Surrounded by more than 100 other Spokane-area Democrats, Emelda Brown and Patricia Maddox were transfixed Thursday night as they watched something they never thought they’d live to see.
An African-American had just accepted their party’s nomination for president.
Brown, 77, can remember hearing speeches by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as a girl and by John Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a wife and mother. She can remember having to move to the back of the bus as she was growing up, and being barred from buying a house on Spokane’s South Hill when she moved here with her Air Force husband.
“I’m so thankful to God that the dream that (King) saw came to pass tonight,” Maddox said as Barack Obama finished his acceptance speech with a reference to King’s speech 45 years earlier. “He had a dream, and the dream came true.”
Maddox, 67, who remembers Kennedy campaigning in 1960 and Jimmy Carter visiting Spokane in 1980, was equally thrilled.
“Awesome,” she said. “He really brought it home. This was electrifying”
Their excitement wasn’t just because they are African-American, Brown and Maddox said. In fact, Obama is a mixture of races, just as her family now is, Brown said. It was because Obama had talked about improving education, helping veterans, expanding health care and increasing jobs.
“He wants change for the country,” Brown said.
Both women were Obama delegates to the Spokane County and Washington state Democratic conventions, and Brown had run unsuccessfully to be a delegate to the national convention in Denver. They joined a gathering of about 140 other Democrats in a former school auditorium a few blocks from the county courthouse.
The group cheered as Obama appeared via C-SPAN on a studio wall, blasted what he called “the failed policies of George W. Bush” and challenged Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain to debate him on foreign policy and the economy.
An excellent speech, said former state Sen. George Orr, “but he never gives a bad one.”
They also cheered when Spokane Democratic Chairwoman Kristine Reeves showed up briefly in a crowd shot.
State Rep. Timm Ormsby, of Spokane, watched closely but unsuccessfully for a glimpse of his daughter Caitlin, who was elected an alternate to the convention.
Although the longtime legislator had initially backed former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, Caitlin Ormsby was an early Obama supporter at the precinct caucuses and stuck with her candidate through the caucus and convention process.
“I’m proud of how she thinks,” he said of his daughter, who turned 18 last week. “She did it on her own, and I’m mostly proud that I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
In Spokane Valley, members of United Steelworkers Local 338 came by the union hall Thursday evening to pick up campaign literature and stickers, and a few stayed to watch Obama deliver his acceptance speech.
Their consensus: The candidate’s vows to preserve American jobs rang true, although he might be going easy on McCain by saying the Republican standard-bearer “doesn’t get it.”
“I think John McCain gets it,” said Steve Powers, staff representative for the Steelworkers. “I just don’t think he cares.”
Powers worked for both of Bill Clinton’s campaigns, and for Al Gore in 2000. Before the speech, he had doubted Obama would be able to match speeches he’d heard Clinton or John Kerry give; but afterward, he was impressed.
Powers said he had been getting a bit weary of campaigning until the convention started.
“I think the whole process of the last three days of this convention – and I’ve watched every night – has energized me to get out and work harder on this party’s ticket,” he said.
Back at the auditorium, Maddox and Brown also were energized. They planned to be busy for the next nine weeks volunteering for several campaign activities, including their favorite: registering voters.