybe they can’t draw a crowd.”

Two local organizers then gave the crowd information about helping out with the campaign locally, and then it was time for the man of the hour. With McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” playing over the loudspeakers, Obama took the stage earlier than scheduled, wearing a white, open-collared shirt and dark khaki pants. The senator spoke to the crowd for almost 40 minutes, starting with his impression of the beautiful City College campus. “I had to tell [City College President John Romo], city colleges in Chicago don’t look like this,” he said. After identifying students throughout the crowd, he asked them, “How many of you actually go inside the classroom?”

Barack Obama stops for a "Grassroots Rally" at Santa Barbara City College Campus Saturday afternoon Sept. 8, 2007 on his way to a fundraiser at  Oprah Winfrey's house in Montecito.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Barack Obama stops for a “Grassroots Rally” at Santa Barbara City College Campus Saturday afternoon Sept. 8, 2007 on his way to a fundraiser at Oprah Winfrey’s house in Montecito.

Obama talked about how U.S. citizens were tired of the way politics were currently being run. People have lost faith in their government, he said, and have resigned themselves to the fact that the bickering of Washington, D.C., was “destined to repeat itself” and that change was going to have to come from the bottom up. No doubt recognizing the need for a grassroots campaign effort, he motivated the crowd. “American people aren’t the problem. American people are the answer,” he said. With legislation almost entirely driven by special interests and lobbyists, a fundamental change in how politics are done in the U.S. is necessary, Obama said. “[People] are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They’re tired of an administration that seems to be riddled with incompetence,” he said.

From there he went on to talk about some of the issues, including the “disastrous” war in Iraq (“We can end this war without George Bush. And if we don’t end it without George Bush the first thing I will do as President of the United States is bring an end to this war.”), education (“Isn’t it about time we make college degrees affordable and accessible even if your parents aren’t rich?”) and healthcare (Obama pledged to have universal health care legislation passed by the end of his first term).

Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

He also questioned those who have said he didn’t have enough experience, pointing out he has been in public service for 24 years, including as an Illinois state senator. Experience doesn’t always translate into doing a good job, he said, pointing out the careers of Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who have both come under fire over the past few years for their handling of the Iraq War. “Time served does not guarantee good judgement,” he said.

But the underlying theme was hope. “I don’t accept that the American dream is a part of the past,” he said.

To read about Obama’s appearance at Oprah Winfrey’s house in Montecito, click here.

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