Obama Fires Up Bay Area Base
For the first time since coming out in favor of marriage equality, President Barack Obama visited the Bay Area last week. Although never using the word "gay," Obama did draw huge cheers from the crowd at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre for supporting the right to be, "who you are and love who you love."
Inside the May 23 fundraiser, which sold out with ticket prices between $250 and $1,000, almost every word of the president’s especially fervent speech was met with enthusiasm, and a few times chants, like "four more years!" and "fired up; ready to go!"
But outside, among the crowd just behind the barricades that bordered Courthouse Square, some gays and lesbians sang a different, more severe tune.
"I feel like the whole thing is an election year ploy," said James Lee about Obama’s support of marriage equality. "It’s great that he said it, it’s a very symbolic move, you know, it shifts the culture a bit. But it’s not enough and I resent our community being used."
It was May 9 when Obama, in an interview with ABC News, came out in support of same-sex marriage. He made the remarks just days after Vice President Joe Biden said he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay couples marrying during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press .
Lee, 32, said he worked for San Mateo County up until a month ago, when he was laid off. He currently is with Occupy Redwood City.
He thinks Obama should take a firmer stand.
"We have close to 30 states that have banned it already; we have couples being separated through deportation. It needs to be a national issue," said Lee.
Shaunn Cartwright agreed.
She said that, along with "almost everyone I know who is gay," she is unsatisfied with the president, once viewed as "the big rainbow hope."
To Cartwright, his support of marriage equality was "him trying to pander to all these people, the large segment of people he has already disenfranchised."
Many of her friends, she said, have changed their party affiliation from Democratic to Green, or other third parties as a result, and apparently do not plan on voting for Obama this November.
Cartwright, on the other hand, became "an Occupier" because of her feelings of disenfranchisement, handling media for the movement in San Jose.
Being an Occupier, though, does not automatically equate to feelings of total voicelessness. For example, garden designer Chip Crew, who identifies as an Occupier, an "everyday citizen," and a gay man, sees potential in the polls, no matter what Obama says or does.
A Gallup poll published earlier this month said 50 percent of Americans support the extension of marriage rights to include all couples, compared to only 40 percent who thought it a bad idea.
With such "a wave of public opinion" moving in favor of same-sex marriage, Crew said he sees nationwide marriage equality as inevitable.
"There’s nothing anyone can do about it," he said. "It’s going to happen."
Not without the passage of time however, Crew added. Since politics reflect the populous, he sees changing the personal beliefs of all citizens, gay or not, as a must before real change can be made.
"In the 1970s when I was just coming out," Crew said, "the idea was the only way gay people could have their rights is when every gay person comes out of the closet."
As Crew spoke, behind him a group of Filipino voters called the International League of People’s Struggles chanted their demands, some waving flags, others with signs in hand. Each sign had a drawn picture of a thumb on it, pointing either up or down. Militarization in the Philippines, deportation; those issues got a thumbs down. An increase in education funding, marriage equality; those issues got thumbs up.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Courthouse Square a crowd, consisting of many Redwood City residents, was more quiet than the others, but no less excited about the president’s visit and the days of politics to come.
Among them was Matthew Harris, a 19-year-old student, who hoped to catch a glimpse of the first president to visit Redwood City since Herbert Hoover. Harris, who will vote this fall in his first presidential election, had to make a hard choice while dressing for the event - what T-shirt to wear.
Ultimately, he decided on one from Obama’s 2008 campaign that read, "One voice can change the world," instead of his other one that read "Legalize Gay." But marriage equality is still an issue of particular importance to him.
"As a gay man," the possibility of marriage rights for all, "affects my life," Harris said.
Seeing support for it, among other young people especially, has given Harris hope that one day, "it will change for the better."
"Once this older generation stops voting, I think it will change and we’ll see national legalization," Harris said.
While there were plenty of people inside the theater that support marriage equality and Obama was in the Bay Area, home to thousands of LGBTs, his remarks focused mostly on issues like continuing the slow economic recovery.
"We built a house of cards," he said, referring to previous tax cuts to the wealthiest, and allowed speculators to "bet with other people’s money." He referenced charging "two wars on a credit card." Eventually, it collapsed.
Obama asked the audience to help "reclaim the basic bargain that produced the largest middle class and wealthiest nation on Earth."
Meaning, the American people work hard and the government will "create an environment where everybody’s got a fair shot." The American people have been working harder than ever, he added.
"The challenge right now," Obama said, "the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade is that harder work, for too many people, doesn’t lead to higher incomes."
Obama argued that likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney and others among the conservative opposition do not have effective or responsible remedies to cure the economy.
They have been "peddling the same bad ideas that brought our economy to collapse the first time," and what they "don’t seem to understand is that a healthy economy doesn’t just mean maximizing the profits for some," Obama said.
Other issues highlighted by Obama included tax and election reform, improving support services for veterans, and increasing funds for education.
He even touched on politically charged issues like health care reform in order to provide insurance for all Americans, and immigration reform, as a way to allow the children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country if they are students, active duty, or veterans. He did not mention the plight of binational LGBT couples, some of whom who face deportation because the federal Defense of Marriage Act does not allow immigration authorities to recognize the same-sex couples.
The country is best when it "harvests the God-given talents of every individual," Obama said. That’s why a thing like the Dream Act is so important and why he repealed the policy of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," which prevented LGB service members from serving openly in the military.
"We’re not going back to the days when somebody could be kicked out of the military just because of who you are and who you love," he said. "America doesn’t want to spend the next four years refighting the battles we just had."
The president’s message last week was clear; the country needs to move forward. Yet, of all the issues that he highlighted in his speech, Obama never mentioned any plans of heading toward that day of change Harris predicted so assuredly, when gays and lesbians are finally allowed the right to marry across the country, rather than just the six states and District of Columbia that now perform such nuptials.
"I may not be a perfect man or a perfect president, but I’ll always tell you what I think and where I stand, and I wake up every single day thinking about you and how I can make your lives better and your kid’s lives better," Obama told the crowd inside the Fox Theatre.
Outside, Crew, the Occupier, didn’t hear those humble words from the leader of the free world, but he gave Obama the benefit of the doubt anyway.
"I would like to think that Obama is doing the best he can under the current political climate," Crew said.
Because in his view, the real obstacle blocking marriage equality isn’t the president; it’s that "these silly divisive issues that we’re talking about have nothing to do with improving our society."