Fired Up Again, Ready to Go
By Jeni Jenkins
I have to admit that in recent months I have been feeling a bit politically jaded. People are talking, and frankly the conversation is quite sour, particularly when it comes to President Barack Obama. Name calling; back-stabbing; political snowballing. Obama has been referred to as a Nazi, a socialist, and a communist czar. Among other criticism he is accused of deceiving the public with his health-care plan. This persistent negative dialogue has had me feeling disillusioned, and I’ve been losing hope.
Last weekend I attended the largest Labor Day Picnic in the country. I’d never been to a Labor Day Picnic put on by the AFL-CIO or any event organized by a labor union, so I didn’t know what to expect. But more than anything I was surprised during the days prior that more people weren’t talking about the fact that Obama was going to be speaking.I realized it might have to do with the drop in public support.
As soon as I got wind of the event I googled “Obama Coney Island Cincinnati.” I was shocked to find no relevant hits. Huh? Why hadn’t the Cincinnati Enquirer written about it? Why hadn’t CityBeat picked up the story? Channel 9? Channel 12?
While still dumbfounded by the lack of coverage in the local news, I was convinced that all the tickets were already taken and that I couldn’t attend. But a casual conversation with a colleague a day later resulted in three tickets for my two children and me – my definition of spontaneous satisfaction.
My children were thrilled when they found out. By the time we arrived at Coney Island, their unrestrained energy was fueling my anxiety. I anticipated long lines, angry mobs of gun toting anti-Obamites and men in black suits whispering into translucent earpieces while each of us endured a full-body cavity search by the fuzz.
To my relief, the experience was nothing of the sort. We were welcomed at the gates by a covey of neighborly volunteers from various unions. We passed dozens of union booths and then proceeded through a series of crowd-control checkpoints until finally arriving at security, where officers briefly patted us down and sent us on our way through the bus barricaded entryway.
We walked across the grassy courtyard to the Riverbend Pavilion and were surprised to discover that only the first 10 or so rows were filled. Who knew that attending a presidential speech would be so simple? We even had the flexibility of switching seats for optimum viewing of the podium.
We waited patiently as people continued to trickle in and the opening acts, a series of political leaders, took the stage, addressing the audience, building excitement, each a rank higher than the last. From Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, each had a positive message to relay about the crucial role of workers in our communities.
Then as retiring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was finishing his pep talk, we heard the presidential helicopter fleet circle the sky above. Enthusiasm ripped through the crowd as people stood and began cheering and clapping. I am pretty sure that not a soul in the pavilion could sustain their attention as Sweeney finished his speech. We sat on the edge of our seats as we waited for the president to make his appearance.
Those were the longest moments, because we knew that he was there, but we just couldn’t wait. Then Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis came up and spoke for what felt like a millennium. Would her speech ever end? I tried to listen, but the words wouldn’t penetrate. Finally she finished and a few minutes later Charlie Dilbert, a local employee of A&A Safety, introduced Obama. The crowd went wild.
As soon as he stepped onto the stage, his presence felt surreal. I was instantaneously captivated by his powerful demeanor, yet casual appearance. Immediately he asked two crucial questions, pausing between for the passionate applause: “Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?” As he spoke those words, I could feel my political energies recharging.
His speech was cathartic. He was so inspirational and down to earth. He spoke to us as a person with compassion for all people. He was direct, charismatic and conversational, as if chatting with old friends. He reminded me why I had supported him during the primaries. I remember how the tears welled up in my eyes as I heard him speak about issues of poverty and class. It was the first time in my life that I saw a politician who represented the working class and who understood the plight of the poor in this country – someone who knew change was unavoidable and who was ready to take the reins.
He reminded us about how bad our nation had it nine months ago and he addressed our nation’s financial system, the foreclosure crisis, the manufacturing industry as well as the state of education. And last but not least he addressed the most controversial issue – quality, affordable health care for every American. His emphasis was on acting now and getting it right and ignoring the scare tactics of special interest groups. He asked his opponents, “What’s your answer? What’s your solution?” And he offered this: “They don’t have one”.
When it was over, I was sad to see Obama go so soon. But I was pleased that my children had the opportunity to see him speak live. My level of hope had been slowly decreasing, my vision was blurred and I was questioning my confidence in Obama. But he fired me up and now I am ready to go again.