By 8 p.m. Monday night, the line to enter the Super Tuesday Eve rally for Barack Obama snaked a half-mile down Seaport Boulevard, across the Fort Port Channel bridge and all the way to Atlantic Avenue.
“I’ve never been so excited about something like this,” said Doug Slaughter, a 21-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology senior from Augusta, Ga., as he shivered on the windswept waterfront. “This is truly something special.”
More than cold was in the air as thousands of people of various ages and professions stood in line for three hours to squeeze into the low-ceilinged World Trade Center to hear the would-be Democratic nominee make his case to Bay State voters the night before the 22-state primary.
Prominent members of the state’s political class warmed up the crowd waiting for the Illinois senator, who came bounding on stage at 10:40 p.m.
Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Sens. John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy all took turns at the podium as Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, sat quietly and applauded each speaker. A New York Times opinion piece by Caroline Kennedy, the only surviving child of the late president, had touched off a tsunami of Kennedy family endorsements the week before.
Mayor Wong, scoffing at charges that she was ”too inexperienced” in her upset mayoral victory last year, said the “claim didn’t work in 2007 and it will not work in 2008.”
Patrick has stumped for Obama and knows what it’s like to be considered inexperienced and a political underdog.
“This is a candidate who understands that economic growth without economic justice is not who we are or who we want to be,” Patrick said. “This is a candidate who understands that our policy in Iraq has been flawed from the start and we have to have the courage to fix it now. This is a visionary, unifying leader able to articulate a destination and motivate people from all kinds of backgrounds to reach for it. And the momentum, my friends … I’m fired up, too … And the momentum, my friends, is with us.”
Citing his now-historic decision to select Obama as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention here in Boston, Kerry showered praise on the Illinois senator.
Though he acknowledged the next president stands to face a slew of difficult challenges, including a slumping economy, rising unemployment, disparities in education and health care, and the war in Iraq, Kerry said he believed Obama would successfully tackle those problems as the commander in chief and leader of the free world.
“Who better to call this country to conscience?” the party’s 2004 nominee asked, as the crowd cried, “O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!”
“He can give us what America needs the most, which is not a transition; Barack Obama can bring us a transformation,” Kerry said. “This is the moment. The time is right to join together, grab a hold of that future, and make Barack Obama president of our country.”
Kennedy compared Obama’s ability to inspire to his brother’s appeal to Americans of another generation to believe in a cause greater than themselves.
“We have good news tonight,” Kennedy said. “And the good news is that one year from now, we won’t have George Bush as president.”
The Commonwealth’s senior U.S. senator, long at the forefront of the nation’s liberal vanguard, said that America in the coming years has the chance to fix the health care system, end the war in Iraq, invest in children, restore the economy and correct the problem of global warming.
“We have the opportunity to do so and we have the opportunity to do so when … the people of Massachusetts do for Barack Obama what they have done for Deval Patrick, what they have done for John Kerry, what they have done for Ted Kennedy, what they have done for Robert and John Kennedy in the past,” he said. “If you care about our future, if you care about the future of Massachusetts, if you care about our nation, then vote for Barack Obama.”
His voice cracking after a nonstop week of campaigning, including a grueling West Coast swing, Kennedy called Obama to the stage. The crowd erupted as the tall, elegant figure of the Kansan-Kenyan-by-way-of-Hawaii came sweeping in along the rope line, shaking hands and waving to every corner of the room.
In a wide-ranging, 45-minute address, Obama left no important issue unmentioned and no grace note unsaid. Speaking to both his Boston audience and West Coast viewers watching in prime time, he attacked the Bush administration’s policies of detention and torture, the willingness to invest in new prisons rather than old schools, and the failure to address global warming.
Citing what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now,” Obama called for an end to the practice of governing by fear, saying the current administration had chosen to sow divisions to maintain power instead of promoting unity. He also renewed his call for wise deployment of the military, while citing the need to address the genocide in Darfur and to make college affordable for all Americans.
“The American people are looking for change,” Obama said. “Our politics is premised on us being divided and as a consequence, us being powerless. It’s been at the heart of our politics for the past seven, eight … How many years? … Too long.
“That’s what the American people are tired of,” he continued. “They’re tired of being afraid, they’re tired of being divided, they’re tired of talking about the same old problem, year after year, decade after decade. They want change. And I am here to tell you that if you believe, we can make change in America, right here and right now.”
Obama said that as president, he would negotiate with both “leaders we like” and “leaders we despise.” When he announced this intention last year, he said, he drew the ire of other elected officials.
“Washington got all upset,” Obama said. “They said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Watch me.’”
Among those in attendance was Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr., who taught both Obama and his wife Michelle during their stint in Cambridge. The executive director of the university’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice called the rally “an inspirational moment for all of Massachusetts.”
“Barack has the vision and commitment to change this country’s direction,” Ogletree said. “He has the inspiration of Dr. King and John F. Kennedy and embodies what it means to have hope for the future.”
Obama’s rally also attracted many young people from the inner city.
Bashir Farah, a Somalian who now lives in South Boston, has lived in the United States for the last 14 years.
“I was waiting [outside in line] for five hours,” said Farah, who has American citizenship. “I didn’t believe that so many people would come out tonight, but I’m glad to see all these people like me — excited and inspired and willing to see Barack Obama.”
What draws Farah to Obama, the young man said, is the perception that Obama is a new kind of world leader.
“He has the education,” Farah said. “He has the power, and he has the will to solve the problems.”
Two high school teachers from Milton also made the trip.
“We are inspired by Barack Obama,” said Penny Knight. “It’s the first time I’ve been inspired by a politician in a long time. And we wanted — finally — to hear someone speak who is intelligent, eloquent and wise, as opposed to what we’ve been listening to for the last eight years. There’s definitely something happening. There’s a change in the air.”
Her colleague, Maggie Stark, readily admitted that she had not yet made a choice.
“I was on the fence for awhile between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and I feel that he’s able to galvanize a lot of support that could be very important in the general election,” Stark said.
U.S. Rep. William Delahunt echoed that sentiment during his brief comments, but cast his gaze beyond American shores.
“I can tell you the world is watching this campaign and they are rooting for Barack Obama and that’s the truth,” said Delahunt, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and chair of the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight. “We are feared more than we are admired, and I’m not talking about the Middle East — I’m talking about our traditional allies.”
Delahunt listed several nations, including Canada and Great Britain, as countries that fear the U.S.
“But there is an opportunity to change, and that’s with the election of Barack Obama,” he said. “He has the uncanny ability to bring everyone together. I think it’s simple, really. He treats everyone with respect.”