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The Birmingham News - Obama Says He, Voters Can Change America

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The Birmingham News - Obama Says He, Voters Can Change America

Sen. Barack Obama exhorted an overflow crowd of 11,000-plus emotional supporters Sunday afternoon to change America, delivering a message of hope, unity and change in an event that was part rock concert and part old time church revival.

"There is nothing we cannot do if the American people decide it is time," Obama told the cheering crowd at UAB's Bartow Arena. "There is a moment in the life of every generation, if it is to make its mark on history, its spirit has to come through. This is our moment."

Then in the soaring rhetoric that has marked so many of his speeches over the past month, Obama brought the crowd to its feet.

"This is our time. And, if you're willing to stand with us, and if you're willing to march with me and organize with me and vote for me, I promise you we will not just win the nomination, we will win the general election, and you and I together will transform this country, and we will transform the world," Obama said as the crowd filled the arena with shattering applause and shouts of, "Obama, Obama, Obama!"

Obama's appearance came just one day after he trounced his chief rival for the Democratic Party nomination for president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the South Carolina primary and just nine days before "Super Tuesday" when people in 22 states, including Alabama, go to the polls to have their say in who gets to run for the White House.

The latest polls show Obama and Clinton locked in a tight race in Alabama, but Clinton is still ahead in national polls.

Obama spoke Sunday to a crowd that was slightly more black than white, but filled with people from all ages and walks of life. Speaking from a slightly raised platform in the center of the arena floor, Obama used a microphone as he paced back and forth, often turning around to directly address the large crowd that surrounded him.

Choice of hope, division:

Time and again, Obama painted the choice between Clinton and himself as a choice between a new politics of hope and the old politics of division.

"We don't want to play that old game, that game that has held us back," Obama said. "That game that says some of you got a black child in a bad school and a white child in a bad school and that's two different situations. They're the same situation, and we need to get black and white children working together with their parents to create good schools for every child. That's what America's about."

True to his party's base, Obama spent time saying that, if elected, he would work to increase the pay of teachers, do more to protect manufacturing jobs that are increasingly being moved offshore, work to raise the minimum wage every year, do more for senior citizens, overhaul health care and end the war in Iraq.

"I've seen this country led to war because our judgment was clouded by fear, because tragedy was used to scare up votes," Obama said.

Crowd galvanized:

But it was his words about bringing change, unity and hope that galvanized the large crowd.

He said his win in South Carolina vindicated his view that America is hungry for a new spirit, a change from the politics-as-usual represented by Clinton.

"When I announced, some said to me, `Why this time?' I had to explain to them that I was not running because somehow it was owed to me, or I thought it was my turn or some long-held ambitions," Obama said in a clear shot at Clinton. "I decided to run because of what Dr. King called the `fierce urgency of now.' Because I believe there is such a thing as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us."

Obama told the crowd that America stands at a crossroads in her history.

"We are at a defining moment in our history," Obama said. "Our nation is at war. Our planet is in peril. And the dream that so many generations fought for seems like it's slipping away. You see it in your communities. People are working harder just to get by. Folks have never paid more for health care, more for gas, more for college. It's hard to save and harder to retire... People are having a hard time across Alabama and across the country."

Obama said America can no longer wait to fix what is wrong.

"We cannot wait to fix a broken health care system. We cannot wait to fix our schools. We cannot wait to bring an answer to global warming. We cannot wait to create new jobs with good benefits, and we cannot wait to bring this war in Iraq to a close and bring our troops home. The time for change is now."

One of the thousands pushing in around Obama as he worked the rope line after his speech was Chris DeHaven, 62, of Hoover. A lifelong Republican, DeHaven said he has finally found someone to vote for, and not against.

"I've spent the past few elections voting against a candidate," said DeHaven, who voted for George W. Bush twice. "This time I'm voting for Obama."

Why?

"Because he wants to bring us together. He will bring us together," DeHaven said. "He speaks from the heart, and he speaks the truth in a way I have not heard since Ronald Reagan and Robert Kennedy 40 years ago."

Also visited Macon:

Obama came to Birmingham after a visit in Macon, Ga., Sunday morning, where he spoke for about a half hour to about 1,000 people at the interracial and interdenominational Harvest Cathedral. He talked about how he became a committed Christian as a young man in Chicago after rarely attending church as a child.

Now, he said part of his mission as a politician is "to go out and do the Lord's work."


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