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‘Yes We Can’

GMU students join in political support of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

For hundreds of George Mason University students and other Democrats, the song choice for Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill) stage entrance was perfect.

As John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” played loudly in GMU’s Johnson Center, Friday, Feb. 2, the crowd cheered and smiled as the man they want to someday call “Mr. President” approached center stage.

The GMU College Democrats arranged the event, in conjunction with two nationally organized student groups that also support the senator’s run for the 2008 presidential election. The groups — “Students For Barack Obama” and the Facebook.com social group “One Million Strong for Barack Obama” — have mobilized at universities across the county and on the Internet. Their mission is simple: recruit as many Obama supporters as possible so he can win the 2008 election.

The GMU group simply called Obama's office and asked if they could set up a rally at the school, said Heather West, a member of the College Democrats. She hopes it shows the school and the community that their organization can draw in big names, which she said they will continually try to do.

"The GMU Democrats aren't just some little group that can't do anything," said West.

But they can't do it alone. The point of the event was to rally, literally, hundreds of other students into joining their efforts.

“I need your help,” said Erick Sanchez, president of the GMU College Democrats. “I need you to be advocates for change.”

Students from at least five other universities came out to show their support for Obama. They donned T-shirts from American University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, among others.

“I saw him speak at the 2004 Democratic Convention,” said Rusty Tutton, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “I’ve been captivated [by Obama] ever since.”

When asked whether the country could elect a president that would change the county’s current direction, the students chanted, “Yes we can.” That phrase became the main source of anticipation before Obama made his entrance.

“He is the candidate who is going to reenergize us,” said Michelle Beach, a junior at the University of Richmond who drove up just to hear Obama speak.

The “Yes we can” theme has also dominated the Facebook.com group’s goal. Farouk Olu Aregbe created the group on Jan. 16. As of Monday, Feb. 5, the group had more than 219,000 members. Aregbe hopes to have 1 million by April 21.

Citing Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Aregbe told the crowd that he has “the audacity to believe that each and every one of us is is ready for change.”

“Yes we can,” he said.

AFTER SEVERAL MINUTES of introductory speeches by Sanchez, Aregbe and a few other student leaders, Obama finally arrived to the sounds of support coming from the crowd. He waited for the excitement to dissipate enough to make his voice heard.

“We love you,” shouted one woman in the crowd.

“I love you back,” said Obama.

Obama related most of his speech to young people. He told them that during Vietnam, it was young people who “stood up and said ‘enough.’” He said he understands why young people are feeling cynical toward government and commended them for rallying together in support of their political beliefs and a desire for change.

“This remarkable event speaks to what’s possible when young people put their minds together,” said Obama.

Obama focused on several political points during the speech. He said the country’s health care system is broken; higher education needs to be more accessible; an energy policy is needed because of climate change and our country’s seniors need more support through social security and health care.

“Every senior citizen deserves to retire with dignity and respect,” said Obama.

One GMU student, ShaRhonda Mirizzi, said she would take everything he said with a grain of salt, since she expected most of his speech to lean further left than she believes he actually stands. She wanted to hear what his current beliefs and plans are, and what his goals are for the presidency.

His plans — based on his speech — are as idealistic as any presidential candidate’s. He criticized current government leaders for being “long on rhetoric, and short on follow-through.” He criticized the war in Iraq and said government leaders don’t know how to handle it. The audience liked what it heard.

“I think he’s the best thing to come out since Kennedy,” said Tiana Mitchell, a junior at GMU.

When Obama told the crowd the rally was not about him, but about them, they cheered. They cheered as he denounced the war in Iraq. They cheered when he said he hopes to win the Democratic nomination for president. They clapped and cheered, nonstop, for about an hour.

“I think he touched on really good topics,” said Linda Hahn, a GMU freshman. “I like that he said ‘It’s not just a vote for me, but a vote for you.'”

Obama said he didn’t want students to walk away from the event energized about hearing a politician; he wanted them to be energized — and motivated — about their desire for change. “I hope I’ve made you question and ask yourself what is it you can do to make this county, and world, better,” said Obama.