Sunday, February 03, 2008

"In America -- without George Bush": Teddy Kennedy visits Oakland....

I know several journalists who have been on the 2008 campaign trail since way back in Iowa and they all got me hooked on following the various presidential primary election contests. And they knew exactly how to get me hooked too. They found my weak spot. They talked about food. Apparently Mitt Romney's buffet table for journalists is the best, followed by Hillary's and then CNN's. But no one served ANY food to the journalists at the Reagan Library debate. Cheap Republicans. Humph.

Anyway, all this talk about debates and hot stories (and the food) finally lured me out of my bunker here in front of my computer and onto the campaign trail. But just working the Myrtle Beach debate for one weekend totally frazzled me. Looking for candidates to interview, hitting the after-parties, schmoozing with campaign workers at the Hard Rock Cafe and searching everywhere for Congresswoman Barbara Lee wore me right out. Trudging around Iraq with the Marines wasn't as hard as all this.

"How do you keep up with all this, week after week?" I asked one reporter in the spin room. "You gotta be made of steel to keep up this pace. And if you guys are made of steel then the candidates themselves must be made of titanium." Sorry, guys. That's the end of the campaign trail for me.

But it wasn't the end of the campaign trail for me, not at all. the other day, while I was "stacking" my daughter Ashley's now-purple hair into pin-curls, my son Joe popped his head in the door and said, "Hey, Ma, want to go hear Ted Kennedy speak at an Obama rally in Oakland today?" No, not really. I had just watched the L.A. debates on TV and they were boring. "I'm trying to save my energy to go off to Iraq on February 12." Go away.

But then I realized that this was a good opportunity to spend quality bonding time with my son, so we drove off to Oakland anyway. And it turned out that I was really glad I went. What a speaker Teddy Kennedy is! That man is all fire and brimstone. That man is a national treasure, a true Kennedy. All the reporters in the Myrtle Beach spin room would have been proud of me. (But there wasn't any food.)

We got to the Beebe Memorial Cathedral on Telegraph and 39th Street and there was a line all the way around the block. Oops. We shoulda planned our timing better and come earlier. But then we saw Anton Mohammed, Joe and Ashley's old jujitsu teacher, doing security and he told us to use the press entrance which we did and ended up getting front-row seats. Well, actually, we sat down on the floor in front of the front row, which was even better. And I whipped out my pen and camera and tried to look official. The Green Zone military press center in Iraq is all accusing me of not being a REAL reporter. They shoulda seen me now!

Unlike the South Carolina debates where everyone was all dressed to the nines and politely well-behaved, this crowd was from Berkeley and Oakland and everyone here was dressed casually, cheering their hearts out and -- good grief! -- even doing a wave. This was definitely an Obama crowd and Oakland was definitely an Obama town. I was probably the only person in an audience of 1,500 who was going to vote for Hillary.

In any case, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced Senator Kennedy. Good. I hadn't been able to track her down in South Carolina but maybe I could interview her after the rally. "Here are MY priorities," she said. "Ending the occupation in Iraq, ending poverty in America, fighting HIV/AIDS, decent housing, responsible government and civil rights. So when I was looking at the candidates for President, it became clear to me that there had been only one Senator in this race who opposed this war from the start." Big round of clapping and cheers.

"We have to bring our troops home and Senator Obama is the candidate to do it. This candidacy isn't about race. It's about the past vs. the future. And Senator Obama is the future of this nation, leading us in this young century into a POSITIVE future. This is about inspiring our young people -- with democratic progressive values. We've got to do it differently." More cheers. And she's right. If we don't do things differently than the Bush-Cheney-McCain generation did things, we're screwed. Heck, we're probably already screwed beyond redemption even now, thanks to them.

Up to this point I had been taking notes on the back of a campaign flier but then I ran out of space. Why oh why had I left my official-looking CNN reporter's notebook at home! But that didn't stop me. Your intrepid reporter Jane has skills! I started taking notes on the palm of my left hand. Then someone gave me one of those envelopes you put church donation money into that they store next to the hymn books in the front of the pews and I was good to go. And just in time too.

Senator Kennedy took the stage and the crowd went wild! Me too. "Do you know where we will be one year from today?" he asked us. "In America -- without George Bush!" That statement got him a standing ovation. Me too. I even considered jumping up on a pew so I could yell and scream louder! Down, Jane.

Then Senator Kennedy read us the MapQuest directions on how to get to the Beebe Memorial Cathedral that Senator Obama had given him. Everyone laughed.

"It is important that we support this amazing candidate." I guess he wasn't talking about Hillary. Not with a thousand Obama signs in his face. Sigh. "I feel change in the air." Then he talked about Martin Luther King Jr. and Brown vs. Board of Education. "King challenged this nation to knock down the walls of discrimination in this country. We made progress. Women, the disabled, Latinos, gays and lesbians -- we have not knocked down all the walls but we've made progress.

"And now we can elect someone who can electrify [I think that's what he said. I was writing so fast that now I can't read what I wrote] this nation. Obama will do this." The crowd roared again.

"In the 1960s," continued Kennedy in a deep, mesmerizing tone that made me think of Williams Jennings Bryant, "I was having lunch with the first Peace Corps volunteers to return home and one of them turned to me and said, 'This was the first time anyone asked me to do something for my country.' And we need the young people to get involved in politics. We need our young people. We need them. And they are going to get their parents and grandparents and uncles involved too, returning to the time of my brothers..." and suddenly I realized that I was only ten feet away from the last remaining Kennedy brother and that he was every bit as dynamic as JFK or Bobby. "...when we as a community, state and nation take on the challenges we will face after we get rid of George Bush and we need to get out of a war that we should never gotten into." Yep. The next generation is going to be stuck with cleaning up Bush's mess -- from restoring the treasury and the economy to rebuilding America's wonderful armed forces, the ones that Bush wasted on petty wars as if our honorable soldiers were his own private toys.

"We are going to do what is necessary to fund education. The Republicans say we don't have the money but remember this -- for every dollar that we spent on education for GIs returning from World War II, we got seven dollars back in taxes." No soldier left behind!

"The Republicans in Congress say 'No, we don't want socialized medicine.' But if it's good enough for the Republicans in Congress, then it's good enough for the people of America! And when Barak Obama raises his hand, it's going to be a new day in America. Are you fired up and ready to go?" That was a rhetorical question. The entire cathedral was totally fired up. Even me. If only Kennedy hadn't been politically assassinated at such a young age -- was he set up too? -- he might have been president as well.

Good grief, I still miss JFK.

Anyway, the rally was over and everyone was totally moved by Senator Kennedy's oratory and I tried to go backstage to see if I could finally have some luck in tracking down the elusive Rep. Lee but it was not to be. I guess I'll just have to break down and go visit her in her office in downtown Oakland.

Oaktown was out in force today and Kennedy did not disappoint.

PS: Here's a YouTube video of Joe and Ashley's jujitsu instructor, Anton SA Mohammed. Ashley studied with Mr. Mohammed for eight years, from the age of four until she grew big enough and had honed her martial arts skills enough so that I couldn't make her go to class any more.