TAMPA — Thousands of Floridians gathered in locations throughout the state recently in support of Sen. Barack Obama’s ‘Unite for Change’ call. From the overwhelming response of Floridians, from Tallahassee and Jacksonville in the north to Miami and Key West in the south, it was clear that the state cannot be ‘called early’ for Sen. John McCain in November.

Hosts of ‘Unite for Change’ gatherings were swamped by responses after posting notice of their meetings on the Obama campaign’s website. In several instances, the interest far exceeded the number of people who could be accommodated. In areas where there was more than one gathering, some people, both young and old, were inspired to attend several events during the afternoon and evening hours.

‘Unite for Change’ events were multi-racial, multi-ethnic and cross generational. Veterans of campaigns as far back as the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy found themselves seated next to or across from people who had never been moved to participate in a campaign before. ‘I listened to Obama speak on the television, turned to my significant other, and said, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’ That’s what brought me here,’ one participant said.

While opposition to the ongoing U.S. military incursion into Iraq was a common, but by no means universal, denominator in bringing people to the meetings, more expressed their disgust at the way in which the Bush administration’s policies have destroyed the economy. ‘One of the things I learned from my parents was that we have an obligation to leave our children with a better world and a better future than we had. I don’t see how we’re doing that now, but I think we have a chance to do that with Obama,’ said another attendee.

Floridians have been hard hit by right-wing initiatives which have taken almost $900 million away from public education while, at the same time, homeowner’s insurance rates and home foreclosures hit record highs. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Obama campaign’s message of hope and change have resonated with many residents of the state.

In addition to the war and the economy, some participants have been motivated by the issue of nominees to the federal bench. People were reminded that the president nominates not only Supreme Court justices, but the entire federal judiciary, as well. Statistics show counties that were once dominated by the GOP are now largely Democrats and independents, providing proof of the importance of voter registration drives.

If there was any ambivalence, it came from people who noted that their ‘hearts were broken’ in both 2000 and 2004. The Florida Democratic Party is encouraging individuals to vote by absentee ballots to avoid any problems with the electronic voting machines.

While some of the Unite for Change events were organized under the auspices of the Democratic Party organizations, the majority were hosted by women and men who did not have official affiliations. This gave the events a strong and inspiring ‘grassroots’ flavor. ‘I am stoked,’ said a participant who had never participated in any political campaigns. He was among the first to volunteer for some of the work that emerged from the meeting.



Lawrence Albright
Lawrence Albright

Lawrence Albright is an activist, writer, and educator who writes from New Jersey.