Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Last Night in St. Paul: "An Amazing Event -- at street level, gut level" By Nick Coleman

It was History. It is amazing. Nick Coleman's article bears some inspiring, rocking witness to what transpired last night in St. Paul; (on a larger level: to what is somehow happening in our country?!?)

I'm thankful to my friend Ann Shallbetter, who forwarded this Star Tribune Article with her own appreciative words: "Awesome coverage the rally from last night is getting! I love Nick Coleman and always appreciate his perspective. Enjoy the read!"

I echo her invitation: "Enjoy the read!"

The full Article, with any associated images and links can be viewed here.

An amazing event -- at street level, gut level
NICK COLEMAN, Star Tribune

A black man came to Minnesota Tuesday, claimed the presidential nomination of a major political party, and was met with adulation, ovations and brisk sales of T-shirts.

If that doesn't seem amazing, you have been living on a better planet. Or in a better state.

Barack Obama came to a place that once was flyover land, never made political news and used to be as segregated as any to declare -- at 9:14 p.m. CDT on June 3, 2008 -- that he had won the Democratic nomination.

In a building where the most exciting thing said is usually, "Now it's time to drop the puck," it was a startling occasion, startling at street level and at gut level, too.

Lines of people waited hours for a chance to get into the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and many of them were people of color. This was not just another hockey game at the corner of West 7th and Kellogg.

This was even bigger than a run at the Stanley Cup.

"I love him," said the Rev. Joseph Webb III, the African-American pastor of the Free at Last Church, a block from the X, where parishioners who normally feed the hungry were raising money for the Lord's work by selling brats to the Obama throng.

"He answers questions that have been on my mind about the government, and the war and things that don't make sense to me," Webb said before heading to the X with his wife, Andrea.
"I don't see it as a black or white thing. I just see it as what's good for the country."
Next to the X, in the humid corridors of the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 400 St. Paul Central seniors in caps and gowns waited, with their families, for their lives to start.

Some felt that way about their country, too.

Barabara Freese and Jim Coben were there for son Tom's graduation. They were wearing Obama shirts and were keenly tuned to the drama next door, and to the juxtapositions of personal and political histories.

“This is a night of beginnings,” Freese said. “A night when kids begin the next stage of their lives, and the country is starting a new chapter.”

Last week, on the last day of classes, the Central seniors gathered at the school door and waited for the final bell, sending them out of school for the last time and into the world for the first. As they waited, a chant rose from among their ranks: “Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!”

For some in a racially diverse inner-city community in the middle of a state and country that has known racial polarization, it is simple:

"I'm for Obama," said Hakeem McLane, a senior who was posing for pictures with his friends before the ceremony. "I ain't trying to be racist or anything. But he's black."

Others just as surely will vote against Obama because of his color. But Hakeem’s mother, Patricia McLane, also a Central alum, added a parent’s proud hopes to her son’s exuberance.

“We need the change that’s going to come,” she said, standing near a bust of Roy Wilkins, the civil rights pioneer from St. Paul for whom the auditorium is named. “We need something new to rise up to give hope to all these kids who are graduating tonight. And it seems like the country is going to stand for something again.”

No one knows how it will turn out on Election Day. That’s still five months away, and not everyone looks at life through blue-colored glasses.

The crowd booed, loudly and on cue, when Obama, who came to Minnesota to upstage John McCain, mentioned that the Republican Party will hold its convention at the Xcel in September.

St. Paul is not a battleground. It gave former Mayor Randy Kelly, a Democrat, the boot after he danced with George W. Bush on the same Xcel Energy Center stage four years ago. Brother No. 4 in the Coleman family, Mayor Chris, benefited from Kelly’s misstep and did a soft shoe of his own last night, abandoning the Hillary Clinton victory barge, which was sinking, and leading a couple dozen Clintonistas onto the Obama ship.

There were more hugs and high-fives than at a Winter Carnival Vulcan dance last night, but all the hugs were consensual in a love fest that would have put a Springsteen mosh pit to shame. It was hard to remember why we need to even have an election.

But we will have one. And it won't be as unanimous as last night. The Republicans will have their own love fest in St. Paul, and the campaign will be long and hard-fought and it could get nasty, and Americans will cross their fingers and mark their ballots and hope the best man wins.

One of them, in a country that is 232 years old and was built on the blood and sweat of slaves, is black.

That has never happened before. It happened last night.

In St. Paul.

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