My lunch with Andre

Dateline: Wed 08 Oct 2008

That's my friend and fellow Obama volunteer Andre Lee, 32. We happened to be joined by Barack Obama.

We met, 21,000 or so of us, at non at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in the open-air coliseum Wednesday for a three-hour rally featuring a totally relaxed and on-task Sen. Obama. Despite overcast skies, we cheered, stomped our feet, chanted "Yes We Can!" and "OBAMA!" but mostly we listened and got our batteries re-charged by Obama, who believes in us.

"Us" is the middle class, and that's what this Indianapolis crowd looked like: young, old, white, black, in wheelchairs, in arms, and, like the rounded, middle-aged, bald Republican sitting just in front of us, in an orange shirt.

"I'm pumpkins for Obama," joked the Republican, whose Bloomington-based son explained his dad's presence: "He bought into everything Bush and the GOP said about the markets. Now he's for Obama."

And who wouldn't be, listening to the speech?

"Ronald Reagan asked, (when he ran for president} 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?'" asked Obama. At today's pace, he said, the question is "how are you compared to four weeks ago?" But, "this is not a time for fear or panic...it is a time for resolve and steady leadership.

"...This is the UNITED States of America," said Obama. "We have faced great challenges and great threats...Our destiny is not written for us but by us. We make the decisions.

"Indiana, that's who we are, and that's where we need to be, and that's why I'm running for president....we are going to make this an American century."

Obama spoke of 700,000 jobs lost since January, then promised to open steel mills again to make wind turbines and solar panels and to build a hybird car of the future not in Japan or South Asia, but in the U.S.A.

"Because of you I have come this far," he said, in what was his grassroots theme: we are in this together. Speaking of Sen. John McCain's tax breaks for the wealthy, he asked for a show of hands: how many in the crowd made less than $250,000 a year? As every arm shot up, Obama promised, "If you make less than a quarter of a million a year, you will not see one dime of increased taxes."

On health care, he compared his perspective, that health care is a right, to McCain's notion, expressed in the debate the night before, that health care is a "responsibility." not the duty of government to provide.

"He (McCain) gets his health care from the government," said Obama, "and he is very happy with it. Yet somehow he doesn't want the government involved" in providing health care for the rest of Americans.

"We put Wall Street before Main Street but somehow we ended up hurting both. It is not just the CEOs, but the CEO's secretaries...not just the owners of the factories, but the men and women on the floor," who are affected, he said.

If we have learned anything at all from the past few weeks' financial crisis, he added, it is that "We are all together, and we rise and fall together."

From where I sat, his speech was punctuated with lots of enthusiastic response: "Thank you!" "Yeah!" "Good job!" "You can do it!"

I've had the priviledge now of hearing Obama speak in person twice, the first time during the primary in Cincinnati, and the second time today in Indy. No joke, as good as he was in Ohio, he's better today: totally on target, comfortable, confident and eloquent as always.

The experience for me, at the age of 61, has been a catalyst -- to see so many different people coming together for a common cause, and always in a mood of exuberance and even joy.

My friendship with my young friend Andre, who is black and from Carmel, has been forged by this campaign; no doubt, millions of others have reached across color and identity lines to embrace one another. So it was that Wednesday's crowed included union workers in T-shirts of their trade -- UAW, Steelworkers, Teamsters -- and aging boomers who remember that the last time Indiana went Democrat was in 1964, when Hoosiers voted for Lyndon Johnson.

At the end, I asked Mr. Bald Republican in the orange shirt if he liked Obama's speech.

"What's not to like?" he said rhetorically.

And as Andre and I left together, flowing out of a very relaxed crowd to find our vehicle, Andre met up with a young fellow volunteer out of the Broad Ripple office. They discussed the latest polls, which states were still in play and the debate the night before. As we parted ways, Andre's friend, wearing a yarmulke, joined his parents. "You'll have to come over for Shabbos!" he called out to Andre.

"Whateever that is, it sounds great," Andre said back.

Unity. It's a joy. Spread the word. And for God's sake, vote.

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