Obama at AFSCME in DSM

Illinoise Senator Barack Obama arrived at the venue early.  "I’m realy to go," he told Matt Paul, a consultant to AFSCME who’s handling logistics for the event (yes, THAT Matt Paul, the former aide to former Governor Tom Vilsack). The two stood outside the banquet room at the Des Moines Airport Holiday Inn, shaking hands.  That was abiout 15 minutes ago.  The banquet room was empty at that time.

AFSCME members re slowly filing in, seating themselves at round tables.  Former Iowa House Democratic Leader Dick Myers of Iowa City — owner of a Harley Davidson dealership — came by to chat.  He’s an Obama backer.  "This guy’s got some courage and conviction," Myers says.

The show is going to go on early.  Obama was introduced by the president of AFSCME’s Iowa chapter.  Last night, Hillary Clinton was introduced by Gerald McAtee, the head of AFSCME international.  What does that portend for an AFSCME endorsement in the future?  On the other hand, ask Howard Dean what the AFSCME endorsement’s worth…

They’re playing Aretha — "You’ve gotta think….Oh, Freedom," Franklin’s singing.

"How’s everybody doing?" Obama says.  "Thank you. I am fired up.  Danny is this your gavel?….(Obama picks up the gavel and pounds it) I am going to call this meeting to order."

"I have been friends with AFSCME for a long, long time….(He’s thanking the local AFSCME leaders and a Polk County Supervisor who is backing Obama)….I want to make a special note that AFSCME member Ray Zirkelbach is on his way home. (Iowa National Guardsman Zirkelbach’s been in Iraq for 16 months and arrived back on US soil last week, due in Iowa next week)..We’re glad to get Ray back home safely."

There’s feedback from his mic — "Holy Cow!" Obama says."….I’m glad to be among so many good friends….I think everybody here knows we meet at a challenging time for labor because all across the country Americans are anxious about their future….They wonder how they’re ever going to keep up…Will my job even be there tomorrow?  Who is going to stand up for me?"

Obama then recounts the story of AFSCME members in Memphis.  Dr. Martin Luther King deklivered his "I’ve been to the mountain top" speech on April 3rd to the Memphis workes/freedom marchers, then the next day he was shot.

Obama tells the crowd that on April 8th, the day before Dr. King was buried, Coretta Scott King led the Memphis workers in a march.

"That’s the legacy all of you inherit today….achieving the greatest triumph against the greatest odds," Obama says.  He is more animated and intense here than we’ve seen him in a while.

"You and I believe in certain things….that if a majority of workers in an organization want a union, they should get a union, " Obama says.

Health care, wages are issues that matter, Obama tells the crowd, "and it’s about time that it mattered to the person who’s sitting in the Oval Office because the guy that’s there apparently doesn’t care."  The crowd applauds.

"…It’s not the Dept of Management, it’s the Dept of Labor and it’s time we won that fight, too," Obama says.  The crowd gets to its feet to applaud. 

Obama derides outsourcing of government jobs.  "They’ve outsourced ’em to their pals at Haliburton…taxpayers aren’t saving money. Haliburton’s making out like bandits," he says.  ".They don’t believe in the services you provide, but let me tell you I believe in the services that you provide."  More applause.

"We’ve heard these slogans and promises before…the road to Washington is often paved with good intentions….the only way we are going to be able to stand up to the special interests is if we build a movement to do it. …that’s the kind of leadership that I bring to this race," Obama says.

He talks about walking the picket line at a Chicago hotel and promises to be a friend to unions when he’s president.  "..I’m going to make the calls to the CEOs I’m going to be fighting on your behalf on a consistent basis….I’ll be back on that picket line as the presient of the United States…This is not just rhetoric of a campaign for me.  These are the causes of my life and …that you can take to the bank."

The crowd applauds.

"I believe that if we build a movement we can transform this nation," Obama says, before talking about specific issues like universal health care, education, job creation, trade.  He gets loud applause for calling for an end to tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas.

Obama next talks about the war, and utters again his there are no "do-overs" mantra.  He calls on crowd to pressure US Senators to vote against Bush on the war, but he does not mention Charles Grassley by name.

"It is time to refocus on the real threat of al Qaida," Obama said.

:…These are the challenges we can meet if we’re organized, but it still comes down to one question…People are hungry for change.  I can’t do it by myself.  We have to march toward that hopeful vision together because that’s how change happens."

He mentions the marchers in Memphis who gather each year to recreate their historic route.  "We’re not free yet….I ask you to keep on marching.  As long as there are people who are jobless, I need you to keep on marching for jobs…"  Obama then got into a cadence. "…It’s time to march for freedom….We are going to transform the country and give a brighter future." 

The crowd got to its feet.

Music starts, but then ends as Obama comes back on mic and talks about the goodies in his AFSCME gift bag, including an Obama sign-up card, which he suggested people can fill out with the AFSCME Iowa Council 61 pen in their own bags. 

Many in the crowd rushed to the front of the room to shake his hand. He mingled for at least 10 minutes, and has now left the building.  I am not far behind. 

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.