DETROIT — The waiting was over, and when Barack Obama came on stage in Joe Louis Arena, 20,000 people exploded in an ear-deafening roar. Some had been waiting for the 8:30 evening rally since noon that day, but as Obama had not campaigned here for the disputed Jan. 15 Michigan primary, all had been waiting months to see and hear the presidential candidate in person.

There are too few times that a large multiracial crowd comes together in this diverse but segregated area of Michigan, but in keeping with Obama’s message of breaking down old divisions, this was certainly one of those times. The crowd was made up of working people, young and old, Black, Brown and white, male and female, gay and straight. Families brought their children to be part of history in the making.

Waiting in the pre-rally lines, many worried about McCain’s comment that bringing troops home from Iraq was “not too important,” and they worried about how their present and future dreams were being crushed — “the cry of desperation across the land” that Obama later referred to in his speech.

The importance of winning Michigan in the fall was highlighted by the appearance of former Vice President Al Gore, who introduced and endorsed Sen. Obama. Gore’s presence ignited the crowd and his message of everyone understanding the critical importance of the November elections was well understood.

If you think the next appointment to the Supreme Court matters, if you live in New Orleans or lost your job, or are struggling with your mortgage, or if anyone from your family is in the active military, “if you care about food safety and like a ‘T’ on your BLT, you know elections matter,” Gore declared.

When Gore introduced Obama as the next president, it was if an electrical current propelled everyone out of their seats to cheer. In an appeal for unity, Obama, paid tribute to Sen. Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president, saying she shattered a glass ceiling into 18 million pieces and lifted up the hopes of young women all across America. “She is worthy of our respect,” Obama said.

One of the loudest and longest ovations came when Obama addressed his unity theme. “The reason you are here tonight, the reason I am standing here tonight as the Democratic nominee, is because you decided in this election: not this time.”
“We are going to come together: Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young/old, rich/poor, gay/straight, urban/suburban, and we are going to explore the possibilities of America in this election. That’s why we’re here tonight.”

One of the loudest boos came with Obama’s reference to John McCain’s tax policy that would reward the Exxon Mobil oil company with $1 billion in tax breaks. Twenty-five percent of McCain’s tax breaks will go to those making $2.5 million. When Obama asked if anyone in the audience made that much, no hands went up, but he drew laughter by saying Detroit Pistons star Chauncey Billups (who earlier had fired up the crowd with his pro-Obama appeal to register and get out the vote) would probably be a beneficiary of such a tax break.

A knowing wave of anguish swept the arena when Obama described how low expectations were crushing the hopes of our youngest. In cities like Chicago and Detroit, in Appalachia, in the barrios of south Texas and the Indian reservations of South Dakota, he said, “you can see children as full of potential as my children or Al Gore’s children” who by the age of 8, 7 or 6 have “a cloud pass over their eyes.”

Not surprisingly in a state where job loss is high, jobs and the economy were a major part of Obama’s speech. He spoke about his plan to provide health insurance to all Americans, invest in the nation’s infrastructure, make sure every worker gets the training he or she needs, and ensure that every child can afford a college education. Instead of tax shelters for the rich, he said, we’re going to give tax shelters to the American people — a $1,000 tax credit to offset higher gas and food prices.

Obama told the Motor City crowd he would support government spending to help the auto industry with green technology. Earlier in the day, Obama spoke in Flint, Mich., and greeted autoworkers at a General Motors plant there.

Last week, the United Auto Workers unanimously endorsed Obama, saying, “On every issue that counts, we can count on Barack Obama to stand with our members, our families and our communities.”

jrummel @ pww.org

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