Saturday, October 25, 2008

Yes we can

October 18, 2008. It was a brilliant day in St. Louis. The sky was robin’s egg blue and dotted with passing clouds. The Arch gleamed brightly in the sunshine as 100,000 good citizens filled the park grounds to enjoy their moment in history. Barack Obama was getting ready to speak.

For me, the day started with a ride on Metro to the riverfront. The train was full but not overly crowded, and there was a definite hum in the air. Some folks seemed excited and jovial. Others lost in their thoughts. Everyone, though, seemed to radiate a keen sense of anticipation. Myself included.

As Metro pulled into the Laclede’s Landing stop, you could see scores of people already filling the Arch grounds. All along the road, more people were coming down from every direction to cue up for their entrance to the park.

At the sight of so many already on site, a spontaneous roar and applause erupted in my car. A woman yelled out, “Yes we can!” I hadn’t even got off the train and already I had goosebumps and lump in my throat.

As I came out of the Metro station I was astounded to see so many people in one place behaving in such an orderly manner. There was no jostling for better positioning or cutting in line. Folks just patiently walked way past the park entrance to find a spot at the end of the procession.

Order and good manners were maintained throughout the long, snaking line. Then from the Arch grounds you could hear the first strains of the Star Spangled Banner. The crowd murmured. Now someone began talking over a loud speaker. Buzzing rose up around me and then anarchy took over.

Thinking they were missing the start of the program, people broke from line and started rushing toward the Arch. But even in this moment of rebellion, there was order and courtesy. A few volunteers simply steered the throngs in the right direction and suddenly I came over the crest where I could get a better scope of the crowd. Wow.

As local and state Democrats took their turn at the podium, people continued filling in every possible square inch of the natural amphitheatre created by the sloping terrain. As someone who suffers a strong sense of claustrophobia in crowds, I took a position near the far northern fence so I would have open space on one side. I was high enough on the slope that I was able to see down to the riverfront and all the way up to the Old Courthouse.

From my position I could observe and marvel at the diversity of the masses around me. African American, white, Asian, middle-Eastern, Hispanic. Young, old, big and little. Yuppies and aging hippies. Strong athletic types and people in wheel chairs. Grandmothers, toddlers, fashionistas, bikers and everything in between.

What everyone had in common, though, was a hope for a better America and a desire to stand close to a man who seems poised to take us there.

One thing my position did not allow was a close up view of Obama. But a large video screen gave the action more visibility. Fortunately the sound system was remarkably good and you could clearly hear first hand the now familiar voice of a great orator.

Hearing Obama speak in person was of course exciting. The crowd cheered and chanted and gained vigor with every word. But it was the pulse of the masses that was the thrill of the day. It was like being part of a great beating heart. We all vibrated to the same frequency and created an energy force strong enough to light up the city.

As the speech ended, I made a dash for the exit and wound my way through swarms of street vendors with piles of T-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons. The energy of the crowd disseminated but I knew that each of us left feeling like someone plugged us into a socket of hope and flipped the recharge switch.

The woman on the train was right. Yes we can.


My digital camera finally died so I shot black and white film on a 30 year old Pentax -- the camera I learned photography on many years ago. I was positioned into the sun and many tall people obstructed photo opportunities, but I'm including below a few shots from the rally. I've posted them separately because, honestly, I couldn't figure out how to get them sequentially into this post.


dd said...

I loved your post. I too have been feeling for sometime that something big is brewing. The pics are amazing -- the sheer size of the crowd!! To quote that wonderful song by Sam Cooke, "I know...... change gonna come; oh yes it will".......
I cannot wait to go to Grant Park next Tuesday.....but we need to stay focused and above all -- everyone vote!


Amy said...

So beautifully recreated—images and language! I felt the shiver of the "what if we are witnessing something in our lifetime that up until now has been unimaginable." Thanks P for putting it down on "paper". A