Marchers link struggles past to promising future

DETROIT — Close to 70 Obama acceptance speech events took place in the Detroit metropolitan area last night, but by far the largest was at Bert’s Warehouse Theater in the city’s Eastern Market, where several thousand gathered.

A campaign-organized march to Bert’s was a great way to start the celebration. Forty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have A Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. But in April that same year, Dr. King delivered a version of that now-famous speech right here in Detroit at Cobo Hall —after 200,000 people had marched down Woodward Ave., the city’s main thoroughfare. Organizers said last night’s march “linked our struggle’s past to its most promising future.”

Led by Detroit’s Cass Tech high school marching band, hundreds began their journey towards Bert’s with a 2-mile march from Cobo Hall. Marchers from the city and neighboring towns were full of excitement, both for the election of Barack Obama and for the changes they feel the country so desperately needs.

Southfield resident Irene Merritt said she wants the war to stop and to use some of the money here in the United States for universal health care and to help people facing foreclosure and filing for bankruptcy. She related a story she had read earlier in the day about an 85-year-old woman filing for bankruptcy, and said, “I think it’s just awful. She got sick and her medical bills piled up. It’s not right.”
 
Merritt has been working on the Obama campaign in Southfield registering voters. She raised money selling $10 “bowl-a-rama” tickets with all the proceeds going to the campaign.

Detroit resident Sandra Dixon said she is supporting Obama because “we need somebody who cares about people who aren’t so rich.” She had closely followed the convention on TV and “thinks it’s awesome.”
 
Henry Ford High School junior Candace Harmon said she wants to go to college and study nursing but worries about the huge expense it will entail. Along with her mother and others she’s gone door-to-door registering people to vote.
 
Judy Duncan-Yantiss from Royal Oak said, “We don’t need four more years of the same.”  She cited Obama’s integrity, character and unifying role — “he just brings people together” — as reasons she is supporting him. 
 
Duncan-Yantiss sounded a note heard from many of the marchers on viewing the convention on TV “I watched C-Span instead of listening to the talking heads,” she said. “I don’t need their opinion, I can form my own. CNN and others are always looking for the negative.”

Another Royal Oak resident in last night’s march was retired teacher April Smith, who was also at the 1963 Detroit march. She was 14 years old then, and remembers a sunny day with thousands of people, but the significance of the event didn’t dawn on her at the time, she said. It was a time when African Americans were demanding equality and that drew a racial backlash from the local white power structure, Smith recalled. “We’ve all come a long way and this election is our opportunity to confront the real issues, the real divisions, and have a chance to achieve Dr. King’s dream,” she said.

Westland resident Charlene Smith said she has been an Obama volunteer since the campaign opened in Michigan. “I can tell you I’ve never volunteered for a campaign before in my life,” she said. “It’s a new experience, a good thing. It’s really a labor of love for everyone down at the headquarters.”

She works full time as an accounting analyst but “pretty much leaves work and goes over to the headquarters.” I’m there every day. When I started out I didn’t intend to be as involved as I am but there is so much to be done.”

Obama’s ability to give people hope and his ideas on the changes needed brought her to his campaign. “People I know are struggling, having a really tough time. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, Black, pink or purple, we just really need to get past this and join together.”

Barry Short is a tax preparer from Southfield who has clients losing their homes, not because of sub-prime mortgages, but because they are losing their jobs by being forced out through outsourcing, buyouts and retirements.

“Two years ago I was making about $100,000; now I’m down to about $40,000 – that’s due to jobs being outsourced,” he said. “People have to get together and vote for Obama. McCain is the same old, same old; he’s a nightmare.”

Short added, “We must change the direction the country is going in. Everything this administrating has done has been against the general population. It’s broken our Constitution.”

Arriving at Bert’s after the 2-mile walk, we had two things to anticipate: viewing Obama’s history-making speech, and having a cold drink. Both were extremely satisfying.

jrummel @ pww.org

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