Obama Sing-Out recalls '60s civil rights movement

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

July 27, 2008|By LARRY CARSON

On the same night that about 200 prominent Maryland Republicans gathered in Baltimore for a big-ticket fundraiser for John McCain, a similarly sized group of Democrats assembled in Columbia and sang out for Barack Obama.

The event, "Sing-Out for Change," was held Tuesday at the Meeting House in Oakland Mills. It took the enthusiastic, mostly middle-aged crowd back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s with folk and protest songs such as "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "If I Had a Hammer," "Kumbaya," and "Blowing in the Wind."

"To me it's a matter of great emotion," said Ana Spitzmesser, 68, of Columbia, a retired university Spanish professor.

She and others mentioned a link to the civil rights movement, pointing out that the date Obama would give his acceptance speech to be the presidential nominee is exactly 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Donald E. Murphy, chairman of the Maryland delegation to the Republican convention and a former delegate representing part of Howard County, commended the spirit of the Obama event but doesn't envision a GOP equivalent any time soon.

"Any time people get together for political action is a good thing," he said. "That said, the Republicans won't be singing "Kumbaya." I don't think we'll be revisiting the '60s."

The McCain campaign will have a presence at the county fair, but no specific events are planned in Howard right now, organizers said.

Participants at the Obama event said the sing-out exemplified the kind of grass-roots campaign they hope will propel the Illinois senator to the White House.

"That's what it's about - something different," said Betty Shepherd, 59, of Columbia, describing her feelings about the event and the Obama campaign.

Art Spilkia, 65, of Hickory Ridge, who moved to Columbia from Queens, N.Y., in 1972, came up with the idea for the event, then organized and financed it with approval from Obama campaign leaders in the county, he said.

A recently retired federal employee who's never been politically active, Spilkia sees himself as an example of what those in the Obama campaign call a "movement" rather than a campaign.

"Barack happened and I got into it and wanted to do something for him," Spilkia said.

"Maybe you'll get a Cabinet post," cracked Mark Steinhorn, 62, of Laurel, an old friend.

"This is my passion," Spilkia said. "I see Barack as somebody who can change the world forever."

Spilkia led his seven-member Columbia Hoot Band, aided by two modern dancers and a parade of guest performers, through the songs, poems and speeches.

"It's all about ordinary people getting together to do extraordinary things," said Spilkia, who plays guitar.

The sing-along was a contrast to the McCain event, which raised $1 million from tickets that ranged from $1,000 to $2,300. Held at the Center Club in Baltimore, that program featured appearances by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and former congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley.

The Columbia crowd raised between $3,000 and $5,000, said David Marker, co-chairman of the county Obama campaign. The money came from voluntary $25 donations and sales of $20 T-shirts and $2 campaign buttons, bumper stickers and snacks.

Several elected officials attended, including Dels. Elizabeth Bobo, Shane Pendergrass, and Guy Guzzone, who's also a co-chair of the local Obama effort, as well as County Council members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa.

While McCain talked about his differences with Obama on issues of war and the economy, the crowd in Columbia fondly recalled the long-departed Mrs. Z's restaurant.

"It's reminiscent of the '60s," said Barbara Motley, 65, another retired federal worker.

Obama organizers are planning another event at the Greene Turtle restaurant in Columbia on Aug. 28 to mark Obama's expected acceptance speech at the Democratic national convention in Denver.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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