Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Obama at Joe Louis Arena : The People You Meet

Gore, Obama and Granholm

(More pictures of the event at the Flickr set)

The excitement of seeing Obama in front of 20,000 screaming people is thrilling, I will give you that - but a few guys I met yesterday left a greater impression on me than any mega-rally ever could.

I got to Detroit around 2:30 in the afternoon, parked at the Joe Louis garage, checked out the scene. At that point, the line was only to the back of the arena, just starting to make its way down the sidewalk to the river, so I wandered down to the riverfront for a stroll to take in the picture perfect Detroit in June day. The media couldn't check in until 6, so I had some time to kill. S'alright, I planned it that way to avoid rush hour and get pictures of the growing crowd, just soak in the atmosphere.

Hart PlazaWhile I was walking around playing wide-eyed-tourist-with-a-camera, I had the opportunity to chat with some of the citizens of Detroit that were hanging around Hart Plaza. I could have gone over to the RenCen and played real paparazzi, waiting for the dignitaries to show up for the fundraiser... nah. Better to enjoy the day. It was on the Plaza that I met a guy who was the walking, talking product of the things we need to do to help people get back on their feet after a bad stretch or a job loss - all of the points of a campaign speech, a politician's vision, the talking points we take for granted, here was someone living the reality of what we can do when we make sure to put investment into our people.

He called himself GR, or G-Rap at first (yes, that was funny to me being from Grand Rapids), but after I told him what I was doing there and about blogging state issues, he opened up, told me his name, told me his story - and I could have sworn someone or something planted him in my life to show me the path the campaign speech takes right on down to the real. Now, thanks to the wailing and hand-wringing from the right that has been going on since Reagan, sometimes by reflex you start to question just how effective government initiatives can be - but here in front of me was a guy dedicated to turning his life around, and with a little hand up, was on his way to a better future.

Turns out G did a bit of time in the system. I didn't ask what for, didn't really care, does it really matter? No. What matters is what he is doing now. When he got out, he entered the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, and with the help of No Worker Left Behind funding, he now has a CDL - a commercial drivers license, for those who don't know. Wants to be a truck driver. Whipped out his license to show me as proof. He also spoke of a third local program that I didn't recognize, one that is trying to help him find a driving job. Right now there is an issue with regional runs; leaving the state is a problem and they are working on that. Point being, with a bit of direction and training, the guy has a much better shot at avoiding falling back into the trap of hopelessness. He is excited about being on his way to a better tomorrow.

We talked about recidivism, and how that needs to be addressed. "Bunch of guys will be leaving the system and need some training to get good jobs". Couldn't agree more. He rattled off all this stuff that I had only read about, and it was wonderful to meet someone who had put it to use for his own life.

We walked on and he filled me in on a bit more about his plans, we talked about the war, the economy, the greedy Republicans, and what would happen if they won this fall and stayed in power. Both if us agreed that the hole would just get deeper, and even if and when Obama wins, it's going to take some time to get out. When we reached the Joe, the line was incredible - all the way around the back of the arena and doubled, one line along the river, and another that wound back around to get in. There were also people on the second level walkway in line. Monster crowd. The usual vendors were hawking the usual stuff, and the people were pumped. I tried to talk him into getting into the line - told him that he should see Obama in person. I don't know if he did, but I hope so. I bet he would recognize and agree with a lot of the things the man said.

Another interesting note - all three guys I talked to yesterday seemed to indicate that they didn't think Obama would win this fall. Two of them said verbatim, "The country isn't ready for that" - meaning the country wasn't ready to elect an African-American president. Maybe living in Detroit had taught them lessons that I just couldn't see - as I told G, the first vote I ever made was for Jesse Jackson, and the second vote I made included Gerladine Ferraro, and I guess I just take all this for granted. I'm just sorry it took this long to get back to this point. G thinks that Hillary would make a great vice-president; another guy emphatically didn't want her on the ticket. So, we have a split decision there on anecdotal evidence.

The crowd inside was not so kind. The booed the governor loud and long when she mentioned Hillary - I give her points for even bringing it up, because they must know that there is a strong chance that this is going to happen, but, they also realize that the healing needs to happen as well. As you have probably read and heard by now, Obama chastised the crowd for their behavior and put in a lengthy pitch for Hillary, pointing out that there were more similarities between them than differences. And as I have said a couple times now, there are a lot of similarities between what Barack says and what the governor has been saying for months when it comes to Michigan's economic future. Compare and see. Or maybe one of these days I will spell it all out.

Thanks go out to the friendly people I met yesterday. I really enjoyed talking with you. I hope that people will embrace the message of unity and realize that we can't win if we are divided. You may want to boo the mention of Hillary, or trash the governor, but remember, you indirectly hurt guys like G when you do so, keeping us in chaos and helping McCain peel off independents and women. Republicans aren't going to support helping workers, furthering education, or moving towards alternative energy and all the jobs and investment that will bring. And you know it.

Stay strong Detroit. It's time to come together now. And listen, really listen, to what these people are saying. You will find our leaders pulling in the same direction, we need to do so as well.