By Tim Wheeler, national political correspondent, People's Weekly World
Columbia, S.C.- When we arrived at the Performing Arts Center here for a Barack Obama rally, a line stretching two blocks was waiting to go through security to get inside.
It was a perfect snapshot of the multiracial movement that has sprung up to elect Obama, African American, Latino, white, young and old, men and women. There were vast numbers of South Carolinians but also thousands who have come from across the nation to work as volunteers. Conspicuous was the large numbers of young people waiting in the chill darkness.
I interviewed many. Emily Aho, a student at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, was waiting with several of her classmates. She is from Marietta, Georgia, a freshman business major. "I'm going to listen to what he says," she told me. "I haven't made up my mind who I am going to vote for. I think it is a good thing that we have a Black person and a woman running for president," she said.
Marie Triche, a second year law student at the University of Florida drove up in a van from Gainesville with five other members of the Black Law Students Association. "This is the first time I have heard Barack Obama speak," she said."I think this night is just overwhelming, for us to be part of such a grand occasion. Obama is a young leader in contrast to all the other candidates. He is bringing out new ideas. He is getting strong youth support."
Curt Anderson, a member of the Maryland General Assembly was one of three Maryland legislators who chartered a bus, bringing 40 volunteers to work in the Obama campaign. (I was one of them). He too was waiting with other Maryland volunteers outside the hall. "Look at this line. It lasts forever and its cold out here," he quipped. "We spent the day campaigning for Obama and this is our reward. I think Maryland will go for Obama in our Feb. 12 primary. Our organization is getting stronger." He listed many elected officials who have endorsed Obama including Rep. Elijah Cummings, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, the Attorney General and Comptroller. "The grassroots is where his greatest strength is," Anderson added.
I asked why Obama's message resonates so strongly with people. Vic D'Amato, a former Maryland legislator standing nearby interjected, "People are starving for change," he said. "We have not had inspirational leadership in this country at the national level in our memory."
Brian Smith drove down from Cincinnati over a week ago to work as a volunteer. He was one of many young white people waiting in the line. "I think he is such an inspirational speaker," he told me. "He has the ability to unite a country that is pretty divided. I think Bill Clinton's comments have been disappointing. It has the potential to fracture the Democratic Party. I think the people don't want to see a negative campaign. There has been a record turnout so far in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. If this negativity continues, it has the potential of affecting that turnout."
The fact that an African American is running for president and winning, he said, "Shows that our country has come a long way. But the polling in South Carolina shows there is a continued racial divide that we must overcome. I do think that everyone here is part of that historic moment. This is a multiracial crowd."
We finally made it into the hall. It was packed with a crowd that greeted Obama with chants of "O-BA-MA!" and "Yes We Can!" and "Ready for change." Obama delivered a powerful stemwinder that drew thunderous cheers.
I'll report on his speech in the next blog...