About 30 of Barack Obama’s neighbors gathered at the Hyde Park Treasure Island Wednesday night, deliberately ignoring his big Afghanistan speech, to take on a much bigger task. Huddled in the downstairs community room, they separated into four smaller groups to break down their project into manageable bites: phone banks, canvassing, signs and other such down-to-the-ground matters; one group came up with a slogan: “I’m in.”
It was the first meeting of the Obama Campaign Grassroots Planning Sessions, or the Obama GPS, in the president’s home neighborhood, just a few steps from the 55th Street Walgreen’s where he was once a common late night cigarette buyer, back in the day when he smoked and went places alone.
Folks had found their way here because they had some grassroots tie to the 2008 election: they were former volunteers, or referred by a volunteer, or they’d taken the initiative to find the meeting on the campaign website or via some other means. It was an open meeting, though – no one was turned away. The room was mostly African-American, and mostly middle-aged, but with a good-sized clique of mostly white kids from the University of Chicago. There was, of course, pizza and pop, campaign paraphernalia, lots of clapping and laughter. Speeches were short, peppy, more cheerleading than political.
In the crowd, Wallace E. Goode, Jr., listened and applauded with vigor to suggestions and declarations. He’d voted for Obama in 2008 and even donated but he wants to do more this time.
“I’ll canvas, I’ll phone bank,” he said, “but we’ll see where they need me.”
Yes, he thinks the president is taking the country in the right direction, but he’s got a bigger reason for participating.
“I have a 13 year-old son I want to be involved, to experience history for himself,” he says. “We have great pictures from Grant Park (in 2008) when he was 9, but this year he’s going to have to work a bit to earn that for himself.”
Just before concluding the meeting, one of the organizers announced that the president had given “a very good speech.” Folks turned to her for a minute, nodded, then turned back to their tasks.