Jobs, transit, forward-thought, and dreaming big was the theme of President Obama’s speech at the Union Depot in St. Paul Wednesday afternoon. When it was over, Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams” lilted out of the p.a., and, considering the ubertransit-hub setting, the sepia backdrop of American flags and a presidential podium flanked by signs reading “To Trains” and “From Trains,” Springsteen’s refrain has never sounded more poignant or promising:
This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls
This train/Dreams will not be thwarted
This train/Faith will be rewarded
Talking the big train America and the audacity of hope, still, all of which was on the mind of hundreds of Minnesotans who took off work or school to attend the president’s speech yesterday. Before Obama took the stage, some speech-goers talked about their affection for the man, and how his presidency has affected their lives.
Ro Shanklin, Bloomington: “Right now I’m unemployed, I was working in retail, and I’m here to hear this great president talk about jobs and the economy. For me, this is an awesome experience. I don’t want to get into that part of it, but he is the first black president, and I want to tell my grandchildren some day that I came here and saw the first black president, right here in St. Paul, Minnesota. I like what he’s standing for, and what he’s trying to do for the country.
“I think the thing I admire most is the way he’s kept his composure, with everything that’s been thrown at him: two wars, the economy going down in the tanks, and for him to just stay strong for this country and not blow up like people wanted him to, he’s just been a leader through all of this.”
Tina Curry, Minneapolis: “I work in Ramsey County, I’m the divisional director of Financial Assistance Offices. I work with individuals that are receiving some type of public assistance, and [Obama] is really trying to get people off public assistance and get them a livable wage so they can have good jobs. I’m glad he’s talking about mass transit, because we keep hearing how if you have mass transit, you can get to jobs that might not be in the city.
“I think he’s done a very good job under some very difficult situations. This is the fourth time I’ve seen him. I think he’s a phenomenal leader and speaker, and so to hear him, you just get drawn into the message and sometimes you feel like you’re the only person in the room and he’s talking to you. He’s just so engaging. He’s phenomenal.”
Cecil Alston, West St. Paul: “I’m a Teamster, Local 120, and I’m just concerned here about what he’s here to say about the job situation and what he says about the grant money and other things he’s offering. I have some concerns. Not very concerned, but concerned about job growth. Minnesota is definitely moving in the right direction with the opening of the rail; a lot of jobs will be coming in that direction, so I’m glad to see him here for that. It’s a big thing, and Minnesota is just getting started with the rails. That’s going to start a lot of jobs.”
Tisha Ferguson, St. Paul and Cecelia Blakey. “This is my daughter,” said Cecelia. “I’m from St. Paul, retired from Metro Transit, and I’m here to hear him make history, and talk about the Green Line … . He is our first African-American president, and he does not always get credit for what he’s done, and I’m sure he won’t get any credit for what he’s done until he’s gone. Then we’ll really know his greatness, once he’s out of the office, because there’s so much holdback. It’s an honor to be here.”
Letricia Edwards, St. Paul: “Seeing President Obama has been on my bucket list, so now I can scratch that off. It means a lot for me to be here today. I really admire the president, I think he’s doing a great job. That’s all I want to say.”
Deangelo Friends, St. Paul: “This is my first time being able to see a president of the United States in person, and I voted for him. He was the first president I was of age to vote for, so it’s history. I’m from Wisconsin, I’m a psychology/occupational therapy major at Concordia University. I just wanted to see him in the flesh, and also this opportunity can create many things in the future for myself and for others who I share this with later, who can’t be here today. Building blocks right now, building blocks. I’m about action. I’m action-oriented. How can we create jobs as Americans … and as scholars, we have to be able to rely on our own critical thinking, not other people’s.”
Frank J. Brown, St. Paul: “I’ve lived in downtown St. Paul for 17 years, but I’m moving to Cleveland because I can’t stand the racism here. I’m a sculptor. I’m here to see a part of history. It’s very sad how certain populations have kept up their vendettas against President Obama because of his race. This is the only president that’s been disrespected the way he has — he’s been so disrespected. I support him, I’m glad his focus didn’t waver. I’ve been fired from jobs because of the color of my skin, here in Minnesota, where it’s not so nice. I’ve walked down the street and had people yell, ‘nigger’ at me. Today. That happened today.”
Warsame Warsame, Blaine, and Abdul Youb, Columbia Heights. “I listened to his State of the Union address, and what he said about the Year of Action, and I support that even though Congress doesn’t,” said Warsame. “The Year of Action really struck a chord with me. It’s his last term, and I feel like when a president is in his last term, does he stick to the promises he made? And with the Year of Action, hopefully he finishes up his term strong.”
Abdi Hilowle, Minneapolis: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to see the president of the United States. I really appreciate him because he gives people like us, different people of color, opportunity and inspiration, because he became president of the United States. It’s motivation, and it’s very inspiring.”
Trace Massie, St. Paul: “I own a small business here in St. Paul, and I’m just here because I’m interested in what direction the country is going for small businesses. I have a small Fed Ex authorization center here in downtown St. Paul. Overall, it’s been positive, and even though the economy has been dragging, he’s done a lot of things to assist small businesses.”
Evangelynn Dew, Minneapolis: “I think he’s important because he makes me think I can achieve anything I want to achieve in my life. I’m unemployed and disabled because of my leg, and I need a knee replacement. I was a chef, so I can’t do that anymore, and now I’m seeking some schooling so I can further my education and do something that can accommodate my disability. But through Obamacare, I get medical rides to my appointments, my co-pays are affordable, and I’m very satisfied with my insurance.”
Mickies Kiros, St. Paul: “I’m a sixth-grader at Capital Hill Magnet School, St. Paul. I was lucky I got picked to get tickets to go, because I’ve always admired him. He’s a great president, and I’ve always wanted to see him.”
Stacy Ward, Minneapolis: “I’m just here to be present with the president of the United States, and be a part of history before I get too old to be able to come and do this. I do construction. I started a little small business. He’s been good for a lot of my friends who have small businesses, and I’m just starting out, so we’ll see.”