Orville Hector | Daily TidingsDemocratic presidential Hopeful Sen. Barack Obama greets the crowd Saturday during a town hall meeting at Kids Unlimited in Medford.

On Saturday morning, at Kids Unlimited, a popular youth center in Medford, Barack Obama arrived to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,500 people in the auditorium proper plus an additional 700 seated in an adjunct room with a large screen.

The occasion was a town hall meeting scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. The doors opened at 7:30. Though it was a bitterly cold morning, people arrived early and stood in line waiting, braving the chill, their breaths white smoke in the early morning air.

Organized at what seemed the last moment, with tickets selling out one hour after the event was publicized, the presence of a presidential candidate in Southern Oregon was clearly something special. Registered Democratic voters now realize that Oregon is in play and will have an important role in determining who the nominee for the party will be.

Inside the center, in a multipurpose room with basketball hoops cranked up into the high ceiling, stadium bleachers are pulled out, and the floor is filled to capacity with folding chairs. Television cameras on tripods stand side by side on an elevated stage &

all the local and national networks are present as are print journalists and photographers. For the media it's work, almost routine. Reporters sitting side by side, laptops plugged in, some already beginning to write. A few write in notebooks. Recognizable newscasters, microphones in hand, are nearby. A mix of rock-country music plays constantly in the background.

Waiting for Obama

— On Saturday morning, March 22, 2008, at Kids Unlimited, a popular youth center in Medford, in the auditorium proper plus an additional 700 seated in an adjunct room with a large screen. — Video by Mike Green | Daily Tidings

Gradually, the room begins to fill, people entering, taking off coats and sweaters, some standing looking around, many holding small silver cameras. There's a palatable excitement and a building anticipation. At one point, well before 9:30, an honor guard enters with flags and the audience stands in silence as the colors are posted and then in unison, hands over hearts, the pledge of allegiance is recited. Many remain standing, waiting.

As 9:30 approaches, a spontaneous chanting begins, "Yes we can! Yes we can!" Then "O-bam-a, O-bam-a." The voices grow louder, with a familiar yet surprising intensity, everyone clapping, then slowly fade, drifting back into conversation.

It is one thing to watch Barack Obama on television, delivering a speech or standing stage center answering questions. It is another to be present in the room. When he finally enters and walks to the center of a cordoned-off area, taking up the microphone, the cheering of the crowd, the whistling and clapping reaches a high, enthusiastic pitch. This is more than people welcoming a much-anticipated speaker or entertainer. To compare Obama to a rock star is to diminish him. This is not about entertainment. This is about something far more serious.

Dee Anne Everson, Ashland resident, said, "I'm in this place in my life where I don't want to be inspired; I want to know what the candidate is going to do and who they are going to hire to do it. For me it matters. Voting is a big deal for me. I want to know what they believe in."

What brought all these people out on this wintry Saturday morning, prepared to wait more than two hours, is Obama's message, which is posted on large blue and red signs hanging on the walls: "Change." "Change We Can Believe In." For many, this election, this year, is, as Obama would say in his introductory comments, "A defining moment." Historical. "We can't wait. Not this time." Or, as he has said before, paraphrasing Martin Luther King, there is about this moment a "fierce urgency of now."

Waiting for Obama

— On Saturday morning, March 22, 2008, at Kids Unlimited, a popular youth center in Medford, in the auditorium proper plus an additional 700 seated in an adjunct room with a large screen. — Video by Mike Green | Daily Tidings

The challenges that confront us are formidable, Obama reminds the crowd, and lists them beginning with the war in Iraq. Smiling he makes reference to the television ad, the — a.m. phone call to the White House and asks, rhetorically, who would the audience prefer to answer that ringing red phone: someone who opposed the war from the outset, or someone who opposed the war in preparation for a presidential run (referring not so obliquely to Hillary Clinton). He also rejects what he refers to as the "fever of fear" which, he says, has emanated from the White House for more than six years.

After lengthy remarks, interrupted by clapping and cheering, Obama takes questions from the crowd covering issues such as veterans care and benefits, the economy, the environment, stem cell research, and Tibet. His proffered solutions &

a Manhattan Project for the environment, a commitment to science when addressing stem cell research and global warming, and an unshakable policy that for those troops coming home from war, we will care for them as they have cared for us &

bring the audience to their feet, clapping and cheering, time after time.

While that morning is about Obama &

how could it not be? &

it is also about the audience. It is evident that people are hungry for what Obama calls change. For new and bold solutions. It is an unspoken wish of all those present, hence most resonate to his words: " Ordinary people can do extraordinary things if given a chance." "Change happens from the bottom up." "I have the conviction that we are a decent and generous people."

As Obama says these words, in what is now a familiar cadence, he elicits a rising tide of emotion that sweeps the auditorium.

Barack Obama

— On Saturday morning, March 22, 2008, at Kids Unlimited in Medford, Barack Obama arrived to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,500 people. — Video by Mike Green | Daily Tidings

"I've watched Obama so often on television, it seemed, initially, that I'd been there and done that," said David Ralston of Ashland. "But being there made it real. I got a sense of the man. He seemed genuine, like his mission is very well thought out. He's the real thing and not staged. When he was asked where he found his inspiration to go on, he said Martin Luther King. And as I formed the name Nelson Mandela on my lips, he said his name and I knew Obama was someone truly unique."

While the electorate has grown jaded over the years, expecting political figures to pander, ever ready with a quick smile or a reflexive, well-rehearsed answer to questions, the audience that morning demonstrated that there remains still a deep reservoir of hope within people. Many still possess the conviction that America can be renewed, that we can do better, that the long ordeal of the past seven years is coming to a close and we are at a crossroads. If the audience could have articulated what they were feeling, as they sat waiting for Obama, it was an optimistic hunger for a new direction, for solutions which transcend the stalemated bickering of years past. They seemed to collectively agree with Obama: "The time is now."

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Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama talks about change at a town hall meeting in Medford Saturday.

Orville Hector | Daily Tidings