February 3, 2006
Meeting Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)
by Will Kern
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)
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I met Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)
today.  This is all part of the
Shelter for Homeless Veterans benefit
at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago on
Feb. 20.  He agreed do a video
greeting for the event, and I went down
to South Holland, about 45 minutes
outside of Chicago, to tape it.  This
was at South Holland College, a
community college. The taping was
going to be after a town hall meeting at
the college (click
here to see flyer).

When we first got there, I was ushered
into the music room, which had been
set up as a reception area.  Me and
my camera guy, a guy named Brian
Bateman, brought our equipment in
and started setting everything up.  As
people started coming in, I noticed that
everyone was wearing suits, that I was
the only one in jeans.

The room soon started filling up with
political people.  These were the
mayors of small towns in Illinois, plus
some State Representatives and
Assemblymen.  After a while, Obama
came in and was shaking hands all
around.  He did this for about ten
minutes and was soon whisked to the
auditorium where a town hall meeting
was to take place.  I went in and

He’s a very charismatic speaker and
he really knows how to hold an
audience.  He was asked about a lot of
issues.  Mainly education, which is not
surprising.  There were a bunch of
teachers who’d been invited.  He didn’t
strike me as being too liberal or
conservative.  He did talk about
spending programs, which he favors,
and that means he leans a little to the

But when asked about education, he
was very upfront with the audience.  
He said the people in China and India
are studying the math and the science,
so they’re getting ahead of us.  He
said it was tempting to park your
children in front of the TV after a long
days work, but in the end that would
make them game players instead of
game inventors, that it would be the
Indian and Chinese children who would
be making the money, while we bought
their products.  That to better our
education system, we had to value
education more.  As a society.

He talked about the AIDS crisis in the
black community, and said a lot of the
blame lay with the churches, because
they’re homophobic and they felt like it
was a problem that wasn’t theirs and it
would somehow go away.  He said the
churches had to educate their
congregations more and be more open
and willing to talk about it.

Someone asked him about
immigration, and he said he favored
strengthening the borders, but
eventually giving citizenship to the
people who are already here.  He said,
“There’s a plan in Congress now
where we’re supposed to round up all
the illegal aliens and ship them back to
where they came from.  But there are
11 million illegals in this country right
now.  How are we supposed to do
that?  That just doesn’t seem
practical.  We can’t even clean up after
Katrina, how are we supposed to
round up 11 million people?”  This, of
course, was greeted with thunderous
laughter from the largely partisan

He talked about gay marriage and
partial birth abortions.  As far as the
gay marriage went, he seemed to say
that the subject was basically too
insignificant for the government to get
involved in, and that a ban on partial
birth abortion was something that had
been agreed on in congress, but the
Republicans reneged on the ban at
the last minute because their was an
exception in the law if the mother’s life
was in danger.  He said he thought
Republicans reneged because they
want to keep it open as a divisive issue.

His speech pattern is very much the
black church, but without the volume or
boisterousness.  More like the
cadence and the word stress.  He can
really hold an audience.  You also get
the impression he knows what he’s
talking about, even when you know he

For instance, he said something about
how “these days, if you pick a product
in a store, it’s likely to me made in
China or Indonesia or Singapore.”  But
Singapore is a first world country, and
the only thing they export to the US is
semi-conductors. But that's nitpicking.

After the town hall meeting, I went back
into the music room where Brian had
set up the camera.  There was another
guy there, he was going to shoot a
little college promo, and that was going
to be after ours.  Obama’s press
secretary, a guy named Julian Green
(a man with infinite patience who works
his ass off), ushered the him in and
over to the camera.The Senator shook
my hand and
I said, “Will Kern, Midwest
Shelter for Homeless Veterans.” And
he said, “I really appreciate all the work
you’re doing.” and I said, “I really
appreciate you doing this video for us.  
It means a lot to us all.” He said,
“When is the shelter opening?”  I said,
“April.”  He said, “We’ll be sure and
come out for a visit.”

I thought,
fantastic! Another big score
for the Midwest Shelter for Homeless
Veterans!  Because he’s not the kind
of guy who says things lightly and I
didn’t take it as an idle promise.  So
this means we’ll have the Senator pay
the shelter a personal visit.  

Then he sat down to shoot the video.  
He had to do three takes because the
teleprompter was going too quickly.  
The third time, Brian moved the
teleprompter manually, so we got
through it without a hitch.  Brian is a
real pro, and I’m very happy we hired
him.  We were trying to get somebody
to do it for free, but that’s the kind of
thing that’s just a disaster if it’s not
done right. Anyway, third time proved
to be a charm.

Then Obama got up and went over to
a table where he was supposed to sign
some books, his autobiography.  
There were also a couple of baseballs
(?) on the table, a charcoal caricature.  
He grumbled something like “I hate
doing this,” but I wasn’t sure if he was
kidding.  Some of the people put notes
in the book with stuff they want him to
write, and some of it’s really long,
almost a paragraph.  He said
something like, “Why do these people
want me to write this stuff?  Don’t they
think I can come up with stuff on my
own?” One of his aides, a guy named
Mike Alvarez, started talking some
small talk and I moved over to the table.

I said, “Senator, can I ask you a

He said, “Sure.”

My father had asked me this question
the week before, and I didn’t have an
answer.  So now I had the opportunity
to ask.  

I said, “I know you’re passionate about
vets issues.  I read the article in the
Sun-Times two weeks ago that said
you were “most proud” of your work on
veterans’ issues.  So why is that?  Why
are you touched by veterans’ issues?”
He said, “Well, I just think that if you’re
going to send somebody into a war,
and you’re going to tell him he’s going
to be taken care of, then you need to
honor your word.  To do otherwise is
wrong and it’s unfair and
it’s a terrible thing to do to a person.  
"It stokes my sense of outrage,” he

We exchanged a few more words, and
then things got quiet and I kind of
wandered off.  I had a lot of other stuff
I wanted to ask him, but as a
representative of the Midwest Shelter
for Homeless Veterans, I had to be
really careful about what I said.  So I
just left it at that.

The camera crew finished setting up,
he did a couple of short promos for the
college, and before you know it, he
was being headed out the door.

He shook hands with me again before
he went, said, “Thank you again for all
the work you’re doing” and I thanked
him again for giving us the time.

He left, and I heard one of his aides
say they were heading out to a
Dominic’s in Calumet City (Dominic’s is
a grocery store) so he could shake
hands with the workers and customers.