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Obama Draws 5,000 to Agganis

Presidential candidate promises universal health care and an end to Iraq war

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama addresses a crowd of more than 5,000 people at Boston University’s Agganis Arena during a fundraiser on Friday night. Photo by Frank Curran

Despite the first beckoning of summer temperatures and a Red Sox game, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama drew an estimated 5,800 supporters to a campaign fundraiser at Boston University’s Agganis Arena on Friday night. The Illinois senator’s pledge to end the war in Iraq and institute a universal health-care system if elected evoked thunderous applause.

“I am so honored to be here tonight,” he said, after taking the stage. “The city of Boston knows how to hold a fundraiser. Just imagine how many people might have been here if the Red Sox hadn’t been playing the Yankees!”

Obama’s appearance — his first in Massachusetts since he announced his candidacy for president — kicked off his New England campaign, which emphasizes, in the senator’s words, “inclusiveness and grassroots mobilizing.” Agganis Arena was chosen as the venue because of its size, said Reid Cherlin, Obama’s New Hampshire press secretary

Obama was introduced to the crowd by Jon Marker (CAS’07), founder and president of BU Students for Barack Obama. “I’m often asked why my generation is so apathetic,” Marker said. “But I don’t think we are. We’re only lacking a leader, and when we look around this arena tonight, we will find that leader.”

Moments later, Obama entered. Grinning broadly, he thanked his cheering supporters and acknowledged their donations of $2,300, $230, and $23 — a special discount offered to college students. “I remember what it was like to be a student,” he said. “And I know how much $23 means to you!”

The Harvard Law graduate went on to describe his experiences working as a Chicago civil rights lawyer, which in turn led to an eight-year stint in the Illinois State Senate. In 2004, Obama became the third African-American since the Reconstruction era to be elected to the U.S. Senate. “In college, I realized that I wanted to make a contribution that was more than simply about myself,” he recalled. “And I thought that if I could get involved in a grassroots movement, then I could bring about change from the bottom up.” 

Today, the senator said, America faces challenges that are greater than any challenges it has faced in the past few decades. “We have a broken health-care system,” he said, “and a war that should never have been authorized has cost us half a trillion dollars and the lives of 3,300 men and women. The American people feel like they’re on their own, and it’s because our political system is broken.”

Obama told the crowd that America’s problems are not unsolvable, but they would only be solved if the country begins to move in a different direction — beginning with an end to the war in Iraq. “I was against the war from the start,” he said. “If elected president, I vow to bring our troops home!”

By ending the war, Obama said, Washington politicians will be able to concentrate on vital issues such as health care, education, and energy conservation. “I’m confident in my abilities to lead this nation into the future,” the candidate said. “And if this campaign becomes a vehicle for your hopes and dreams, then it cannot be stopped.”

Before leaving the arena, Obama shook hands and swapped greetings with several members of the audience. “I got to meet him!” said Emilie O’Toole (COM’10). “He was a great speaker — extremely motivational, and I really like his position on universal health care.”

“I think Obama is a breath of fresh air in American politics,” said Shawanna Johnson (LAW’08). “He appeals to a good cross-section of America.”

While the vast majority attended the rally as Obama supporters, many said they came mainly to learn more about the senator’s views — and some were won over. “If you had asked me a year ago who I supported, I would have chosen Hillary,” said Gilbert Kiyingi (ENG’10). “But Obama is a representative of change. The baby boomers have had their turn, and now it’s time for a new generation.”

“I’m not American,” said Lakshmi Taneja (CGS’08), “and after seeing Obama, I really wish I could vote!”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.