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Local Obama backers head to DC

Tuesday’s inauguration draws many from Hall

POSTED: January 16, 2009 12:09 a.m.
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Ashley Bell

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Gainesville resident Arturo Corso began sporting a Barack Obama campaign button on his lapel long before it was considered cool.

The attorney said he endured some good-natured ribbing at the Hall County Courthouse for his daily attire. But even after the Democratic candidate won the election, Corso continued to tuck the campaign pin into his collar each morning.

"I was an Obama supporter when the field was still crowded with Democratic contenders," Corso said. "It’s great to see your pick make it all the way to the end. It doesn’t happen often."

That’s why Corso and his wife, Phedra, along with a slew of other Hall County Obama fans, families, students and even a few politicians, are trekking to Washington, D.C., this weekend to stand in the cold on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to see the nation’s first black president inaugurated.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell and his wife, Lauren, who served as an Obama delegate to the Democratic Convention last August, are heading to D.C., minus the kids. After attending the inauguration, the couple plans to kick up their heels at the first-ever youth inaugural ball, where only those younger than 35 are invited.

Corso said he’s flying to the nation’s capital Saturday. He has made plans to take the D.C. Metro train from his Annapolis, Md., hotel into the capital city Tuesday morning. Together with his wife, he’ll hand over the inaugural ceremony tickets he received from U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal’s office and see Obama place his hand on President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural Bible.

And yes, Corso packed his mittens and scarf to prepare for an inauguration day with a forecast high temperature of 32 degrees. No matter, he said.

"I know it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be crowded. We’ll probably walk further than we’ve ever walked before," Corso said. "But this is our Woodstock. We’ll still be talking about this in 20 years."

With all the musical acts scheduled for inauguration night and the weekend prior, some could mistake the affair for a music festival. At the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, legends Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Bono, Garth Brooks, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen are set to perform a free concert. Hip-hop artists Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Usher and will.i.am also will put on a show at the memorial alongside Colombian singer Shakira.

And the music doesn’t stop there. Aretha Franklin will unleash her soul-stirring vocals at the inaugural ceremony, and Mariah Carey, Faith Hill, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys will pull out all the stops at the Neighborhood Ball on Tuesday.

Diana Dokken, a Gainesville resident who volunteered for Obama’s "Campaign for Change" in Hall County, said the inaugural event is too good to miss.

"I think I would regret it if I stayed here in my living room," she said. "I started following Barack Obama when he made his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Tears ran down my face and I said, ‘Who is this man who has reached inside of me and said everything I believe in?’"

Dokken, 62, said Obama’s message of interracial mobilization, peace and hard work had her hooked from the start. She said she is intent on attending the inauguration because of its historical significance, but that there’s more to the hoopla than Obama’s skin color.

In her eyes, she said the fact that Americans of all races came together to elect Obama, a man she believes to be an agent of change, marks a point in history worth celebrating.

"I want to be able to tell my grandchildren when they’re older that yes, Di-di was there when Barack Obama was sworn in," she said.

The grandmother of Chicago residents said she never in her life imagined a politician would motivate her to work for his campaign seven days a week, as Obama did. She said her involvement in the campaign jarred her out of her usual social circles. Dokken said she is excited about driving to D.C. with three Hall County African-American women she befriended during the campaign process.

Newtown Florist Club Executive president and civil rights activist Faye Bush, 74, said she’s taking turns driving on the way to Washington with three other club members aged "60-something."

"I look back at the Dr. (Martin Luther) King days ... To see this happen, I tell you, it’s hard to believe," Bush said. "This is important for us. I just want to be there to be a part of history being made."

Starting two years ago, Bush began waking each morning to watch the latest news on Obama from the comfort of her bed. She said as she watched him speak on television, she hoped his ideas would spur change for the United States and inspire the youth of the nation, especially minorities, to study hard and set positive goals for themselves.

"I never thought I’d get to see this in my lifetime," Bush said. "I hope that everything will go fine and that nothing will happen. I hope he is sworn in and then hits the road doing what needs to happen."



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