This past weekend I flew to Chicago to help a Belgian TV News crew make a report on the Barack Obama campaign. As you might know, Chicago is Obama's hometown and it's here that his political campaign started.
We visited the National Obama Volunteer headquarters and went to the communities where Obama was a community organizer some 25 years ago.
When I landed, the contrast between Charlotte and Chicago couldn't have been any bigger. In Charlotte it had been a balmy 60 degrees, in Chicago it was 30 and there was at least 10 inches of snow on the ground. The skyscrapers were hidden in a dense, low hanging cloud cover and it gave the whole city a weird kind of atmosphere.
After checking in to our downtown hotel we only had to walk a few blocks to reach the National Obama Volunteer Headquarters on W. Adams Street.
From the sidewalk it looked like any normal entrance to a huge office building and there was not one sign mentioning Obama. After making sure we were at the right address we took the elevator to the 10th floor. As soon as the doors opened there was a sight to behold.
The whole 10th floor of this building was filled with hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, almost as far as the eye could see. There were volunteers sitting behind rows of computers and the rest of them were just sitting on ever chair and in every corner they could find making phone calls all over the country, From California to Tennessee. I picked up a list of voters and a calling script as well and made some calls into New Mexico.
The whole operation seemed very professionally organized while at the same time having a fun and personal vibe. There was a childcare corner where little kids were making the well known Obama symbol with finger paints and on the other side of the building was a store selling all the popular Obama merchandise, there was also a buffet style kitchen where everyone could pick up a slice of pizza (there were about a dozen different kinds) and a drink. Speeches of Obama and the latest election news were projected on big screens.
People kept pouring in and out by droves, picked up a list of voters at the big front desk and started making calls.
It was easy to make friends, especially after I mentioned that i was a volunteer with the campaign in SC.
It quickly became clear that the campaign isn't spending much time and energy on Chicago and the state of Illinois, Obama out-polls Hillary by a 2 to 1 margin here, but is using the big pool of volunteers here to make a difference elsewhere in the country.
I was very impressed with the enormity of the operation, these headquarters are open 24 hours, but after a few hours we had to leave the HQ and head for bed, tomorrow was going to be a long and busy day.
The next morning we followed Obama's path he described in his book "Dreams from My father", in which he talks about his work in the late 80's on the south side of Chicago as a community organizer.
If you haven't read the book yet, I highly recommend it, even if you're not a big Obama fan. It's a very human story about the struggles of a multiracial person trying to figure out where he belongs.
We had set up a meeting with the Reverend Dr. Alvin Love of Lilydale First Baptist Church. Dr. Love was one the people who hired Barack Obama in 1985 to start working for a new community organization called "Developing Communities Project" or DCP for short.
The DCP still exists today and Dr. Love is now the President of the organization.
You can find a lot more about Obama's time there in the "Dreams from My father" book and there are also some interesting online articles about it.
Reverend Love turned out to be a very inspiring man. The TV crew had me interview him on camera and I came away with a much better sense of what makes Barack Obama tick and where he gets his drive.
I asked Dr. Love, who still talks to Obama regularly, if the thought that politics had changed Obama at all. His answer was refreshing:
"I don't think politics have changed him, he's only gotten better at what he used to do here and he does it on a much larger scale."
I also asked him if the US are "ready for a black president" and once again the answer was refreshing.
"Let me answer that in 2 parts. I think that the challenges and problems we face in this country by far transcend any question about race and gender and my second answer would be, ready or not, Here he comes!".
My final question was if Dr. love thought that Barack's work here 25 years ago had made a difference.
"Oh there's no doubt, our crime rate is down and back then I didn't even know the name of the pastor of the church 2 blocks down from here. Now we all know each other, talk and meet all the time and fight together for our neighborhood."
It was nice to have confirmed that Obama really is the candidate who brings people together to face the challenges of the future.
After the interview we stayed for the very lively church service, with a lot of gospel signing and great music.
We closed off the day and our stay in Chicago by walking around in "Altgeld Gardens", the first public housing project in the United States, built in 1945. It was especially this area where Obama focused his effort in the 80's.
There were Obama signs everywhere, because the folks that live here know what a difference Barack Obama can make. I'm hoping the rest of the US catches on as well.
If you want to see the Belgian TV news report, you can do so by following this link. Mind you, most of the report is in dutch, so you won't understand a lot of it, but you can at least enjoy the images. You will see the whole news broadcast, but if you fast forward to the 18 minutes and 30 second mark you'll see my report.
Cross posted on Left on 49