by Gregory M. White
August 29, 2008
Expectations were high Thursday night at Skinny Bar, but not for a band or DJ’s performance.
The Lower East Side haunt played host to the NARAL Pro-Choice America event for Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. It was hard to move in the concert like atmosphere.
The crowd, mostly female and younger than fifty, had high expectations for the candidate and, on occasion, a dose of cynicism.
NARAL Field Director Sabrina Shulman took an optimistic tone. “I hope that he does a blow out speech,” continuing, “He needs to be able to push and pull people along as much as he can.”
Thomas Giglio, an attendee, struck a more negative tone. “I would like to see him not be arrogant.” He continued, “I would like to see a short speech, short and concise.”
Also less than convinced beforehand was Jenny Zhang who felt that, “He needs to really make me believe this change is going to happen.”
Lalena Howard, Community Organizer for NARAL, emphasized the importance of women’s issues place in the speech. “I hope that he acknowledges his strong record as a pro-choice candidate.” She was also adamant that, “he sticks to what he believes in and doesn’t cater to the right or moderates.”
As the evening went on, the crowd grew and their cheers expanded, dotting every talking point with applause and pointed affirmations. When women’s issues were mentioned, volumes reached Madison Square Garden levels particularly with Obama’s remark, “We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”
After the rapturous applause had subsided, and confused passers by on Orchard Street stopped filing in, there was a sense of possibility emanating throughout the Democratically dominated dive bar.
Nora Niedzielski-Eichner was particularly impressed by the bipartisanship of the speech. “I loved the talk about bridging, about bringing people together, about finding common ground.”
And while she felt the speech was a bit short on women’s rights, the national unity aspect was to Niedzielski-Eichner’s liking. “I think he pulled the rest of the country together.”
The passion of the speech was also appreciated, as Rainy White remarked, “ I think it was the first time he was speaking in an aggressive way, which was nice.’
Barney Tam was also in support of the vocal aggression saying, “Finally Democrats were on par with Republicans with that.” “He was able to verbalize what the Democratic Party stands for.”
There were some disappointed by the candidate himself. Polly Lai felt that this didn’t change much with the speech. “I think Obama is lightweight compromise.” Though, she admitted, “Even though I’m not happy about the candidates, I don’t want to vote for Nader either,” referring to Ralph Nader, independent candidate for president.
Disappointment over the speech was limited, but there were some. “Too long. Wrap it up. Enough sob stories,” said Giglio.
Most people who had their problems with the text understood, including Lila Garnett, “I do feel he has a job to do and the job involves a certain amount of marketing and it involves the avoidance of certain ambiguous positions.” Though she concluded easily, “I think he delivered.”
Still others questioned the list of policy proposals, Zhang stating, “I don’t know what his priorities are.” She continued, “What are his top three things?”
While there were complaints and conflict, a feeling of support ran strong within the room. Howard stated, “I thought he spoke really well about the economy, about the needs of the people over the needs of big business.” She concluded, “This speech was largely to woo people on the ledge.” White was in agreement, “I really felt like he was able to show what he could show after he was elected.”
Shulman wasn’t too worried about the lack of emphasis on women’s issues that others complained about.
“I think the bottom line is all these issues are women’s issues.” She concluded, “I thought it was pretty spot on.”
As the supporters, now sweaty from the cramped confines filed out the front door, the barman queued up the film Battle Royale, a timely choice for a campaign that is fast becoming one.