Oakland Tribune: Obama: 'Better future for America'
By Josh Richman
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama brought his platform of audacious hope Saturday to the largest and most diverse crowd to pack downtown Oakland in recent memory.
"We are here today because the country calls us, we are here today because history beckons us, we are here today because we face a series of challenges as significant, as daunting as any generation has faced," the junior U.S. senator from Illinois told those who packed Frank H. Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall. Police gave no estimate, but it seemed the crowd might have topped the campaign's early projection of 10,000.
Rather than leaving a poorer and meaner nation for the next generation, he believes "there's a better future for America," Obama said during his half-hour, unscripted speech.
Obama visited the Bay Area last month to raise money for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., but Saturday's stop was his first public campaign event in the area. A $1,000-a-head fundraiser was scheduled Saturday night in San Francisco.
The Oakland rally had a festival air, with people dancing to live music and thronging campaign souvenir tables as they streamed into the plaza. Monica Harper, 37, of Oakland said she had lined up at 1:30 p.m. -- 90 minutes before the gates were to open -- because she wanted to hear every word. "I don't know much about him and I wanted to learn it myself," she said. "I'm proud that he's here in Oakland, and I wanted to represent."
Jonathan Davis, 42, and his wife, Susan, 38, brought their toddlers from Piedmont. Murray, 2, held a "St. Patrick for Obama" sign, while Ellington, 4, held a sign saying "Obama Go Bragh."
"We're really very interested and excited by the language of Obama's campaign. There seem to be good core principles but a willingness to talk with everybody and keep an open mind," Jonathan Davis said.
Jessie Hochhalter, 21, a University of California, Berkeley, senior from Ventura, came with eight Cal friends, each with one character of "Obama'08!" written on their torsos in green paint. "We weren't allowed to have banners or posters, but we really wanted to show our support," she said, adding she's for Obama because "I want a Democratic president and Hillary makes me nauseous and Edwards has no chance."
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday showed 37 percent of registered Democrats would vote for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., as their 2008 nominee; 22 percent named Obama; 14 percent named former vice president and 2000 presidential nominee Al Gore, who hasn't declared candidacy; and 12 percent backed 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards. The poll's margin of error was 4.5 percentage points.
Welcomed by Mayor Ron Dellums and introduced by Iraq war veteran Army Sgt. Greg Georgatos, Obama told Saturday's crowd America faces "a health care system that's broken," bankrupting families and the nation; "an education system that's teaching the few but failing too many;" an energy crisis that sends billions of dollars to hostile nations for oil while "melting the polar ice caps and warming the planet;" and "an economy that has never been more productive, that has never generated more wealth" yet leaves average workers' wages stagnant as living costs rise.
All this, he said, "in the midst of a war that should never have been authorized and that should never have been waged" -- a dig at Clinton, who has refused to call her 2002 war-authorization vote a mistake.
Thousands have died and many thousands more have been wounded, yet most Americans understand that "we are actually less safe and that America's standing in the world has been diminished," Obama said, describing a gravely wounded vet who'd come to one of his weekly town-hall meetings on Capitol Hill.
"I was reminded of why we're here today, and I was reminded of why I'm running for president," he said. "Politics is not a game, the decisions made in Washington are not sport."
Too many politicians have forgotten the concerns of soldiers, veterans, workers and students, he said, and to any who say he lacks experience in the nation's capital, he responds, "I've been in Washington long enough to know that Washington needs to change."
On many issues, "we know what to do," he said: establish universal health care while investing in preventative medicine and medical information technology, pay teachers good wages and give them flexibility to use methods that produce results, spread broadband Internet access far and wide, protect union rights, and invest seriously in alternative energy.
But "we can't send $100 billion overseas every year and expect to solve the problems here at home," he said. "I am proud of the fact that I've opposed this war from the start."
He said his Iraq plan -- troop withdrawals to start by May 1, with all combat troops out by March 1, 2008, but a modest military presence remaining in the region -- means being "as careful getting out as we were careless getting in."
Veterans need proper care, he added, citing the recent scandal over conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital: "Don't stand next to a flag and say you believe in supporting the troops when you're forgetting about them when they come home."
As he marched across the Selma, Ala., Edmund Pettus bridge this month to honor civil rights activists who were violently attacked by police there in 1965, he said, he was reminded of "the enormous power of ordinary people when they're tired of what has been."
"This campaign is a vehicle for you, this campaign is a vehicle for your hopes, for your dreams," he exhorted the crowd. "Oakland, California, I want to be a partner with you. ... I promise you that not only will we have a better America, but I will be the next president of the United States."
Cal sophomore Rebecca Green, 19, of Long Beach said she wants to hear from other Democratic candidates, but Obama "definitely started to sway me."
Cathy Dunlap, 57, of Oakland said she came Saturday already an Obama supporter, but found the speech "awesome, right on point -- it made you want to go to the polls today."
The California Republican Party earlier Saturday issued a news release saying votes Obama cast as an Illinois state senator on bills involving gangs and drugs could indicate he's the wrong candidate for crime-plagued Oakland.
"How will Obama address the tough on crime needs of a city that continues to grapple with gang violence and increasing homicide rates?" state GOP spokesman Hector Barajas asked in the release. "With limited experience and a 'soft on crime' record, Obama just isn't the right fit for the Bay Area."