Obama, other ’08 candidates, address D.C. students

As Democratic presidential candidates made their way in and around the beltway this weekend, in their footsteps were hundreds of members of the college democrats from around the country.

At the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in downtown D.C., the College Democrats of America hosted a leadership summit that included strategizing for the upcoming primaries and information sessions. As part of the event, members of the GW College Democrats heard the major candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination speak.

“It’s a very exciting time,” said Troy Timmer, a sophomore and political affairs director for the College Democrats. “It’s very vital for youth voters to become involved in this year’s campaigning, and candidates are making direct appeals to us.”

One of the possible candidates making such an appeal is Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who at a “Yes We Can” rally on Friday, urged transformation, and said youth voters are the source of that change.

“People ask what it is about me that is attracting crowds,” Obama said. “The truth is it is not about me. It is about you. I am just a vehicle for our hopes and dreams. But I can only carry it so far.”

The speech, at George Mason University, which was separate from the DNC meeting last week, was Obama’s first public rally since announcing in mid-January that he would be forming an exploratory committee for the 2008 presidential race. Students from GW, Georgetown and American, gathered at GMU to hear Obama. One audience member’s sign read, “I got here at 6 a.m. from California to hear you speak.”

About 3,000 people attended the rally, according to Henry Kraemer, the college media liason for Students for Barack Obama.

Obama invigorated what he deemed an audience of potential volunteers and activists with the story of how he became involved in politics. The former editor of the Harvard Law Review worked on anti-Apartheid campaigns, volunteering in Chicago’s South Side, and eventually ran for Illinois state senator at the urging of the very same people he had volunteered to help.

Obama called for reform on a number of contemporary issues ranging from health care to Social Security and the War in Iraq, to education reform in a globalized world.

Steering clear of any mentions of the 2008 campaign, Obama instead focused on the spirit of his politics and the rally for student activism, exemplified in his explanation of the title of his latest book “The Audacity of Hope.”

“The easiest thing for us to do is accept inevitability. What is truly audacious is to hope … that the world as it is not the world that has to be,” he said.

As a surprise to many in the audience, Obama hopped off of the stage after the conclusion of his speech into the thrusting signs and autograph requests of the audience.

“I have been to a lot of rallies before this, and I have never seen this kind of energy,” said Sam Jammal, a GW Law School student and finance director of Students for Barack Obama.

Other presidential candidates also made appeals to youth voters over the weekend. Tom Vilsack announced in November that he would be seeking the Democratic party’s nomination to be president. In an interview with The Hatchet after his speech at the DNC’s meeting, Vilsack stressed the importance of the youth movement.

“It’s going to be critical,” Vilsack said of energizing young voters. “I may not be a rock star but I am rock solid in my beliefs, and I will reflect that to the young voters.”

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