President Barack Obama fired up supporters at his grassroots event at the BankUnited Center Thursday afternoon with a speech that touched on his accomplishments over the past four years and his mission to move the country forward during the next four.
“Four more years,” was a favorite chant of the capacity crowd, which expressed its enthusiasm with cheers, applause and even one shout of “I love you, Barack.”
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz – who is also the chair of the Democratic National Committee – gave opening remarks, as did Sen. Bill Nelson and an Obama For America organizer. UM freshman Elizabeth Cooke, who has worked on the campaign this year with Canes for Obama, introduced the president and offered her take on why students should support him.
“We know that he’s out there fighting for every single one of us every single day,” Cooke told the audience. “It’s our turn now to go out and fight for him.”
Obama started by highlighting his accomplishments, which include ending the war in Iraq, passing health care reform, and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also spoke directly to the student crowd by addressing issues related to education.
“I refuse to pay for that tax cut by asking students at the U to pay more for college,” Obama said in his speech, referring to former Gov. Mitt Romney’s proposed tax plan.
Obama stirred local students’ emotions with his remarks about “Dreamers,” or young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country before the age of 16 and who have successfully graduated high school. Senior Karen Hernandez said she teared up as she listened to Obama speak.
“When he was mentioning the immigrants, how we have lived here our whole lives and how we pledge allegiance to the flag, that part hit home with me, because I feel like I’m from here even though I wasn’t born here,” Hernandez said.
When Obama called attention to Romney’s plans, the crowd expressed its disapproval by booing. But Obama offered a more productive alternative.
“Don’t boo. Vote,” he urged the crowd.
Ultimately looking to mobilize supporters, Obama emphasized the philosophy behind his slogan, “Forward.” He also stressed the importance of voting and urged the crowd to vote early.
“On October 27, you can choose,” Obama said. “You can choose whether we go back to the policies that got us into this mess, or you can choose to keep moving us forward with policies that have been getting us out.”
Freshman Kevin Chalek, who attended the event, said he thought Obama gave a great speech. As an Obama supporter, Chalek is looking forward to voting.
“I basically applied to a lot of schools in swing states because I wanted to vote for him,” Chalek said. “So I decided to come here, and I knew the first thing I wanted to do was register to vote in Florida.”
A crowd of 9,200 filled the BankUnited Center, according to Coral Gables Fire Marshal Robert Lowman. But far more people stood in a line that stretched from the BUC past the University Center and all the way to the Richter Library.
Freshman Ariel Adams skipped two classes, waited in line for more than three hours, and then waited inside for another two just to make it the campaign rally and see Obama speak. But Adams said she felt it was well worth it.
“I thought it was very informative because it showed Romney’s side and his side and it allowed me to see both cases and help me decide to vote for Obama,” she said. “It motivates me more to vote and to help out the campaign and to volunteer.”
With approximately 15,000 tickets distributed for the event, not everyone was allowed inside the BUC. Those who were not let in were directed to the adjacent Fieldhouse to watch the speech on a live stream.
The Fieldhouse also reached its capacity, so the rest of the students and community members standing in line had to be turned away, according to junior Kate Maier, who was near the cutoff for entry to the Fieldhouse.
Maier got in line near the UC bookstore, so those who ended up by the library or Starbucks presumably could not get in, she said.
“I guess we were happy that we didn’t get cut off to not see him at all. It was exciting just hearing him speak,” Maier said. “The energy was still pretty high in the Fieldhouse.”
Obama walked into the Fieldhouse after giving his speech at the BUC. He spoke very briefly and shook a few hands at the front, according to Maier.
While police officers, parking officials and Obama For America staff were present to help maintain order, student volunteers with the Canes Emergency Response Team (CERT) distributed water bottles and information about heat-related illness to those in line.
“We distributed over 8,000 bottles of water and assisted Emergency Medical Services with more than a dozen individuals affected by the intense heat,” said junior Gerald Cowen, CERT’s vice president of operations.