Ain't no stopping them now

On a day when the wind chill hit 11 degrees, 40,000 excited Baltimoreans waited for hours to hear Barack Obama speak.

Published January 18, 2009 12:02AM (EST)

BALTIMORE -- With the wind chill, it was 11 degrees here on Saturday. But about 40,000 people braved the cold to see President-elect Barack Obama stop and give a speech on his way to Washington, D.C. anyway. 

Obama wasn't scheduled to appear until 4:15 p.m., but a good number of people arrived at the site of his speech that morning. Some started waiting hours before they were even allowed in to the plaza. They stood in below-freezing conditions, not daring to move away to find shelter and warmth. Even afterwards, when they had to fight through a downtown closed off even to pedestrians, walking a mile or more to get to their homes or their cars, their enthusiam didn't seem to waver.

People had turned out for other parts of the whistle stop tour Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden took, of course. But there was a special significance for this city. Baltimore is almost 65 percent African American, and the black share of the crowd was almost certainly even higher than that. They had come to see history being made.

As the time for the main event drew closer, the excitement in the audience was palpable. McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" came on at one point, and suddenly there were tens of thousands of people dancing in unison, a wave of humanity moving together. Those old enough to know the words were singing along.

Eventually, the audience grew tired of waiting; each time a new speaker was announced, there was a collective intake of breath, as everyone hoped this time it would be Obama hitting the stage. By the end, there were even a few scattered boos each time someone else was introduced. But when he finally did come out, joined by his wife and the Bidens, a roar went up.

"It was worth it," Charlene Stewart Solomon said afterwards. She'd brought her granddaughter, 8th grader Brittany Burgess, and the two of them had been waiting together since 9 a.m. "I wanted my granddaughter to see history," she said. Holding up a book with a back cover photo showing the worn-out soles of Obama's shoes, she added, "I wanted my granddaughter to know if he could walk that many miles for us, we could do this for him. Burgess had her own reason for wanting to be there. "I was so inspired by him that I ran for school president," she said. "And I won."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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