Paying Obamage


The Obama juggernaut rolled into Denver last week, and for a few moments, I was a part of it.

Although I can’t even vote in this weirdly – yet touchingly – patriotic country, when I was offered the chance to go to the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I thought: why not? After all, I had been receiving emails "from Barack" for months. He had become my candidate.

From the moment the security guard at JFK international airport gave me the famed Michelle Obama fist salute on learning I was heading for the DNC, I knew this was going to be one hell of a trip. After seven years living in New York City, I felt I belonged. I may only have a green card, but hell, I was in.

My friend and I didn’t roll into Denver until late Wednesday. We didn’t feel we were missing out on anything. It was Obama we had come to see, not the endless parade of convention speakers and delegates in their silly hats. They had been chatting, debating the rights and wrongs of Hillary’s loss and trying to patch up their differences for two and a half days. It was elementary.

On Wednesday, though, we lucked into one of the Convention’s best nights. Bill Clinton made up for his wife’s shortfalls in her speech the previous evening and praised the young black man who has been taking this country by storm since he addressed the last DNC four years ago. Bubba seemed like his old self (not the schmuck he’d been on Hil’s campaign trail) and admitted he and Obama were actually alike – both were criticised for their "lack of experience" before winning over the party faithful. On the convention floor and in the Lexus Lounge just paces from the Clinton private box, cheers rang out and high fives were slapped above ducking heads. Bill was back.

Then, from a smoking balcony high above the centre, we watched a presidential-like motorcade speed into the carpark. The man himself was here for a surprise last-minute appearance. And after vice presidential candidate Joe Biden spoke, we were not disappointed. The star of the show was in town the night before his acceptance speech and the crowd went wild.

But it was on Thursday night at Invesco Field that I, along with 84,000 others, became dizzy with the oratory of Barack Obama.

Evangelical is a word used freely these days – but this was the real deal. As an Australian, it was a little hard to stomach for the first half hour or so. We are not accustomed to holding our leaders in such high regard, and while we certainly have our fair share of "the faithful" this was beyond the realms we regard as normal.

Flag-waving, foot-stomping and yee-haaing ruled. At an NT Labor Party Conference in Katherine in the 1980s someone would have thrown you out with a can of Fosters and a hotel room key. But here it didn’t matter what you said – you were part of it and couldn’t help but get caught up in the whole hoopla. People invited strangers to their homes in far-flung cities and everyone wanted to be your friend. I have a stack of business cards and phone numbers to prove it. The Kennedys and the Clintons were heroes and everyone wanted to share it.

I was in heaven. Five young Hispanics beside me cheered and waved their American flags. And when the usher handed out "Change" banners, I clamoured with everyone else to snatch one.

At moments the stadium roared like the crowds I have become accustomed to American football games and rock concerts. At other times the silence was palpable. They were waiting, watching, for the first black American presidential candidate to say something special on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s infamous "I Have a Dream" speech.

But Obama never mentioned MLK by name. He didn’t have to. Everyone knew why we were here and how we got here.

After walking for almost two hours to get out of that giant stadium, our cab driver, Daniel brought it all home. Coincidentally he was from Kenya – Obama’s father came from his country.

"I’m working, I couldn’t go to the speech, but I got a coffee, went to a quiet place and rolled up my windows," he told us as he proceeded to recite almost every line from the historic speech that night. "My family is watching in Kenya on satellite TV."

Then as if to tell us that we were really dealing with something the world had never seen: "I also lived in Berlin where 200,000 people turned up to see Barack." he said proudly. "The Germans … would never turn out for their own prime minister like that. The last time they came out like that was for Michael Jackson."

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.