Here is an account of an Obama townhall that a coworker of mine went to. Because my blog gets such extreme traffic, I thought I’d give her thoughts a real megaphone and post this on isHum. So, thanks to Cathy, and enjoy:

Politics and ice cream – two of my favorite things – came together a couple of weeks ago when Barack Obama held an impromptu “town hall meeting” at Petersen’s Ice Cream Parlor in Oak Park. I couldn’t resist the urge to indulge myself in a scoop of both. So, thanks to family friend Cindy Jones, I found myself among the hundred or so locals squeezed around the tables waiting for the Senator on a warm Friday afternoon in September.

As we waited, several people asked me, “Have you met him before?” And when I’d say no, they’d say, “Just wait.” Now that I have met him, I know what they were getting at. Once you meet the man, you come away feeling things most of us have not felt about the political scene for a long time — like hope, trust and pride. I really wish each of you could have been there with me. But the next best thing I can do is to share a few impressions.

After a long, hot wait, made sweeter by free ice cream, he finally arrived, that funny-looking guy who is running for President. We gave him a rousing welcome as he made the rounds of the room shaking hands and giving each of us a keepsake moment. It also helped that he referred to Oak Park as “Hyde Park West,” noting its similarities to his own South Side neighborhood and promising us all an ice cream if we put him in the White House. (Note that this campaign promise has been duly recorded and Oak Parkers don’t forget.)

For those of you who are interested (in other words, male readers, just skip this paragraph), the Senator is better looking in person than in pictures – tall, but not looming, thin as a teenage boy, with a smooth, almost unlined face. But he’s not Hollywood handsome. He’s too much of an original for that. Think Huck Finn grown up and almost tame. Think the young Abe Lincoln with those sad but twinkling eyes. (Enough, Ladies, or I will be accused of waxing poetic instead of politic.)

The first thing the Senator did was to decline a teleprompter. It was clear from the start that this guy doesn’t need a script. He speaks by his wits and from the heart – a rarity these days and one that commanded our attention. I won’t catalogue everything he said because I couldn’t say it as well or as convincingly. Instead, let me offer you 10 highlights that will be the things I remember most about the conversation:

He said that America is a Land of Law and a Land of Immigrants – and those two identities have to be reconciled.
He said the best day in the campaign so far was the day he spent walking in the shoes of a health care worker who took care of an 87-year-old amputee.
He said that when he recommended raising fuel efficiency to 40% in Detroit to automakers, no one applauded. (He said that twice.)
He said that any health care plan that’s going to work will have to allow the insurance companies a seat at the table, but not the whole table.
He said no one should have to spend his or her last days worrying about how to pay medical bills, as his own mother did.
He told the mother of a 10-month-old heart patient that he didn’t pretend to know what she was feeling, but that her baby looked like a fighter who would make it.
He pleaded guilty to being “inexperienced,” if experienced means knowing how to maintain the status quo.
He said that early childhood education and college education should be among the rights of American children.
He said that we don’t have to wait for George Bush to leave the White House to stop the war, but if we do, he’d end it within his first year in office.
He said that he can’t change America alone, but together we can.

Obama gave the final question of the afternoon to a 9-year-old boy who asked him what he’d do about BP (British Petroleum) polluting Lake Michigan. I don’t remember the details of the Senator’s answer, but I do remember that he gave the last word to a child – and he took him seriously.

I’ll leave you with one more story, the one he left us with. Obama was in Greenwood, South Carolina, making good on a promise to the local congresswoman to pay a visit to this tiny hamlet. It was early – maybe 8 a.m. – and he was exhausted from 10 days on the campaign trail. But he is running for President, so he began shaking hands and making small talk, when a voice suddenly bellowed, “Fired up!” Only, he said it with a Carolina accent, “Farred up!” The townsfolk echoed, “Farred up!” Not knowing what to make of the curious interruption, he ignored it and continued meeting and greeting. A few minutes later, the same voice hollered, “Ready to go!” Once again, the crowd responded, “Ready to go!” That’s when he noticed that the voice belonged to a tiny lady in a big church hat in the back of the hall. She was the local “chanter,” a kind of civic cheerleader. By the end of almost an hour peppered with such rousing exhortations, Obama said everyone was indeed, “Farred up and ready to go!” even the tired candidate.

For Obama, that little lady represented the power of one small voice. She raised her voice and made a difference in the lives of her fellow citizens. Funny thing is, I heard her voice too, in a warm, crowded ice cream parlor in Oak Park, Illinois. Now you are hearing her voice.

Whoever you choose to support, I hope you will believe in the power of your voice to make a difference. Thanks for listening awhile to mine.


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