A spirited crowd of Barack Obama supporters filled the Majestic Theatre on Monday evening in a lefty-flavored prelude to an actual appearance by the candidate at the Kohl Center on Tuesday. Sandwiched between a pair of sets provided by the disco-dance nonet V05, a series of progressive elected officials and activists from Madison and Milwaukee hit the stage and exhorted the crowd to spend the next week before the Wisconsin primary stumping for the Illinois senator.
"We're all here now because of the most exciting presidential candidate of our lifetime," declared progressive emeritus Ed Garvey at the opening of this Boogie for Barack Obama, which for some there included the initialed triumvirate of JFK, RFK, and even FDR while for others it simply meant GWB. He was speaking before an audience that, unlike many single generation-dominated political events in town, ranged in age from the terrible twos to those with well over a half-century of experience as an activist.
All there looked to be full of energy, owing both to the platform shoed classics performed by the band as well as to the fist-pumping speeches serving as the red meat of the rally.
There were five speakers in all, with Garvey followed in turn by former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, Wisconsin Assemblyman Joe Parisi, progressive media star John Nichols, and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, who represents the heart of the Milwaukee region in Congress. All were energetic, and there was a definite increase in intensity and volume with each subsequent speech. And though they each assiduously avoided mentioning Hillary Clinton by name, and even paid homage to the sentiment of party unity, the New York senator was at the heart of each speaker's message.
Lautenschlager, one of the few current and recent high-profile female elected officials who is not supporting Clinton, noted that one's sex does not define one's ideology or politics. Joe Parisi followed, starting out relatively calmly that Obama has the endorsements from across the Democratic spectrum in Madison, including the likes of Garvey, Governor Jim Doyle, Madison Alder Zach Brandon, and his fellow assemblyman Spencer Black. "Now that's a uniter!" he declared. Parisi grew increasingly excited, ending his session with a call-and-response chant that substituted the campaign's trademark "Yes We Can!" with a simple shout of "Obama!"
The frenzy built as John Nichols took the stage, with the local and national politics writer focusing on the Iraq war in his comments, contrasting Clinton's vote for authorization with Obama's declared opposition to involvement while serving in the Illinois statehouse. And while comparisons to John F. Kennedy are often made by Obama supporters, Nichols looked back a century earlier and back across Wisconsin's southern border. Noting Tuesday, Feb. 12 marks the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, Nichols, like Obama in recent speeches, invoked "the better angels of our nature" from the sixteenth president's First Inaugural Address.
All the while, a group of a dozen or so children played with one another on the main floor in front of the stage.
Headlining the rally was Gwen Moore, who likewise started slowly with comments on distrust of politicians. The Milwaukee representative quickly built steam, though, discussing approaching end of the Bush presidency, the cynicism of Bill Clinton-era political triangulation, and the tale of David and Goliath. Moore closed with a spirited, nay fiery mock ring introduction, pitting the "Washington candidate" versus another candidate: "Funny name, young, skinny, big ears, first term senator, armed with the helmet of good judgment, the breastplate of hope, carrying the shield of unity, wielding the sword of change, the message of peace, and the slingshot of five small stones, can we do it?"
"Yes we can!" shouted Moore and the audience in response. She easily stole the show.
After a final round of cheers led by Garvey, the rally reverted to a boogie as V05 returned to the stage and launched into a second set replete with classics by ABBA, The Bee Gees, and their own "Wisconsin Rap." The audience, many of whom hung around for the fun, got into the tunes and took to the dance floor alongside a pair of human-legged puppets sporting Henson-friendly mugs. Kids danced away on the main floor to a cover of "Stayin' Alive," to which a V05 member announced: "We're honored to be the first band playing this live in front of these children."