In The News
Blast From Obama's Past(When Milwaukee first knew him)
Today he’s on the cover of Time magazine; his second book is a best seller; he is touted for the presidential race in 2008 and he is the most effective national spokesmen for Democratic candidates, visiting Pere Marquette Park at 9 a.m. Oct. 31, 2006, to champion Gov. Jim Doyle, Rep. Gwen Moore, attorney general candidate Kathleen Falk and other progressive candidates for the November 7 election.
But before Barack Obama became a senator and only shortly after his 2004 keynote address at the Democrats’ convention, Milwaukeeans crowded Washington Park to see and hear him. Take a trip down memory lane and Labor Press’ story and photos from two years ago.
Milwaukee Labor Press
By Dominique Paul Noth
The brightest star on the Democratic horizon confirmed that reputation on a beautiful Saturday morning October 9, 2004, at Milwaukee’s Washington Park.
The star arrived casually by van and strolled through thickets of admirers to deliver a conversational, inspirational talk pushing the presidential ticket, Wisconsin candidates and Get Out the Vote efforts.
Barack Obama has certainly become aware of the future hopes being pinned on him.
“I just shook the hand of a future president,” said one guy in a union cap, and it was a sentiment common along the rope-lines and amid the crush of 1,500 people.
Such expectations, though, make Obama chuckle. After all, a year ago hardly anyone knew this state legislator from Illinois. Most people, he joked to the crowd, still don’t know how to pronounce his name.
While he now looks like a shoo-in to win the open US Senate seat from Illinois November 2 – particularly after the Republicans fumbled all summer and then imported an ineffective right-wing African American to try to derail him — he doesn’t yet hold national office. So why all the fuss?
It’s his personal story, his ease, his smarts, his ability to connect with crowds across the spectrum. That brought him the keynote spot at the national Democratic convention and has now flooded his campaign with requests to speak for candidates across the country.
He’s been a little reluctant because despite the polls he refuses to take his sights off his own Illinois race (one reason he was unable to appear Sept. 6 at Milwaukee’s Laborfest.
But as his election now looks more assured, and as Illinois voters seem proud of his national reputation and willing to see him spread the presence of their most recent gift to political prominence, he was eager for several reasons to accept this Wisconsin invitation, he said.
After all, a fellow state legislator seeking to go to Congress was introducing him “and we state legislators have to stick together,” he said, before rattling off a host of concerns and legislative successes he and Gwen Moore shared in their respective state bodies before seeking national office.
The ebullient Moore, hosting the event after winning the 4th District primary with 64% of the vote, is seeking to become Wisconsin’s first African American in the US House (just as Obama would be the only African American in the Senate).
Besides, despite some rivalries, Illinois and Wisconsin have a lot in common, Obama reminded the crowd. “Both the Bears and the Packers aren’t doing great,” he said to laughter.
“But this is progressive Wisconsin,” he added, listing our state’s proud history in governmental initiative. “How can this (presidential) race even be close here?”
But the main reason he was in Milwaukee was to champion Russ Feingold, who was locked in Washington because of US Senate votes and forced to settle for piping in remarks by phone to the assembled crowd.
It turned out that Feingold should bottle Obama’s praise and ship it to every county in his race for re-election.
Detailing the votes, bipartisan success and confrontations Feingold has gone through in the Senate, Obama spoke with unabashed admiration about Feingold’s independence and analysis and called him simply “the most courageous person in the US Senate,” clearly a model of conviction he intends to emulate.
In the majority of his remarks, Obama returned with fresh anecdotes and insights to the “audacity of hope” theme that marked his emergence on the Democratic stage.
The vibrations he caused throughout a crowd that was diverse in race, age and gender confirmed that the buzz over Obama is not merely a media creation. It could be argued that he actually broke through despite the media.
The major commercial networks did not even carry his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston. They were forced to play catch-up because the delegates, the Internet and other outlets instantly started talking about it and quoting him.
Remember the Red States and the Blue States?
There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States.
Such eloquence catapulted him to national attention and has been paraphrased throughout this campaign.
But there was another section of that speech that summed up Obama’s approach to the political process and was echoed in similar phrases in his speech at Washington Park:
No, people don’t expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.
The energy brought to Washington Park created almost a party atmosphere, but both he and Moore again and again reminded the assembled that it was not enough for them to vote – that they were required to bring with them every reluctant relative, every needy shut-in at their churches, every member of the community who shared their values.
As a finale, they brought to the stage every local candidate sharing these values who was seeking election November 2.
Then came a crowd of TV and news cameras, where Obama again demonstrated his political acumen, deflecting questions away from his own race and his ambitions back to the local candidates.