I’m not much of a joiner. I never liked hanging out in groups. Going to a political rally isn’t my first choice of how to spend a day. And if you’d asked me, hey, do you want to stand without moving for about six hours, I’d have said no way. But I went. I stood. I heard. And I’m glad. Because this campaign is already making real history.
Today, in Los Angeles, four powerful women and one man took the stage in Pauley Pavillion at UCLA to advocate for Obama. Three were advertised, and two were surprise guests.
After an hour of the usual local politician endorsements and introductions, Caroline Kennedy took the stage, and reiterated the sentiments she had already expressed in the New York Times, how she felt Obama was the first person to inspire people in the way her father had.
Oprah Winfrey took the stage next. She stalked the audience like a lioness, filling the stadium with her passion for Obama’s candidacy.
Then Michelle Obama took the floor. Now I know why the campaign calls her “the closer.” She’s a fantastic speaker. She doesn’t sound like a politician. She speaks as a wife who was reluctant to enter political life, but who believes strongly that Barack is the single candidate who really could bring the country together at this point in history.
I was moved to tears as she asked us to imagine how hard it was for Obama’s mother, a white woman from Kansas, pregnant at 18, raising a black child alone. But she refused to see herself as a victim, and instead, moved son with her to Indonesia where she worked to help unprivileged women.
Michelle talked about her own challenges, with people telling her you can’t. You can’t go to Princeton – your grades aren’t high enough. You can’t go to Harvard Law School – you’re not good enough. Yes, she could.
She talked about how when Obama ran for Senator, people told him, you’re too young. Wait your turn. You’re too black. “Sound familiar?” she asked. That’s why these statements don’t bother him, she says. They’ve already heard what they can’t do. And they’ve already done it.
Each woman talked about the challenges our gender has faced. The discrimination we’ve been up against. Oprah was especially powerful talking about how much harder it was being both black and a woman, and how women saw her as a traitor to her gender when she endorsed Obama. That really surprised and angered her. “I’m a free woman,” she said, powerfully. She said she wasn’t voting for Obama because he was black. “I’m voting for Barack because he’s brilliant,” the clear money quote of the night.
Michelle Obama introduced a surprise guest just before she spoke: Stevie Wonder. He talked of how he had supported Bill Clinton for president both times, and had supporter Hillary Clinton for the Senate. But he felt this time, Obama was the best person to provide the leadership and true change needed.
After Michelle spoke, she introduced one last guest: Maria Shriver. Having just seen her husband endorse John McCain, I couldn’t help but gasp. She came in plain clothes, no makeup, hair mussed. She said when she woke up this morning, she just felt strongly she needed to be a part of this, to make her statement. She’d come straight from her daughter’s riding lesson. She too was a free woman, not bound by the Republican party of her husband. She said she didn’t come to see her cousin (Caroline), her friend (Oprah), or even Michelle. She came to speak out because she too believed Obama was the best president we could choose at this point in time.
She spoke extemporaneously. She had no notes. But she made a brilliant comparison. “If Barack Obama was a state, he’d be California,” she said, as she reeled off a list of his traits which many Californians claim as their own. “Diverse. Open. Smart. Independent. Bucks tradition. Innovative. Inspiring. Dreamer. Leader.
At various points during each speech, the crowd of several thousand broke into chants of “Yes, we can” and “O-ba-ma.” It was a long event. My feet were killing me. I was being elbowed and jostled by good-natured people all around. But I’m so glad I went. This really is a moment in time, when we can all see a better future for this country, one in which the color of one’s skin is truly no longer a limitation, where one’s gender is not a limitation. A future in which meanness and discord is replaced with empathy and genuine dialog.
Is this a pipe dream? It is if we don’t fully embrace that in our daily lives, and treat people with the kind of respect we wish to be given ourselves. As each speaker emphasized, by himself, Obama can’t change America. But together, we can, when we pull together toward a common goal.
As the event broke up, I was pulled over by a reporter for a Japanese television station. I gave a brief overview – how I felt Oprah embodied what Obama was trying to show us – that we have the power within us to change the world, and that Oprah was already doing that. I talked about my respect for the Kennedys, and what a thrill it was to see Caroline and Maria together. But I said I’d decided to switch my vote. “Sorry, Barack,” I told their camera. “I’m voting for Michelle.”
You will too, if you get a chance to hear her. Any man smart enough to snag that woman must be someone special.