With fewer than 30 days until the 2012 presidential election, American voters on both sides of the aisle and all points in between are rallying around their candidates of choice in their bid for the White House. This of course means that both major party candidates–President Barack Obama and his opponent, former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney–are galvanizing their bases, stumping in key states, and appealing to the nation to cast their votes in each of their respective favors. And it also means, more than anything else, that the candidates are ramping up on their fundraising efforts.
On Sunday, President Obama was in Los Angeles speaking to a small group of donors at a private dinner hosted by Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks, before joining supporters at LA Live’s Nokia Theatre for an evening of music that featured Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, and Katie Perry. And on Monday evening, the president brought his re-election battle cry to San Francisco. With tickets for the event starting at $100, Obama supporters would get the opportunity to party with the POTUS and special guests, San Francisco’s own Michael Franti + Spearhead and Grammy Award-winning artist John Legend.
Hours before the San Francisco edition of the Obama Victory Fund Concert was set to begin, supporters waited outside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium beginning as early as 3PM, with the final revelers making their way into the venue just before 8PM. Demonstrators protesting everything from the administration’s crack down on medical marijuana to the controversial drone attacks gathered on the lawn just a few feet away from the link slowly snaking toward the building, with a small cluster of Romney supporters shouting “four more weeks!” in response to the Obama supporters’ cries of “four more years!” And naturally, because it was San Francisco, there was also a fellow among the demonstrators releasing enormous bubbles into the air, filling the sky with soapy orbs of goodness that floated gracefully above before popping and drizzling down upon our heads.
Once inside the auditorium, one of the first things one noticed was the music wafting through the space. Not too loud but definitely audible, DJ D-Sharp prepped the crowd for the main event–just as would happen at any concert. With tunes ranging from Rihanna’s “We Found Love” to Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock,” Cypress Hill’s “Jump Around” to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” The Roots’ “The Seed 2.0” to a mash-up of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and Too Short’s “Blow the Whistle,” there was a little something for everyone. And when Naughty By Nature’s “Hip-Hop Hooray” burst through the speakers, hands flew into the air as the audience got itself all involved with the song’s famous “heeeeeeey/hoooo/heeeeeeey/hoooooo.” I wondered to myself–and then “aloud” on Facebook–if a Romney event would rock like this.
Finally, the lights went down and the crowd was led in the Pledge of Allegiance. San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis were the first in a series of guest speakers who shared with the audience their reasons for supporting the president. Comparing his role as quarterback to that of the president, Smith mused, “We both have opponents who will do and say anything to take us down. We both have to make quick decisions. The difference is, mine affect a game; his affect the whole nation.” Davis followed by adding, “The president is fighting hard to make sure hard work and responsibility pay off for every American.”
San Francisco mayor Ed Lee championed Obama and his administration’s accomplishments and encouraged the crowd to get out the vote, and soon after Michael Franti + Spearhead took the stage and launched into their hit “Say Hey (I Love You).” Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley joined the rebel rockers as they got the audience jumping, adding his distinct sound and energy to Spearhead fan favorites like “Hey Hey Hey” and “I’ll Be Waiting.” As Franti led the audience in singing along, the legendary Sheila E. emerged onto the stage and the crowd went wild. Closing out the set, she leant her signature percussion to “Obama Song,” a tune Franti penned back in 2008 and performed during numerous live shows following President Obama’s election and inauguration.
As the band exited stage right, a video featuring Edith S. Childs–the Greenwood, SC Obama supporter who coined the phrase “Fired Up and Ready to Go!” during the first campaign–played for those in attendance. The audience’s chants of the now-famous refrain echoed throughout the auditorium as the video ended and California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris approached the podium. She addressed the crowd, noting the importance of the election as a critical point in the nation’s history–one where voters would choose between a leader who believes that the country prospers when we work together and a candidate whose proposed policies would move the country backward. Wrapping her comments, Ms. Harris introduced John Legend, who slid cooly onto his piano stool and immediately brought the room to its knees (figuratively) with his version of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Dancing in the Dark.” Gorgeously spun as only John Legend can, the song played more like a quiet storm slow jam than an 80s rock anthem. From there, John’s set included his hits “Save Room” and “Green Light,” the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ “Wake Up Everybody.” He wrapped with “Ordinary People,” which somehow seemed fitting glancing across the diverse audience as we all sang in unison, softly, “take it slow-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, this time we’ll take it slow.”
At long last, with Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” fading into the background, the man of the hour–the Commander-in-Chief–arrived on stage, the sleeves of his crisp white shirt rolled up as though he were meeting some friends for burgers. President Obama was relaxed, easy. He wasted no time getting down to business, stating, “What we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012. And I’m gonna need your help to finish what we started.” From there he minced no words, rattling off the administration’s accomplishments in the first term: ending the war in Iraq, pursuing and…er…ending Osama Bin Laden, cutting taxes for middle-class families and small business owners, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and of course, the Affordable Health Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” He took several playful–yet serious–jabs at Mitt Romney, the most well-received probably being his humorous ruse on Romney’s debate promise to end funding for PBS. “He said he’d break down our deficit by going after what has been the biggest driver of our debt and deficits over the last decade: Public television…Romney’s plan is to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring the hammer down on Sesame Street!” The president shared that he’d received quite a bit of criticism after his lackluster performance on the first debate, but “what was being presented [by Romney] wasn’t leadership; it was salesmanship.”
For just over twenty minutes, President Obama spoke from his heart, to his base, reminding the supporters gathered in the room of what separates him from Mitt Romney, the work that has been done thus far, and confirming his reasons for seeking a second term. As in so many speeches he gave during his first campaign and even after taking office, the POTUS insisted that the progress the nation needs to make cannot be done by just one party, but that it also wasn’t exclusively up to him; he implored the audience to remember that “it takes all of us. That’s the deal.”
“We cannot afford to be complacent and we cannot afford to be cynical,” he said as attendees cheered and a few “I love you, Obama!”s sailed through the air.
Bringing his speech to a close, the president reminded the audience that in 2008, “47% of the country didn’t vote for me,” committing himself once again to be the president for all Americans and not just those whose votes he’d won. “I’ll be your president, too.” But perhaps the most powerful words he uttered were these: “I’m not fighting to improve schools in blue states or red states–I’m fighting to improve schools in the United States! I’m not fighting for Black values or White values or Latino values or gay or straight values, I’m fighting for American values!”
And not unlike the preacher who’s just delivered a fiery and passionate sermon on Sunday morning or the rock star who gave it all to his fans after two encores the night before, the president lobbed one final gem into the audience before waving goodnight: “I still believe in you, I’m asking you to keep believing in me!”
Come November 7, 2012, we will know for sure whether President Obama indeed rocked the vote.
Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter, lovin’ and livin’ in Oakland, CA, currently performing with San Francisco-based soul band Midtown Social. Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, check her out on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @wildhoneyrock.