February 4th, 2009

The Zombie

Hope, For A Change


"January 31" -  Yes, I know that it's well into February as I type this.  For the sake of wrapping up several loose ends before moving on, let's just pretend that it is still the last day of last month.  I'll get to February stuff in just a little bit, but first let me talk about what was 2008's biggest story not only here in the ol' WOMP-Blog, but, almost certainly, everywhere else.  I'm speaking, of course, about...

The WOMP-Blog's Biggest Stories of 2008
Number One - Hope Votes!

For me, without a doubt, the biggest story of the previous twelve months was the election of Barack Obama as our nation's 44th President.  Far smarter people than I have filled the Internet with articles, essays, editorials, poems, and songs about "what this means," so I won't waste your time trying to match or top what they've already said (and said again).  What I do want to write about is what it was like to go to an Obama campaign rally...

It all began back in October of 2008.  As you may remember, then-candidate Obama was scheduled to speak in nearby La Crosse, Wisconsin, on the 1st, which couldn't have been worse timing for me personally.  As I said back then, "I had hard artwork deadlines looming, an impending comic book convention, an art contest to manage, people to see, places to be...but I had also just said "goodbye" to a lifelong friend (Joe Shulka).  Add that to the troubles facing everyone today, and, well...I just felt like I needed a little hope, you know?"  I also promised to tell you all about it later, so...

It all began in July of 2004.  The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from Illinois gave a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston.  The young legislator with a funny name delivered what has since been commemorated as one of the greatest American speeches.  He was compared to Lincoln and Kennedy and Reagan and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by many who saw him.  But not me.  I was at work.  The next day, my wife tried to explain how moved she was by the speech and the eloquence and confidence of the speaker...she just couldn't remember his uncommon name.  "It was something like 'Farouk Ibiza' or 'Iraq O'Hara.'"  She went further, with a prophecy that "That guy will be President someday."  Now, I've been interested in Presidential politics since I was a kid... 

It all began in January of 1977.  Up until then, I'd been only barely aware of who was President.  Even though I was born during the Johnson administration, I had no recollection of any President before Gerald Ford...

It all began in July of 1976.  As our nation celebrated it's Bicentennial, I was swept up in the - let's face it - relatively tepid wave of patriotism that had not excited much of anyone else.  The timing of the event, coming hard on the heels of Watergate and the Viet Nam War, couldn't have been worse, but I didn't know that.  I was just a kid who liked red, white, and blue.  By the time July 4th had come around, I was like a little walking Bicentennialpedia, reciting the names of past Presidents along with The Pledge of Allegiance and The National Anthem.  So, I suddenly knew who The President was.  Later that year, as the election loomed, I learned from my Grandma Fry that the Democratic Presidential candidate was actually related to me!  Suddenly, I was interested in Presidential elections!  That brings us back to...

January of 1977.  All the kids in my grade school were rounded up into classrooms to see the televised Inauguration of President Carter.  As we watched, I was feeling especially smug because he was, after all, family (something like fourth-cousins, once-removed, but family nonetheless).  Then this kid - this even-more-smug kid - starts showing off this letter.  It turned out that the kid had written a congratulatory note to the President-Elect after the election.  To his surprise, and my dismay, he got a personal reply!  Yep, there, in that fifth-grader's hand, was a letter signed by Jimmy Carter.  At that moment, in my jealousy, I became a collector of Presidential memorabilia.  From then on, I saved special Inauguration Edition newspapers, buttons, bumper stickers, and whatever else I could find, all in a vain attempt to have something as cool as that darn letter.  Oh, and I should probably mention that the letter-kid was named Joe Shulka, and that he and I became lifelong friends.  My interest in Presidential politics has also been lifelong, which brings us back to...

July of 2004.  I was determined to find out more about Iraq O'Hara, but had some trouble finding out just exactly what his real name was.  It took a couple of days, but I finally came across Barack Obama's Senate campaign site.  Illinois is a neighbor state to my own (less than 60 miles away, now that I think about it), so I signed up to his e-newsletter, and I've been receiving almost daily e-messages from "him" ever since.  Originally, I did it just to keep abreast of what was happening down there.  That, and after reading a transcript of that convention speech, I thought that maybe my wife's prediction would come true, and I'd be in on the behind-the-scenes build-up to his eventual run in 2012 or 2016.  Imagine my surprise when I got an e-message about two years later saying that Obama was going to run in 2008!  That brings us back to...

October of 2008.  When I weighed all of the reasons why I shouldn't take the trip up to La Crosse to attend the Obama rally, it occurred to me that they were also the same reasons why I had to do it.  I made my final decision when the alarm went off at 6:30AM that morning.  "Aw, why go?  It's not like I'm an undecided voter or anything."  But, as I thought about it, and all of the years that led up to that day, I knew that I had to get up and get going, despite being just, ugh...so tired.  So, off I went.  Mr. Obama was scheduled to speak right on the public street in front of the La Crosse Center at 10:00AM, but e-mails from the campaign said to show up early.  Because of the traffic, and the lack of parking spaces, I was running a bit late, but, by 8:10, I still found the end of the line (near the Mississippi riverfront) into which people had to cue to get into the secured assembly area.  To call the line "long" is an understatement.  In just the segment I could see, using a count of people between evenly spaced streetlamps, I guesstimated over two thousand people in my "section" of the line.  By 10:00, I had moved to just a half block away from the metal-detectors and security checkpoints.  I was a little nervous about whether I'd even be allowed in, but, as other speakers began to warm up the crowd, the line seemed to accelerate.  By the time someone shouted "And here he is, the next President of The United States, Barack Obama," I had found myself a decent vantage point about a block away on a slight rise near a street sign at the West corner of 2nd and Pearl.  Rumor had it that Mr. Obama had a cold, and that he'd already canceled other scheduled appearances that day to both recuperate and so that he could head back to Washington for a crucial vote, so there had been some concern as to whether he'd even show up.  When he began to speak, he was clearly tired, but he began to speak clearly and forcefully anyway.  I can't explain exactly why he was so compelling as he continued.  In part, it was most certainly due to his patient, steady cadence.  It built, paused, rose, and stilled with near perfect parallel to his words.  But, it was those words which really hit me.  I've never heard a major candidate so clearly espouse my own beliefs out loud.  Heck, I'd never before heard any candidate say even half of that stuff!  Frankly, after eight years (or more) of paying attention to what has been happening to my country, I'd have voted for a ham sandwich if it had won the Democratic nomination, but, to hear this man - this lone, thin, congested man standing in front of ten-thousand people (and the world) - as he talked about fairness, hope, work, and dreams, well...I knew that we all had an excellent chance of reclaiming the soul of our nation.  I took several photographs - I really did - but I was so far away from the dais that Mr. Obama is only visible in them to someone who knows exactly where to look for him amongst the teensy human-shaped blobs in the distance (even so, at six-feet, four-inches tall, I was employed by several shorter members of the nearby audience to capture what I could on their cameras).  So, I instead turned on my camera's movie mode, capturing the dramatic, moving, last few minutes of his speech.  It's on YouTube now, if you'd like to hear it (if so, CLICK HERE).  It picks up just before he wondered aloud how history would judge us and that moment in time.  He said...

"Will they say that we turned on each other?  Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame...when we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other's success?  That all of us - Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Young, Old, Rich, Poor, Gay, Straight - that all of us have a stake in each other...that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper?"

As I stood there, looking at hundreds of faces which literally matched up to each of his "all of us" descriptions, I knew that whatever people of the future might say, I was finally - finally - hopeful that there was going to be a future at all.  After the speech, I took the opportunity to get some photos of the crowd, the speakers' stand, and so forth.  As I did, I saw people crying, strangers actually hugging, and, frankly, a reflection of the United States of America that I'd first fallen in love with way back in 1976. 

Of course, the rest is history now.  Where we all go from here is still shaky and uncertain, but I join with my fellow Americans - and, really, my fellow citizens of the world - in the reinvigorated hope that, with President Obama's steady, principled leadership, we'll move forward into a better tomorrow. 



(this is The President's Official Portrait, courtesy of Wikipedia)


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OK, time to move on.  In the next post, I'll get back on track with a February-dated entry, but, just to wrap up January, I leave you all with your last Dead Comic Book Character of The Day - Casper, The Friendly Ghost!

**MORE WOMP-BLOG EXCLUSIVES** - Hey, they may be terrible photos, but at least I took some, and here are a few of them....