Since I told everyone I know (and some who I didn’t) that I was going to the Democratic Women’s Leadership conference in Chicago last weekend to see the Obamas, quite a few of you have asked me how it was. In a word, incredible. Inspirational. Possibly life-changing. (Ok, I know that’s more than one word). These are powerful emotions that are hard to capture.
There is a certain joy and power that a woman feels from being in a room – even if it is only a Sheraton Hotel ballroom – with 1500 women (and a few intrepid men). Add to that the fact that all the women there share one goal, which is to change our country for the better, and you get really, really excited. Once you’re in that ballroom, a series of remarkable people come out on stage and make inspirational speeches. They praise you for the money you have raised, the phone calls you have made, the neighbors you have talked to and for being part of a unique grassroots movement in our country. They tell you what inspires them about this candidate, and they share stories from the field that bring tears to your eyes thinking about how much kindness and goodness is still out there in ordinary Americans.
So what did we do at this conference anyway? We laughed, we cried, we listened, we learned, and we basked in the feelings of camaraderie and belonging that came from being part of a gathering of women from every corner of the country (even Utah!) who are working to elect Obama and change our future.
First, Oprah came and made a funny and heartfelt speech about what women can do when we put our minds to it. She ought to know. Just thinking about all of her accomplishments makes me feel like a slacker. She talked about the campaign as a marathon and likened it to the one she ran a few years back. She talked about how you hit mile 18 and you need every woman, every friend, every family member, even Jesus Christ himself to help you finish. And that’s where we are now in this campaign -- at that tough part where everyone feels a little bit tired and spent and we have to call on every angel we can think of to help get Obama across the finish line.
After Oprah, there were speeches and panels by Jill and Joe Biden, Howard Dean, Gayle King, David Plouffe (the Obama campaign strategist who sends some of us MANY emails), personal finance guru Suze Ormon, Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona, the hilarious and wickedly smart Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Michelle Obama, former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, former Council of Economic Advisors Chair Laura D’Andrea Tyson, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, David Axelrod of the Obama campaign, the woman who founded the group “Republicans for Obama”, and many others who are all a blur to me right now.
All of these speakers shared their expertise and insights. We learned about the perils facing us in the international community and how best to tackle them from Madeleine Albright, and we learned about the inside story of the global financial crisis and the bailout from Bob Rubin and Laura Tyson. We learned about how the campaign plans to win 270 votes in the Electoral College (at least!) and elect Barack Obama to the presidency from a number of the campaign’s top dogs.
And then there was one more speaker. Barack Obama. Some of you have asked me what he’s like in person. He is charming, funny, and eloquent. He has that 1000-watt smile and an aura of calm that radiates dignity, grace and intelligence that a lot of us find so compelling on television. I will admit right now that I burst into tears when he walked out on stage. The combination of excitement, anxiety and hope – above all hope – just made me have to sob for a few minutes as I watched this man who is so different from any politician I have ever supported come out to speak to ME and 1499 of my new friends. I hope that everyone who reads this has the opportunity to see Senator Obama in person some day. Even if you disagree with his policy proposals, I think you will respect the man that he is and find that he offers many people in this country who have lost hope a chance to believe that our country can do well again.