Just like last year, my friend Larry and I went to the rally at the South Carolina statehouse to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And once again, it was inspiring and unforgettable, full of moving speeches and a general spirit of goodwill. In fact, the man at the microphone when we arrived even urged the 7,000 people in attendance to be respectful of the anti-NAACP, pro-Confederate flag demonstrators who were gathered across the street. "We have gotten reports," he said, "that some of you have made hostile or vulgar comments to some of our guests. We will not stand for disrespect toward anyone here, and the next person to make such comments will be escorted off the statehouse grounds." Pretty impressive, I thought. I didn't see that coming.
The big difference from last year, aside from a whole lot more secret service agents standing around and the temperature being about 20 degrees cooler, was that the speakers included three presidential candidates: Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
Larry and I felt very fortunate to get to see them all in person. Each one said something that made the back of my neck tingle with excitement, which admittedly may also have had to do with the cold weather.
Senator Clinton was particularly impressive in winning over the decidedly pro-Obama crowd and getting them to listen to her message, and in making what I thought were insightful, relevant points.
It was the first time for Larry or me to see any sort of presidential campaigning in person, having come from Virginia and Indiana, respectively. SC, as a swing state that holds its primaries relatively early, gets attention from the national candidates. And since we live here in Columbia, and work downtown (for an employer who inexplicably stays open on this national holiday), we had what we both recognized as a rare opportunity.