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Message of hope: Obama draws thousands

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By Carol A. Clark

SANTA FE—The desire for change was deafening Friday night as thousands of people roared in response to presidential candidate Barack Obama. “This election is about the past versus the future,” said the Democratic senator from Illinois during his “Stand for Change” rally at Witter Fitness Center Gymnasium on the Santa Fe Community College campus. “There’s a moment in the life of every generation where they have the opportunity to make their mark on future generations ... Our moment is now.”Born in Hawaii, Obama, 46, graduated from Columbia University in 1983 and earned his law degree from Harvard in 1991, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.When asked why he’s running for president now – he’s young and has time to run later – Obama said, “I’m running because of what Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ Given the state of this country and given the state of this world, we cannot afford to wait.”Obama said he had heard the criticism that he’s not ready to be president. Critics say “‘we’ve got to stew him and season him and boil the hope out of him,’” he said. He spoke about the importance of having hope and told the audiance to be ready because people will tell them he’s a dreamer. “The implication is if you talk about hope then you must not understand the way the real world works,” he said. “I know how hard it will be to provide health care for all, to rid the country of poverty, to lift up our schools ... I know because I’ve fought in the streets for better neighborhoods, I’ve fought in the courts for civil rights ...  and I’ve fought in the legislature for change ... I know how hard change is and I also know this: Nothing worthwhile has happened in this country without someone having hope.”During his 45-minute talk, Obama described his plan to give a $4,000 college grant to  every student willing to provide community service and fulfill volunteer hours. “We will invest in you and you will invest in America,” he said and his call to service was met with screaming applause.Obama addressed the health-care coverage he plans to ensure every American receives during his first term in office, tax relief for those who need it, and the best education to all children “from the day they are born.” He wants to reward teachers “for their greatness” by raising their salaries. Each time Obama paused the take a breath, the crowd responded with thundering applause. He told them he wants to cap greenhouse gasses to stop global warming and create a green economy that drives economic growth for a generation, adding that he went to Detroit to push for fuel efficient vehicles. Regarding security issues, Obama said, “As your commander-in-chief, I will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to keep you safe.” Training the military properly and diplomacy are part of that, he said.Obama vowed to stop spending billions in Iraq and spend it instead in America. “I opposed this war from the start. I will bring this war to an end and I will bring the troops home in 2009,” he said. “But I don’t want to just end the war. I want to end the mindset that started the war.”The inspirational orator drew Asians, Native Americans, Blacks, Hispanics  and Whites from every age demographic – the young, middle-aged and elderly, and many families. They filled the gym. Two thousand more stood outside in the bitter cold. Two hours into the event, police were still directing long lines of cars inching their way toward Obama, sometimes taking up to an hour to advance just a few blocks.A local presence was felt amongst the massive crowd. Los Alamos’ Obama Campaign co-chairs Hope Bustos-Keyes and Sean Stimmel and other volunteers stood at the stage leading spirited chants, waving blue and red signs in support of Obama throughout the three hour event.Gaye Pollitt, who has been campaigning for Obama since December, said she has never placed a bumper sticker on her car or wore politics on her sleeve until Obama came on the scene. “The bottom line is I want my country back,” she said. “Barack Obama has spent his life bringing people like us together for meaningful change. As a U.S. senator, he led the fight to pass the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate.”Obama is being likened to President John F. Kennedy whose brother Edward spoke in support of Obama in Santa Fe Thursday. In a Jan. 27 Op-Ed piece in The New York Times titled, “A President Like My Father,” JFK’s daughter Caroline Kennedy expressed her support for Obama as well. “It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960,” she wrote. “Qualities of leadership, character and judgment play a larger role than usual. Obama has demonstrated these qualities throughout his more than two decades of public service.”Describing the movement Obama has built across the nation, she wrote the candidate is changing the face of politics in this country, adding that he has a gift for inspiring young people.“I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them,” Kennedy wrote. “But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.”