By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
      It was a subdued campaign affair. Gone were the balloons and the brass bands. Gone too was the crowd of politicians on stage, eagerly urging the candidate on to victory. Gone was the well-known singer to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Instead, a lone stool with a music stand sat in the middle of the stage with the American flag serving as a backdrop. Two children, the son and daughter of Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines came out and performed  "God Bless America."
      It was the night of April 16 in the Milwaukee Theater, the night of the massacre at Virginia Tech where 33 people had lost their lives that morning. U.S. Senator Barack Obama was scheduled to appear at a campaign fundraiser. After making the decision to hold the campaign rally,  it was decided that it would be a somber affair. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett came out and introduced Obama and then sat on the lone stool in the background. Obama came out in a subdued tone and held a conversation about violence with the very diverse crowd.
      "As I look across the audience, I see people of every demographic group, every race and every faith," Obama observed. "It is, I think, a symbol of what America should be about."
      Obama began his remarks reflecting on the Virginia Tech tragedy.  "I have an eight year old daughter Malia and a five year old  daughter Sasha," Obama said. "They described all that I hold dear in the world. And so, when I hear stories like this, I think from the perspective of a parent. And I can' imagine what it must be like, not just the parents of those who were actually killed or wounded, but a parent who knows that their child is there and is uncertain as to whether they were in that class participating when it was struck."
      Obama read a quote from a speech Bobby Kennedy gave at the City Club in Cleveland in1967 about the prevalence of violence in America. He then observed that not much had changed since that speech 40 years ago.  "When you read that passage, you have the sense that in a lot of ways we haven't made much progress," Obama emphasized.  "And this society is still driven by violence that we continue to be degraded by murders, crime and all manner of abuse perpetrated on our children. And Bobby Kennedy is right. We tolerate it. Obviously what happened today was the act of a madman on some level. There's going to be a whole series of explanations or attempts to explain what happened. There's going to be discussion about how this person got the firearms that he used and there are early reports that potentially the semi-automatic weapons he used would have been banned under an assault weapon ban that was allowed to lapse. There will be discussion about security on college campuses. There will be speculation about what caused this young man to snap. But I hope that it  causes us to reflect a little bit more broadly on the degree to which we do accept violence in various forms all the time in our society. We laud violence. We encourage it. We ignore it. And it's heartbreaking. And it has to stop."
      But the violence isn't limited to events like Virginia Tech. "I know that the mayor of a big city grapples with this every day," Obama said.  "We were talking in the car on the way over here and Mayor Barrett was indicating the degree to which you see a spike in violent crime here in Milwaukee as we see all across the country."
      Violence in America, according to Obama is not just the physical kind; it comes in all shapes and forms. It can be hatefully verbal. "Last week, the big news obviously had to do with Imus and the verbal violence that was directed at young women who were role models for all of us, role models for my daughters," Obama said.  "I spend a lot of time, along with my wife, making sure my two young daughters who are gorgeous and tall and I hope will get basketball scholarships feel good about who they are and they understand that they can do whatever they can dream might be possible. And for them to be degraded or to see someone who looks like them degraded, that's a form of violence. It might be quiet. It may not surface to the same level of the tragedy that we mourn today, but it is violence nonetheless."
      And then, there is the  violence of the living conditions that many Americans experience. "There's the violence against those who've lost their jobs, who've lost their pension benefits, who've lost their  welfare and they have to compete with children for jobs at the local fast food place paying $7 per hour," Obama emphasized. "There is the violence of children whose voices are not heard in communities that are ignored and don't have access to a decent education and are surrounded by drugs and crime and the lack of hope."

Next issue:  A plea for unity
Presidential candidate Barack Obama speaks in Milwaukee
Violence in America
Vol. 2 No. 9                                      May 2, 2007
May 2, 2007
stories/columns


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* A fusion of space and time,
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Voices: Bobby Seale,
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