February 21,2008, Michelle Obama in Warwick, RI

Michelle Obama came to CCRI in Warwick, RI to campaign for her husband on February 21, 2008.

This writer had the cool experience of seeing the future First Lady come to speak where she got her own Community College degree. Michelle was reaching out to the 99% even then.

CCRI was an unusual venue. The Knight Campus is a 70’s futuristic concept in concrete. The common area sits at the base of a series of spiraling ramps. The Obama people were greeting all who walked in the front doors, but not all were there for the rally–classes were in session. It was cold, and heavy winter coats were draped on the walls of the ramps as the speakers on the platform below addressed the large and curious crowd. The event went off flawlessly. The speakers were convincing. Michelle Obama was passionate and eloquent as she addressed the crowd sitting in chairs on the ground floor, and gazing down at her from the ramps. I am a product of the sixties, with all its grief and violence against those who spoke too loudly in public. I was glad to see this exercise of free speech and courage. ‘Nuff said.

2/21/2008 From CCRI in Warwick (across the street from where Midland Mall used to be)

I went to CCRI, Knight Campus in 1973. I think the building wears well, it’s a radical design, all poured concrete and ramps. I was wondering whether the campaign stop by Michelle Obama would take place in the large auditorium, or in the common area in the center of the building. That is a huge open space bordered by spiraling ramps that lead to the upper floors.

Doors were set to open at 5:45. At 5:40 I turned onto the exit off Rt. 95S and hit a traffic jam. There is a left lane that leads to a turn light to the college–it was full. I got someone to let me in, and saw cars behind and in front trying to wedge into the lane. It took about 10 minutes to get up to the light. At the bottom of the hill, where a wide drive leads up to CCRI, there were 5 or 6 picketers protesting illegal immigrants. There must have been almost 100 Obama lawn signs on the road up.

The huge parking lot was mostly full. There’s always night classes on week nights, so I can’t say how it would look normally, but the rows were lettered and I had to drive down to ‘K’, the 11th tier, before I found a space. There was a full moon and it was cold.

The entrance to the school is a wide concrete ramp leading to the front doors. A lone man stood holding a sign for Ron Paul.

Inside the door were rows of tables with volunteers signing people in. The speech was in the common area. Volunteers were trying to steer people down onto the ground floor, but it was irresistible to walk up the ramps and look down on the crowd and the stage. How many people I don’t know. The floor was mostly full and the ramps were solidly lined with spectators all the way to the top.

It was a happy crowd, diverse in age and race. I went up the stairs to the top of the ramps, and looked down on a sea of people. Some were waving signs and holding banners. Music played on the sound system. It wasn’t too loud, and there was a lot of soul, including the Staple Singers ‘I’ll Take You There’. Of course they kept us waiting until after 6:30. The program began with the National Anthem. Attorney General Patrick Lynch asked for a moment of silence for the five-year anniversary of the Station Nightclub Fire. Then he got into the spirit, rousing huge cheers when he said that for the first time anyone can remember, Rhode Island’s primary on March 4th really counts. He introduced Michelle Obama’s brother, Brown University basketball coach Craig Robinson, who warmly commended his sister’s accomplishments and introduced her as “the next first lady of the United States”.

Michelle Obama spoke about her husband’s start as a long-shot candidate, and how with each success they “raised the bar”. A well-chosen metaphor for listeners who knew about bars of race and gender and class. And a devastating response to the Clinton campaign’s need to downplay the amazing momentum the Obama campaign has generated.

I hated to leave, but I was supposed to be somewhere else, so I just appreciated that I got to hear some of the speech, and be a part of the crowd, and see people happy and full of hope. It’s been a long time.

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