I had heard people were there at sunup, more than twelve hours in advance of the Orlando Obama/Clinton rally, slated to begin at 6:00, but I had an appointment I just couldn’t let go, so it was 5:45pm when I exited my car in the Amway Arena parking garage to wend my way to the area inside the security perimeter. It was to be an outdoor event, standing room only. All along the Florida Turnpike I was thinking please let there be space, please let there be space, envisaging so great a crowd I’d be turned back.
The afternoon sun was going down and the Orlando autumn chill was rising, which made it the best weather for a rally like this. Too many bodies packed in tight place can generate a lot of heat, so I was happy summer was over. I am at the perimeter. The guards are serious but pleasant and there is no magnetometer, and I am not searched. Once inside I heave a sigh of relief. I got here before the main event. My excitement mounts as I watch other people file in orderly, not even speaking much, just very determined and focused. I can sense the great expectancy of the crowd as they wait. Not a good judge of crowd size, I am not able to guess the number of attendees from the sea of faces, but the reports will later reveal that there were 20,000 inside the security perimeter with another 30,000 outside.
I notice there are many mothers with children, surprisingly well-behaved. Native Americans, Hispanics, Whites, African Americans, everyone is orderly, almost as if the magic of the atmosphere is so fragile they are afraid to break the peace. Not a single baby is crying. A phone rings near me and it reminds me to place mine on vibrate. Or risk the glacial stares and enduring wrath of those around me if it rings during Obama’s speech.
I wonder why they call these guys the Secret Service if they stick out in a crowd so much? There’s one. And another. And there again, another. Hands always at waist level, clasped, free of all encumbrances in the event they have to whip out a weapon. Perhaps those with the hand-held radios are Amway Security…
The crowd starts chanting OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! and my focus is drawn to the stage. It is exactly six and the stage is too far for me to discern the figures, so I watch the huge screen close by. There is a brief moment of silence and when Senator Bill Nelson announces Obama and Clinton’s arrival, there is a deafening roar and applause. Hillary is very funny, but she needs to loosen up a little. Let go of the sphincter a little, Hillary. And inject some warmth into that rictus you call a smile.
With her and Barack there is no hint of animosity; their body language shows harmony, as he stands behind her in support while she speaks. Her parting shot: “Now is the time to close the deal for Barack Obama and close the book on 8 years of failed Republican leadership….America will rise from the ashes of the Bushes,” she said, to tremendous applause.
Now it’s Barack’s turn and the crowd is going wild. He has to wait until the applause recedes before he speaks. He says thank you several times before he gets a word in. I watch the crowd around me, and all eyes are fixed on the stage, not daring to look away. What a speaker! In the crowd you feel the electricity you may not feel when you watch him on television. I wonder if you can be an effective leader without this quality, this ability to convey hope and trust in every gesture and every word. As much as I want to keep my eyes on the screen, I do want to watch the faces of the crowd, hanging on to every word of this phenomenal speaker. I swear, the kids are not fidgeting, and every time the crowd breaks into the Obama or yes-we-can chant, they join in. Perhaps they rehearsed it at home.
There is resounding applause when Obama mentions his line about “monitoring your own kids by turning off the television and helping them with their work.” Even the kids are cheering. Obama adds a few jokes about the other candidates, in addition to the issues. There are no character assassinations, nor the injecting of fear or hatred, and if there is any booing when he mentions McCain or Palin, he instantly stops it in its tracks. He speaks of increasing employment in America and would spend $15 billion on the auto industry and renewable energy, keeping jobs in America for Americans. “Jobs, baby, jobs”, chants the crowd.
I sigh. Will goodness win over hatred and division this time? I think about the saying nice guys finish last and wonder when Obama’s camp is going to talk about Palin and the Alaskan Independent Party, and what are they going to do when the formidable Republican machine pelts the Democrats with turd, as they always do, if they get a little desperate at the end of a campaign. And why are we as a nation blessed with so many ignorant among us, who may fall for their last-ditch low-down GOP tactics?
The whole crowd erupts into endless applause at it is all over, in no hurry to disperse, just enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the way to my car I speak to a demonstrator whose placard bears the revelation that Obama is Muslim. He says he can’t vote for a man who is a Muslim and whose associations are questionable. I think the detractors should make up their minds. Obama goes to Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years and is “accused” of being a Muslim, while McCain doesn’t go to church at all, but is considered a good Christian. Yet Obama’s meetings continue to dwarf his opponents’. Around the same period of this meeting, McCain had 1,700 in Pensacola. Not to be confused with 17,000.
On the drive back to Ocala, I am now understanding why the Senator from Illinois draws the crowds.
James Kirkland is a former New Yorker transplanted in Ocala, Florida. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org