Saturday, November 8, 2008

Exclusive: The Scene at Obama's Press Conference

CHICAGO, Nov. 8, 2008 (The Bench) - Barack Obama held a press conference at 1:30 p.m. yesterday (Friday, Nov. 7, 2008), his first since becoming the president-elect. The event was held in the Continental Ballroom of the Hilton Chicago at 720 South Michigan Avenue. The hotel is across the street from Grant Park, where on Tuesday night about 250,000 Obama supporters gathered on an unseasonably warm November evening to wait for the election results.

The Bench was there and presents exclusive photos of the scene, inside and outside of the Hilton Chicago. News media and excited Obama admirers waited patiently to catch a glimpse or get a photograph of Obama and his team. See the exclusive slide show here (or click on this link): The weather on Friday, in contrast, was chilly with scattered sleet and rain. Even with the more seasonal weather, however, the small size of the crowd that gathered outside of the Hilton to catch a glimpse of Obama was a surprise. The Bench estimates the crowd at approximately 250, scattered around the block that the hotel fully occupies. The few who were hanging around, however, were all smiles and excited to be there. It was a well-dressed crowd that seemed to be mostly under 40 years old, and nearly everybody had a camera. Some people had expensive, professional grade cameras. Most held up camera phones. Obama’s press conference started late. It was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., but did not get underway until about 1:50 p.m. Television crews outside were unhappy about it, but shrugged their shoulders. After all, Obama has a reputation for being late to Senate hearings and other meetings, so why not his first post-election press conference, too? (See: The Late Mister Obama ) The Hilton Chicago has a lot of history inside and outside of its walls. It has hosted presidents and dignitaries from around the world. During the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago, Hubert Humphrey stayed at the Conrad Hilton, as it was known then.

The violence that broke out in 1968 in Grant Park, across the street, overflowed onto the streets and surrounded the Hilton. There was, at that time, a street-level restaurant with large plate glass windows that gave a nice view of Michigan Avenue and Grant Park. During the rioting, however, the view just outside those windows was mayhem: Police beating rioters, rioters beating police, people going crazy and bent on destruction. At one point, rioters on the sidewalk crashed through the windows and into the restaurant. Back to the present, and another contrast: There were no protesters at the Hilton today, no broken windows, and very few police. A few days ago, Grant Park, the scene of violent anti-government protest 40 years ago, was the scene of peaceful submission to a pro-government cult of personality. Everybody was surprised when the press conference ended around 2:50 p.m. One or two local personalities exited the ballroom and walked into the crowd. Mary Mitchell, a local race-baiting columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, pauses to coo over somebody’s baby. The real VIPs, of course, left via another, more secure portal. I took a few photos of the crowd, then left the building. Walking along the north side of the hotel, on E. Balbo, I tried to find another angle from which to take photos. I heard a sudden outburst of loud – very loud – cheering. A woman with a camera walked near me. She heard the cheering too. “He’s here!” she said, and we both broke into a run toward East 8th Street, on the south side of the hotel. We got to the corner of E. 8th and just in time. Obama’s motorcade drove by, slower than one might expect. Security was lax at the hotel, and was even more lax as the vehicles drove between two columns of onlookers. The Chicago police officers were not numerous, and Secret Service was less so. The cars were literally inches from over a hundred people. No barricade, no line of security people, nothing in the way of security between us and Them. Note to Secret Service: Get with the program. Note to CPD Commander Jody Weis: Get with the program. Had there been a lunatic with a grenade or a .50 caliber rifle under a long trench coat, nobody would have known until it was too late.

Unlike millions of Democrats who still openly wish death on President Bush, I wish no harm to Barack Obama. And so, I hope that his security will be beefed up at future events. The last thing we need is another tragedy - JFK's assassination produced no riots. God forbid, if something happened to President Obama there would be blood in the streets of every large city in the US.

People ran alongside the motorcade vehicles, snapping pictures. After most of the motorcade had passed, one CPD officer seemed (finally) to realize how bad the security situation was. He ran down the street, ready to keep people back and away from the high-carbon footprint vehicles. After running about 20 feet, however, he realized how futile his effort was. He stopped, stared for a moment at the potential security disaster, shook his head, and walked onto the sidewalk. A young man cheerfully said to the officer, “Hey man, you running like that, you’re like a Secret Service agent.” I couldn’t help thinking that, no, that lone cop is better than the Secret Service. The Secret Service agents should be more like that cop, and Commander Weis should take note. I wonder if any of Obama’s people noticed how poorly they were being “protected.” Directly across from the Continental Ballroom, where Obama held his first press conference since being elected President of the United States, is a humble shoe shine stand (photo). The contrast and the significance was not lost on me. Behind me, our first Black president addressed the world. In front of me, as I took a photo of it, was a symbol of the Old Days. Not that shoe shines are passé, mind you, but that so many young black men have for so long operated shoe shine stand just like this one because they had no other opportunity. Barack Obama did not change that; he’s not officially the president until he is sworn to office in January. Democrat Lyndon Johnson and the Republicans in the Congress shoved through the Civil Rights Act in spite of the Congressional Democrats’ objections at the time. Today, young black men have many choices other than shining shoes. I did not support Obama in the election. It had nothing to do with race. It had everything to do with his ideology. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the symbolism of a Black person being elected to the presidency, even if I do not rejoice in a neo-Marxist taking the Oval Office. I hope, I truly hope, that the child of the man who operates that shoe shine stand in the Hilton will grow up knowing that – as Republicans are so fond of saying – anybody can become anything they want in this nation, with hard work and the right approach.

I also hope that when that man’s child is grown up, the same respect for the concepts of individualism and personal freedom that made it possible for Obama to achieve what he has still exists. Ironically, Obama’s ascension to power, along with a Congress controlled by a Democrat Party dominated by the far Left, threatens to smother those concepts.