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Obama Brings It Home

By Kevin Robinson in News on Feb 12, 2007 3:30PM

2007_2_obamaandmichelle.jpgIf you haven't heard the news that Barack Obama is officially running for president yet, we'd have to wonder what hole you've been hiding in. After a rousing announcement speech in Springfield, where he laid out his reasons for running and outlined his vision for America, Obama headed to Iowa, where he made a whirlwind tour of one of the states that will be critical to securing the nomination. After talking tough about Iraq, energy independence, education, and the economy, he capped off his weekend announcement with a homecoming rally right here in Chicago, at the UIC Pavilion. Taking advantage of this historic event, Chicagoist was there.

Looking like Chicago, the crowd was made up of all kinds of people: black and white, brown and yellow, old and young. Bearing some of the imagery of the civil rights movement, black preachers mingled with Father Pfleger, and union members milled about in jackets and hard hats. As quite possibly the worst mixtape in the history of presidential campaigns faded out, the Salem Baptist Church choir warmed the crowd up with such gospel classics as "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and "Total Praise."

Of the many things about Obama that we admire, loyalty is one of them. And that trait was evident yesterday, as his early supporters, the people that made him who he is today, were not only present, but involved in the rally. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky hosted, and both Emil Jones and Luis Gutierrez gave speeches introducing him. While Schakowsky could probably use a better speech writer, and Jones' speech was oddly slurred and difficult to follow, Gutierrez easily gave the best introduction. Invoking the memory of Harold Washington and the politics of people, the west side congressman not only delivered a passionate speech about the ability of an engaged electorate to create progressive change, but left the crowd fired up and excited about the possibilities of an Obama presidency. As Jan Schakowsky took the stage, the crowd waving Obama signs and chanting, she made the announcement: Obama was running late.

2007_2_choir.jpgSo we waited. And waited some more. After about 30 minutes, running late and looking tired, Obama took the stage to address the crowd of over 7,000, his wife Michelle by his side. He talked about his tour of Iowa, the people he had met, and his family. He talked about people getting involved, his plans to improve education and to strengthen the middle class, making the economy fair for working people and their families. He asked the rhetorical question "Why are we here again?" and spoke to the power of bringing people into the political system to make a difference. He talked about the cynicism that permeates politics, especially at the national level, and talked about unifying a nation divided by war and uncertainty. He talked about building up places like Chicago, and building a movement for change in America. "Every time change has come it's not because a particular leader created all that change," he said. "What's happened is a movement began. I want to help. I want to roll up my sleeves and make a change. I just want to be a part of creating a better America."

About 20 minutes into his speech, a group of anti-war activists unfurled a banner from the balcony that read "Obama: Stand Up! Cut the Funding!" and chanting as he spoke. "I hear you," he said, turning to face the protesters. "We'll talk about that in a second. ... You've made your point, so why don't you relax?" The crowd at the rally seemed to support Obama, booing the protesters and chanting his name in response. Although he sounded disappointed that he was interrupted before getting the opportunity to speak to what is arguably the centerpiece issue in the coming presidential race, we think he handled it with grace, later telling his supporters that he was glad they came. "They feel a sense of urgency about a war that should have never been authorized and a war that should have never been fought." And it was here that we heard his take on the war: that the US must leave Iraq as carefully as we went in carelessly.

Ending the evening with thank-yous and handshakes, the Obamas headed over to a fundraiser hosted by billionaire Penny Pritzker, many more of which he'll need to attend if he hopes to catch up to the monumental amount of money his opponents have already raised.

2007_2banner.jpgWe aren't sure what to make of this event just yet. Obama was talking to his base, the core supporters that carried him to the state senate, the US Senate, and now to a run for the White House. But there was something lacking yesterday. The crowd was enthusiastic, and people were excited to see and to hear Obama, but the campaign seemed rough around the edges, and the message still wasn't that clear. The people that came were ready for Obama, they were excited about what they already knew of him, and they were ready to take the next step. We're not sure, though, what that step is. It almost sounded like Obama was giving the speech he had been giving in Iowa, telling us that he wanted to walk with them in this movement. As we headed out of the Pavilion and into the cold night, we couldn't help but ask ourselves: wait, are we supposed to feel like this is a movement? Obama has 12 months to answer that question.

If you want to take a closer look at the rally, you can check out the photos we took here.