July 29, 2008

Obama to Speak in Springfield

The following is a report from Wife Rhetorica:

While Andy continues his tour of drinking establishments in Finland, Wife Rhetorica and Kid Rhetorica will cover Obama’s townhall meeting in Springfield on Wednesday. We were among the lucky 1,000 people to get tickets, and our report on that happy experience appears here:

When we decided to move to Springfield, Mo., five years ago, I tried not to think about the survey in which Springfield was identified as the whitest city in America. I dismissed it as an unjustified assertion because, for one thing, Springfield is more of a large town than a city, and for another, how could any town be distinguished by homogeneity.

I do not know whether that survey was accurate, but now that I live here, there is no dismissing the whiteness of Springfield. It will sound odd to readers in the rest of America, but the truth is that, in a typical week, the only African Americans I see are a black family who attends my church and, if I shop for groceries in the evening, a black man who is one of the managers. That’s it.

That’s why it felt unusual Monday evening to stand in line waiting for tickets to see Barack Obama at today’s townhall meeting. I stood in line with many African Americans for the first time since I moved here. These people live in Springfield but are usually separated from whites by some invisible line that is hard to understand.

Or maybe it’s not hard to understand. On the first Easter we lived here, I went to the town square to attend a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter morning lynching of three black men on that very square. Apparently, Springfield had a thriving African American community before that, but public lynchings tend to disrupt one’s feeling of community.

The fact that Obama is coming to Springfield, which is overwhelmingly Republican, says to me that he knows he needs to win Missouri in November, and he has hope that he can convince southwestern Missourians to help him do it. No one would expect him to prevail in this corner of the state, but if we can pull together enough votes to combine with the support he will get in St. Louis and Kansas City, we can tip the state in his favor.

Or, as the black woman in front of me in the ticket line told her TV interviewer: “I am proud that Springfield could do something to be part of the change that we need.”

And, I thought to myself, electing a black man as president might just change us too.

My support for Obama is not because of his race, but rather because his book, “Dreams of My Father,” convinced me that he is a man of integrity and intelligence, and I trust him to help lead our country during these difficult times. But as I sweltered on the sidewalk, sharing a goal with African American neighbors I never saw before, I felt the audacity of hope that Springfield–and America– could change.

One Response

  1. BettyB 

    There are a couple of black families, one family from India and an Asian family that live on my street, a south side neighborhood near the Battlefield Mall. The first Obama yard sign went up today in the yard of a white family across the street. Last election we had more Kerry signs than Bush signs.

    Springfield is much more diverse than it used to be, but it is no more red than most other smaller towns and cities in the midwest. I wish they would give up the commemoration of that lynching of 100 years ago, we have dwelled on that long enough. I now have six mixed race AA nieces and nephews, and it would be good to have a celebration of their African heritage or some more positive thing.