Obama in L.A: Moving America Forward?
From the outside looking in, it was a political rally like any other. A stream of elected officials, cheered on by adoring supporters, urged them to vote for what's right and ignore the naysayers during a bitter election that has pitted party against party. But, whenever the President of the United States is involved, there's no such thing as normal.
About a week ago, USC officials got word President Barack Obama would hold a rally on their campus and instant panic set in as professors, students, security and neighbors braced for a collective migraine headache, preparing for a rally that would choke off their campus.
Citywide, Angelenos steeled themselves for a traffic nightmare following the August fiasco that shut down the Westside during rush hour. While the rally that was officially dubbed "Moving America Forward" did cause some minor headaches for students heading to morning class and complaints from a few waiting for hours in line, the biggest worry the White House faced Friday is how far did they actually progress in the battle for votes?
We won't know until Nov. 2, but 37,510 people sure tried to send a clear message Friday.
The rally was a sometimes raucous affair. A cavalcade of speakers, including elected officials, students and a rabbi sandwiched L.A.'s own Ozomatli and emcee Jamie Foxx, who vowed to post up video from the rally on his Twitter page.
Foxx was funny (at one point, lovingly mimicking the president), exciting and charming. Not to be upstaged, the president did not disappoint, promising to end Don't Ask Don't Tell, vowing not to privatize social security and ensuring that we will not slide back into a recession.
With just 11 days till Election Day, Obama delivered a jolt to an electorate whose enthusiasm may be growing, according to a recent LA Times/USC poll, which found that the "enthusiasm gap" between Republican and Democratic excitement for the election has waned. That's good news for Democrats, especially Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose tight Senate race was the reason why Obama trekked to Los Angeles and the reason why he has held four such events across the country.
Joining Boxer Friday during the marathon rally were Attorney General Jerry Brown, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, California Assembly Speaker John Perez, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris, who's on the road to defeat against Los Angels District Attorney Steve Cooley.
The rally also featured Ashlie Chan, a communications senior at USC and head of the school's host committee, Marquis Olison, volunteer coordinate for Organizing for America in Los Angeles, and Shobana Ramamurthi, a community Organizer for Organizing for America.
If you're tired from reading that, imagine how everyone else felt standing for four hours, especially given that a tiny fraction of the 37,500 estimated onlookers had the opportunity to see the rally in person. Most were contained in a neighboring quad to watch the event from a huge screen that popped up from the inside a big-rig parked on campus.
Whatever frustrations arose from the stream of speakers evaporated when Obama, dressed in a white shirt and with his sleeves rolled up (get it?) took the stage.
"It was awesome," said Ikenna Okoye, a 26-year-old film student, still beaming moments after the president spoke.
But Okoye, like others, said that the president's message, "really just reinforced what I'm going to do [on Election Day]." For him, Obama is still magic, but what about his friends who may disagree with the president?
"Not so much," he said, adding that apathy runs deep among his friends and, for those of them who do pay attention to politics, they actively disagree with the president.
That was also the case for Kelly Holding and Rachel Winkle, both 18-year-old USC students who skipped most of the rally to hang out on the quad to read People Magazine.
"I'm not really a big fan of [Obama]," said Holding, a communications major from Indiana. "From what I heard, it was a really partisan speech and I'm not really into politics and all the Democratic and Republican fighting."
Winkle, a neuroscience major from Orange County agreed, going one step further: "[Obama's] policies have not really been beneficial to us," though she declined to elaborate which policies stymied her.
When asked, though, many revelers were moved by the president and his message. That message included multiple shots across the bow at a Republican party he views as obstructionist at best and harmful to America at worst.
Many times, Obama referred to his opponents as the one's who drove American into a recession, two foreign wars and did nothing to help the Middle Class. They are the party that will drive this country backward, he argued (though his election was based partly on the premise of restoring civility in Washington), which is why we need Boxer.
"If everybody here keeps that spirit alive," Obama said of his election, "we’re not just going to reelect Barbara Boxer, we are going to make sure that the American Dream is alive and well for future generations." [Read his complete remarks here.]
Still, the extent to which Obama changed anyone's mind might have been negligible.
Those who supported Obama and the Democrats before, did so afterward and those who held biases against the president and his party before the rally also did so after.
"It didn't change the way I'm going to vote," said Jessica Lee, 22. "But it was really cool to hear him say, 'Fight on.'"