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President Barack Obama advocates for health care reform Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Pioneer Photo/Bethany Wesley

President Obama's speech: A reporter's perspective

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local Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
President Obama's speech: A reporter's perspective
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

I could have tossed him a tennis ball. Ray could have thrown him a football. We were that close to President Obama.

My husband and I already had planned on going to the Cities last weekend for my goddaughter's baptism when we heard of the plans for Obama's appearance. And they coincided so nicely with our existing schedule.


How often in our lifetime will we have the opportunity to listen, in person, to the president of the United States? To see him (or her) address the nation in support of his (or her) agenda?

We're both city folk. I grew up in a northern suburb of St. Paul. Ray grew up in a Minneapolis suburb. Going downtown shouldn't have been that difficult:

Get up at 5 a.m., head downtown, park and get in line. And wait. These were our plans.

Instead, it became: Get up at 6 a.m., get gas and food, head downtown, wonder about whether you can park in a lot that isn't yet open, try to find the line, get into another line.

And wait.

We certainly didn't expect to be first in line. I had heard Target Center plead against overnight campers or early line-waiters. But, c'mon, this was the president.

We got downtown just before 7 a.m. We went toward the obvious line of people, but the line already had wrapped around several blocks. By the time we got in the general vicinity of where we thought we were supposed to be, volunteers were moving the line.

Ray and I couldn't find the end of the moving line, so a female volunteer told us to wait beside a building while the line moved. The end of the line, she figured, would pass by us eventually and we could get into line.

We, along with about a half-dozen young men who also arrived about the same time, did wait there, standing near a building in the warehouse district as those who already had been in line, gathered around us.

They were not happy to have newcomers.

"You need to get out of line," one young lady said, pointing her finger at my chest.

I explained that we were waiting. We just needed to catch the end of the line, I said. I assured her we would leave.

"It will be a very uncomfortable three hours here for you if you stay," one of her friends chimed in.

I chuckled to myself and told her to calm down, that we would leave and get in line as soon as the end came by. And it did, about six minutes later. And we left, without incident.

But, by the time we and others reached the end of the line, officials deemed that the amount of people was becoming a traffic and safety hazard. So they split the line. Soon, those of us toward the end were taken through the skyways to form a secondary line outside Hooters and Applebee's, which jumped on the business opportunity and began selling water and pop and placing to-go food orders.

Our line wasn't that far from the original line, just one floor up from the street level.

While I was in line for a restroom about two hours later, some women and I began talking about who was where in line and what the plans were for getting inside. Those on the street - those who had arrived early to get in line - had legitimate concerns about where this second line came from and whether both lines were being admitted at the same time.

One woman was from Bemidji. She told me there was a group of people from Bemidji State University who got in line about 4 a.m. that morning. That woman, whose name I unfortunately did not catch, was No. 77 in line.

I told her I would come down, find her group and get a picture. It was only about 8:30 a.m. and they weren't supposed to open the doors until 9:30 a.m.

I figured I would have time.

But, when I returned to Ray to tell him where I was going, volunteers began moving us. They opened the skyway to the Target Center. We were being asked to form two lines. The doors still wouldn't open until 9:30 a.m., but we had to get ready.

I never made it to the street-level line.

Soon, we were sent through airport-like security, where we were instructed to make sure we had all electronic devices turned on, to ensure that they were functioning. We didn't have to remove our shoes, but did have to specify if we were wearing or had any metal objects on us.

Once inside the Target Center, they filled the sections of seats one at a time. Ray I were about six rows up in Section 133, which he guesses was about 150 to 175 feet from Obama's podium.

We were inside! Everyone was excited, and the energy climaxed.

And then quickly fell.

We still had three hours to kill. We got food, did the wave a few times and listened as some groups tried to get a "We've got spirit, yes we do" challenge going.

Then, just as I thought we were about to break into song, the scoreboard, which had been flashing a digitalized American flag, showed a news feed of Obama landing at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

He was here.

You could feel the collective sigh of relief as 17,000 people realized that the last seven, six, five hours were not in vain.

We were given miniature flags. The audience again began to chant, switching between "O-ba-ma" and "health care now."

When he finally reached the Target Center and began speaking at about 1 p.m., the energy in the stadium was palpable.

Since then, I've been trying to think of something I've experienced that was comparable. The energy this weekend was so very much higher than that of the last event that drew me the Target Center - a professional tennis exhibition between Andy Roddick and Andy Murray; higher than that of any preseason Vikings game I've attended (I've never gotten to a regular-season game); higher than that of graduations or even state championship athletics. The only event that even comes remotely close, in my experience, was a rally I attended during my school years at which Billy Graham spoke and D.C. Talk performed.

But this was more. So much more.

From the man behind us who kept inexplicitly yelling "Yes! Yes! Yes!" throughout Obama's speech when no questions were posed, to the girls hugging and crying in the front row, this was different. Whether you are for or against Obama's health care proposals, you would likely agree that the health care debate is a crucial discussion for our country. And I was able to be there and hear the president's argument's first-hand. For me, that was the crux of the event's importance.

Obama is an orator like none other I have heard: his various tones, his word choice, his stories. All of it culminated to peaks that both invited and begged for an audience response.

Scripted? Of course. Moving? Undoubtedly.

While leaving the Target Center, walking through hallways and skyways, the energy followed us.

"Fired up! Ready to go!" The chants and cheers passed from one attendee to another, as if we were playing a verbalized game of hot potato.

It was an experience I won't soon forget.

Pioneer staff reports