7.15.2008

Kicking Back in Obamaville

Juggernaut is not a word that I would use to describe Barack Obama’s run for president. It is a ground swell. It is a 30 foot wave of emotion slamming into the shore. It is a movement that sometimes feels like a throwback to the sixties.

A juggernaut overtakes and then overwhelms its victims. Obama doesn’t feel like that, yet. He and his campaign still feel vulnerable and seemingly face derailment at any moment.

The movement barreled into Cincinnati yesterday. The Queen City is hosting the national convention for the NAACP, and Barack was the whip cream on the strawberries and shortcake of the Monday session.

While delegates to the convention worked through their sessions at the Duke Energy Center, Obamaville set up on Fountain Square, the heart of Cincinnati. Now, anyone who has seen the old television show WKRP in Cincinnati or at the very least, seen a picture of the city, recognizes the Tyler Davidson Fountain. It is the city symbol. The waters were flowing from the newly refurbished fountain and a nice breeze occasionally picked up the waters and sprayed it over the crowd to cool them on a warm but humidity free day. Young ones released from the prison of their strollers found the boy on the turtle and washed their feet in the tiny pools of water at his feet..

Obamaville looks like a village. More than that, it looks like the perfect picture of diversity. There were the very young enjoying playtime among the adults, independent and oblivious to the importance of the situation. Teenagers strolled, cool, hip, attempting to project a world knowledge that won’t hit them for many more years. College kids eager to take part in something, feeling the moment. Absolutely giddy in their new found cause. Using digital cameras to photograph images on the big screen and in the crowd. Their parents, sometimes at their side, skeptical...cynical about yet another possible savior in the offing. Older folks who’ve lived and worked and ridden out the disappointments of seeing one good man after another make big promises and fail. Older people made stoic from life, watching and waiting for the man of the hour. Five hours, six hours until he would show up on the big screen TV on top of Macy’s department store. Obamaville was every color, every creed, every gender, every sexuality, every nationality, no one dominant, freely conversing with anyone else willing to engage.

We talked with one another, names, introductions, not important. The talk wasn’t always about politics or econmics. It was about kids, the weather, the artwork on the cheap t shirts, happenings in faraway hometowns, and even shared health problems. I met two women who used their outside time to light up camel unfiltered cigarettes, the brand that killed my grandmother. The three of us, it turned out had all been diagnosed with bad hearts. We were all on the same medication. I looked better than them, they said. I appeared healthier and they wanted to know what I was doing to stay healthy, since we were all about the same age. I don’t smoke. Never have. But I didn’t insult them, by telling them they needed to quit. They already knew. It was just conversation.

I found my spot after wandering around a bit, greeting old friends in the crowd. Perched in the shade, I waited in front of a chess board table with no pieces. I would’ve played if I had pieces, but I guess you’ve got to bring your own. I was joined by a woman from Battle Creek, here for the convention. Battle Creek is a small town, home to Kellogg’s, as in cereal with a population of maybe 54,000 people, 7 percent black. We were joined by another woman, origin Huntsville, Alabama, there to work the square signing up new voters and volunteers for Obama. She worked a little. We talked a little. It was easy, comfortable. Anyone looking at us would have thought we’d arrived there together. Many other groups formed around us the same way. Strangers with a common cause, finding each other in Obamaville.

As the feel good moment drew closer, space in Obamaville dried up. People arrived from all directions, toting those multi colored chairs in a bag. Families made up of three or four generations arriving with coolers of food and drink, eating dinner picnic style, in front of the big screen HD-TV.

My group was then joined by a local man, from a prominent Cincinnati family. Two uncles have terminals named after them at the Greater Cincinnati Airport. There is a street in suburban Bond Hill that also bears the family name. He was high school teacher with a head full of history and pop culture knowledge.

Obama was late but it didn’t dampen spirits or anticipation. He talked for roughly 25 minutes. I won’t rehash his speech, you can parse it elsewhere. He spoke to the youth, the young, yet managed to include the older jaded crowd who’d heard it before, and made us believe that we’re hearing something new. We came to the square strangers with questions. We left a village, answers forthcoming.
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