Guilford Democrats gather for Obama’s annual message

by Christian Bryant

Loyal Democrats and other Guilford citizens gather for President Obama’s State of the Union address. (photo by Christian Bryant)

A consensus of optimism was on display in Greensboro during a Jan. 22 State of the Union Address watch party hosted by volunteers for Organizing for America (OFA), the grassroots project of the Democratic National Committee. Despite low temperatures and rain, concerned Americans showed to support President Barack Obama and hear his extensive plan for “winning the future.”

More than 30 people piled into the Guilford County Democratic Party Headquarters to share laughs and fellowship, but most importantly to take in President Obama’s address and share thoughts on matters of national and local concern. The setting was very intimate, with onlookers sitting shoulder to shoulder.

The night opened with an outline of the president’s talking points from Democratic political strategist David Plouffe, who served as his chief campaign manager in 2008. Plouffe spoke to listeners via online conference call about Obama’s agenda, namely his goals to tell a story to listeners and to detail his roadmap for success.

Plouffe utilized an underdog-styled rhetoric, a contrast from violent political rhetoric some say set the stage for the Tuscon tragedy, to convey his message that bipartisanship is the only way to battle back against “great economic disasters” and resolve issues that have been widely debated. “We can win this fight for the future,” Plouffe said.

The mood became more somber after Plouffe’s speech when watch party attendees gave introductions and reasons for attending; short blurbs about hometowns and party affiliations transformed into murmurs of agreement on issues such as education, healthcare and government reform.

“This is the first time in 100 years that [Democrats] do not control state legislature,” one man said.

He went on to encourage others to get involved in local politics, that being a way to support Obama as he works with a Republican-controlled US House.

At about 9:15 p.m., the president took the stage before the 112 th Congress and began his annual address, which was made available through live online streaming.

The audience listened intently as Obama took a moment to emphasize how Americans are interconnected and bipartisanship is the only way to tackle the country’s most pronounced issues. Collective nods were detected as he echoed variations of the phrase “win the future” throughout the evening.

As expected, Obama concentrated mainly on innovation, education and infrastructure rebuilding during his speech. Of the three, education seemed to strike the strongest chord with the engaged viewers.

“I, like a lot of other people, am interested in our students doing well and succeeding,” said Patricia Gray, a music research worker. “What I’m hearing tonight sounds very good to me.”

Obama’s iterations on improving education, international competition and rebuilding America seemed to be in concordance with one another. During one point, he mentioned that China and India are competing and seeing success on an international level because of a greater emphasis on math and science within their educational systems.

The Race to the Top education reform was mentioned in an effort to drive the president’s points on academic excellence. Race to the Top is a multi-billion dollar Department of Education program designed to “improve teacher quality and student achievement,” Obama said. He first announced the reform along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in July of 2009.

Many educators in attendance applauded as the president issued a charge to young people contemplating their future endeavors: “If you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher. Your country needs you.”

Forsyth Tech received recognition for being able to train students for new jobs and careers despite factories moving out of the area. Kathy Proctor, a 55-year-old mother of two and biotechnology student at Forsyth Tech, was one of Obama’s guests for the evening.

Attendees became disgruntled as technical difficulties blurred the audio during what seemed to be Obama’s remarks on immigration reform. Even so, sentiments regarding the prospect of new immigration laws that will allow non-citizens more opportunities to gain US citizenship were positive.

“The DREAM Act is something we need to advance,” said OFA Regional Field Director Kane Miller. “It’s an issue of justice.”

The president concluded with comments about transparency within the government and, the moment that received the longest applause, the exit plan for withdrawing troops from

Afghan territory.

Most of the people in attendance gave relieved sighs after the speech and expressed feelings of optimism.

“It shows that he has a commitment to do the work of the nation, which is continuing the growth of the economy and really finding a way to rededicating to working across the aisle,” Miller said. “[We must] protect the progress made in the last two years.”

Attendees made several comments regarding Obama’s progress since being in office. Many agreed that continuing to build on the current progress is a priority and necessary to see significant changes.

“The future requires a whole new approach to how we travel, how we do energy and how we treat the environment,” Gray said. “I’m very encouraged that [Obama] understands what those issues are.”