President Barack Obama’s visit today caused a kind-of-planned chaos throughout Athens, resulting in an atmosphere not at all dissimilar to an OU Halloween weekend without (most of) the drunken revelry.
The streets were choked with yellow tape — secret service members presided over some sections — and the familiar paths of the university were filled with incredibly long, winding lines of thousands of would-be audience members. It was quite hot for southern Ohio in mid-autumn bloom, and the bright sun beat down equally upon waiting students, out-of-towners, families and people hawking their Obama-themed wares alike.
Colin Cottrell, a junior majoring in audio music production, was one of the first people waiting in line to see the president. He said that he had been waiting since 8 a.m. this morning
“I support president Obama, and this is a lifetime opportunity as far as I’m concerned. He’s the first president to be here at OU since LBJ,” Cottrell said.
Across the street from Cottrell in a separate line, graduate student Ben Weiner could be seen delivering food to his sister, Frances Weiner, a senior psychology major whose foot was in a cast. Ben said he was excited to see Obama in Athens, especially after his recent debate performance.
“This is a turning point for Obama. He had a good debate last night and how he’s visiting the number three uh … best school,” he said, referencing OU’s recent fall from partying grace.
As time creeped on, the crowd trickled in through the metal detectors, eventually filling up most of College Green by around 4:40 p.m. The Marching 110 accompanied the dull roar of the crowd with music of their own.
A host of local personalities, starting with Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl and ending with OU College Democrats’ President Shannon Welch, warmed up the crowd until Obama’s appearance a little after 6 p.m.
Notable moments from the non-presidential speakers often revolved around active acknowledgement of the Tuesday night presidential debates and the changes that have come about in Ohio since Obama’s election.
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw from Hillel, one of the centers of OU’s Jewish community, had a pretty good zinger about Romney’s already infamous “binder full of women” comment
“I’m really glad I wasn’t pulled out of Romney’s rabbi binder and asked to speak (for him),” she said.
Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland also made an appearance, urging support for democrats Bobby Jindal and Sherrod Brown. Strickland fired some of the crowd up with comments about Obama’s past support for Ohio’s economy, as well as his repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
After a short break, Welch took the stage and echoed Strickland, touting progressive reforms Obama has supported in his presidency in her speech.
“Everyone has a story about what they have at stake in this election,” Welch said, referencing her younger brother with Type I diabetes, whose quality of life depended on the affordability of healthcare.
After giving Welch a bit of a bear hug, Obama finally took the stage amid wild cheers from the crowd. He joked about the success of OU’s football team before launching into talk about Mitt Romney’s tax plan–a plan which elicited boos from the crowd.
“Wait, wait, wait. Don’t boo, vote!” Obama said.
He pressed on in that regard, emphasizing how important the students’ votes are in his bid for re-election. The president also focused much of his speech on attacking Romney’s various plans and gaffes (yes, of course he mentioned Big Bird) as well as capitalizing on the fact that the vast majority of the audience consisted of college students.
“I don’t believe in handouts. But I also believe in a country where everybody’s got a shot. Where everybody has opportunity. These folks (republican challengers) — they’ve got a “you’re on your own’ philosophy. Can’t afford health insurance? Hope you don’t get sick …” he said. “That’s not what built this country.”
As Obama began to reach the end of his 30-minute speech, he repeated his “Forward” refrain, citing the progress made in terms of women, LGBT and minorities over the years. He also cited bringing troops out of meaningless conflict in foreign countries as a continuing goal.
“No matter what you look like. No matter where you come from. No matter who you are, who you love — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, able, disabled — it doesn’t matter. We’re all Americans. And we’re gonna move forward together,” he said.
With the end of his speech, Obama distributed hugs and handshakes to some of the crowd, amid chants of “Four more years!” from the crowd while Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” (an interesting campaign song choice) blasting from speakers.
A president visiting Athens, Ohio is always a big deal, regardless of party affiliation, and in that way Obama’s visit is one of the more significant events to happen to Ohio University in a long time
Hopefully Bobcats don’t have to wait another 48 years or so for the next visit.
For those looking for video of Obama’s visit to OU, check out WOUB’s awesome stream of his entire speech.