I began this blog the day after the US presidential election in November, 2008. It is difficult to explain all of the emotions I felt when Barack Obama was elected the leader of the United States.
I have utmost respect and admiration for Mr. Obama and find him to be a man of intelligence and compassion, and I appreciate his calm, considered approach to the thorny problems of political office. He inspired me to help others and, in turn, that volunteer experience has led to my exploration of a new career. (That's a story for another day.)
Today it is with great delight that I am able to share with you my experience of hearing President Obama speak in Portland, Maine, on April 1, 2010. My adventure with the President's visit began when I learned on Friday that he was coming to Maine. At first, no details were released. A few days later, I spoke to my friend DeeDee. She had not heard about Mr. Obama's intended appearance, but when I told her what I knew, she agreed with me that it was a special, possibly once-in-a-lifetime event. However, I was not so sure about waiting in the cold and rain to get tickets.
On Wednesday, I decided not to make the trek into Portland to wait in line. I was disappointed at the thought of not seeing the President, but I didn't think my back would hold up for a long period of standing outdoors. DeeDee, being somewhat hardier than I, went down to the Expo with her friend Jason. They ended up waiting almost 3 hours, but came away with 2 tickets apiece. And generous friend that she is, DeeDee gave one of those much sought-after tickets to me!
[Beth & DeeDee with the tickets that allow entrance to the Expo]
On Thursday, we headed to the Expo around noon. To get in line, we had to walk through groups of people who had gathered to protest Mr. Obama, the health care bill, and who knows what else. It was somewhat strange to walk among these people while holding our white tickets – obviously, we were pro-Obama and all he represents. But the crowds were peaceful, and I felt no real anxiety. As we made our way into the long line snaking around the corner from Park Avenue onto Deering Street, I told DeeDee that I think it is so wonderful that we live in a land where free speech is allowed and encouraged. God knows, those folks might be shot or at least jailed for their views in other parts of the world.
[Protestors & others gathered outside Expo]
Anyway, we met up with our friends and waited in line for about 2.5 hours. Many people came by asking us to sign petitions or accept literature about their various causes. From down the street, we could hear a hand bell being rung by one of the protestors. All in all, it was quite a lively atmosphere.
[People waiting to meet the President]
Once inside the Expo, we joined the crowd waiting on the floor of the hall where Mr. Obama was scheduled to speak at about 3:25. I think when we entered the Expo, it was about 2:45.
[Rick and Jason, all smiles]
When we first arrived, someone (I don't know who) led us in prayer. That was followed by the pledge of allegiance. We heard from an elderly war veteran and then from the director of the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, a native of Maine. I had expected to hear from more people, but before I knew it, Karen Mills was introducing President Obama! This video gives an idea of the energy in the room – amazing!!
I'm not sure if you can see the President here, but you can feel his presence. I could not see him either when he first entered the room, but I was excitedly jumping up and down and waving my hand in the air.
He entered the hall, and after shaking hands with various folks (I later learned from watching the TV report), he removed his jacket (the hall was very warm) and began his talk.
[Enthusiastic crowd welcomes President Obama to Portland]
I have to tell you, it was rather surreal to be seeing the President. He looked just like on TV – only he was right there!
[The President at the podium]
[The media at back of hall]
I don't know how to estimate how far back I was from the podium. Maybe the photos will give you a sense of it.
Mr. Obama was there to talk about health care, and he did, laying out the ways in which it will help Americans. I appreciated the way he used humor when addressing the concerns of his detractors.
The president said that Republicans and some pundits had distorted the program with 'a lot of fear mongering, a lot of overheated rhetoric,' noting that Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, described its passage as 'Armageddon.'
“So after I signed the bill, I looked around,” Mr. Obama said. “I looked up in the sky to see if asteroids were coming. I looked at the ground to see if cracks had opened up in the earth. But you know what? It turned out to be a pretty nice day. Birds were still chirping. Folks were strolling down the street. Nobody had lost their doctor. Nobody had pulled the plug on Granny. Nobody was being dragged away and forced into some government-run health care.”
He spoke just as eloquently in person as we've all witnessed on TV. Seeing him has only reinforced my high opinion of Barack Obama: He is a dignified, smart, knowledgeable man with a sense of humor. Folks, he is a true leader. And I am proud that he is the leader of my country. He is my President, and I will never forget the day he came to Maine.
[Traffic halted on 295 while motorcade returns to airport]