Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Barack Obama’s huge crowds speak to the American spirit

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Originally published on on Tue, 07/08/2008 – 10:42am.

all the photos taken by me. This is approximately the view Barack Obama had that day.

Bruce Springsteen. Rolling Stones. U2. How many major rock acts play football stadiums anymore? Barack Obama is not a major rock act, and there is no opening band. But for one night only, Obama will play Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver, home of the NFL Broncos. And unlike Springsteen, the Stones, and U2, you won’t have to mortgage your house to see the show.

But at least everyone in that appearance will have a seat. The other major crowd of that size where Obama spoke, well, didn’t have nearly as much room.

On my vacation, I happened to be in Portland, Oregon. My friend from college who lives there is about to have a baby, and I hadn’t really explored the Pacific Northwest. But I couldn’t resist one temptation: I wanted to see the space where Obama drew a huge crowd along the Willamette River.

You think it would be easy to find a space where 75,000 people gathered in Portland, but as you walk along the riverfront, it was difficult to find the space. There were no obvious markers. No established stage, no logical spot. In fact, I had a few people point to the wrong space because perhaps they weren’t even sure.

I saw the hill where I figured the gathering must have been. I asked the same question that others have asked: “how did you fit 75,000 people in this space?”

What it looks like from the back of the crowd.

They were setting up for the blues festival when I was there. A blues fest on the July 4 weekend would draw a huge crowd, perhaps several thousand on that specific grassy knoll. But I knew they wouldn’t have had 75,000 people in that space.

Summer festivals attract a number of people, but the mindset is to have your space, space to move around, but not be too close to your neighbors. But the Obama speech in Portland was unique. It was almost as if the people wanted to be as close to their neighbor as possible, to make sure as many people got to see Obama as could fit in that space.

So when you ask how that many people could fit into that space, it requires knowing that a distinct atypical mentality had to be present. It is that sway and charm that made the Obama experience in Portland that much more amazing.

Looking out to the Willamette River.

Yes, some were in crafts along the river. But as you watch the video, you see people very close together. And as popular as Springsteen, the Stones, and U2 are, I still can’t see even their fans crowding together as much as the Obama supporters did that afternoon in Portland.

I have followed politics all my life, and I have grown cynical in my approach to the topic. But to stand in that space, and imagine the possibilities, not just of the specific people there in Portland that afternoon, but of the mentality of a truly shared experience, perhaps there is a redeeming shot.

On this day, it was a hill where two young kids could run.

Those who are cynical speak of Obama and his speeches, but presidents who have been able to inspire have ended up getting more done in their time in the White House. And that is a good thing, since there is a lot to do.

So moving the nomination acceptance speech from the Pepsi Center (capacity approx. 19,000) to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium (capacity approx. 76,000) may be more than a symbolic gesture. It may be a sign of the potential of the American spirit that always seemed to be there, but didn’t quite know how to express itself. That spirit, if Obama is elected, needs to be utilized well beyond January 20, 2009. But it’s good to know that spirit exists. Standing in that empty grassy knoll, you see the possibilities.


Written by democracysoup

July 8, 2008 at 10:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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