“Officer, which way is Bicentennial Park?” asks a reporter who hasn’t been in downtown Miami for 20 years.
“Just follow the crowd. Everyone’s walking there,” says the policeman.
Traffic has been restricted, but there’s no crowd yet, only small knots of people, mostly young, moving up the wide sidewalk in front of the Torch of Friendship indicating Miami’s feelings for Central and South American countries — except Castro’s Cuba.
This stretch of Biscayne Boulevard has been renamed Jorge Mas Canosa Boulevard, but the signs helpfully give both names. (Why can’t we do that?)
As you round a curve, you see the crowd of people — black and white, young and old, some in wheelchairs — trying to get into the ground.
The officer was right: this Early Voting for Change Rally is going to be a Barack Obama-sized event.
Adam Hall, a 24-year-old from New Hampshire who now lives in Virginia Beach, is one of the vendors selling Obama memorabilia. He says he is there because he believes in Obama’s message. “My company also makes McCain and Palin rally towels, but I don’t sell them.”
Obama’s beliefs, he says, are of the people. “I don’t think he’s looking out for himself; he’s looking out for all of us. The so-called socialism is what we really need. Of course, it isn’t really socialism.”
The Republicans have been trying to paint Obama as a socialist who wants to redistribute wealth.
A few volunteers barely out of their teens are looking for more volunteers for the cause. Some people are pushing for or against local measures that are also on the ballot.
Rosemarie Jensen, 43, of Parkland is waiting to get in.
She says she made the 45-minute car trip with her children, 11 and 6, because she wants them to see history being made.
“I like Obama’s intellect, his judgment, the people he is surrounding himself with, the fact that he is about hope and
not hate,” the former teacher says. “I find this inspiring. I hope it inspires the nation to come together.”
Sixty-year-old Al Diaz of Miami thinks a change of government is due. “Obama is the person who has offered the middle class the most,” he says. “The Republicans have always been for the rich.”
Michael Work, a 51-year-old attorney from Miami Beach, is also looking for change — to get a little respect in the world.
“We have become the laughing stock of the world for the last eight years,” he says.
He thinks race will play “some role” in the election, but that won’t be enough to affect the outcome. Getting through the crush isn’t easy, but if you are a reporter you are happy that so many people are willing to talk and no one is so suspicious as to give only a first name.
Inside, after local leaders have warmed up the crowd, Michelle Obama takes the stage, dressed in gray and white. “Wow,” she says, “I am not used to Barack Obama-sized crowds.”
At 30,000 or so, the crowd is large, but it’s not St. Louis.
Don’t wait for November 4, vote now, Michelle Obama says. Then you can spend Election Day making sure others vote.
Turnout could be key in a close race in Florida, as in some other states, analysts say.
Then it’s Obama’s turn. On his way up he reaches out and takes some hands. Those people are thrilled.
“Florida, in just 14 days you and I can start to bring some badly needed sunshine to Washington,” he says. The speech focuses on the economy. And there is a call to vote and get out to vote.
James Charles, a 35-year-old Miami security officer, has already acted on it. He has cast his ballot for Obama in early voting that started Monday.
Mason Brown, a 45-year-old general contractor from Port St Lucie, thinks Obama will win “as long as the voting system goes fairly.”
Remember, this is Florida of hanging chad fame.