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Columbia Missourian

Columbia families bring children to experience Obama, rally

By Amanda Woytus, Casey Smith
October 30, 2008 | 10:14 p.m. CDT
Carrie Peter, 41, poses with her daughter Katrina, 6, at Sen. Barack Obama's rally at MU on Thursday. Peter said she thought it was important to bring her daughter from their home in Jefferson City to see the candidate during this historic election.

COLUMBIA — Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has aimed to break a lot of barriers, but now it's breaking bedtimes as well.

On MU's Carnahan Quadrangle, the packed crowd gathered to hear Obama speak didn't just include those of voting age, but children, too.

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Parents perched their children on shoulders or held them up over their heads to get a better view of the candidate. A man with a baby carrier on his back took advantage of the base of a lamp post while mothers cradled sleeping infants against their chests and covered them with blankets. 

As an adoptive mother of a 6-year-old child, Carrie Peter said she was keeping her daughter, Katrina, close by her side throughout a historical campaign, even keeping her up way past bedtime for a glimpse of the man she hopes will be the next president.

"I wanted her to be here to see him in person, to see for herself what all this is about and she's definitely going to go with me when I vote," said Peter a little before Obama stepped on the stage to deliver his speech.

Peter said coming to see Barack Obama's historic campaign is important partly because her adopted daughter is African American.

"Coming from a biracial family, I am excited that we might have the first biracial president of the country, but it wasn't the only deciding factor for me," Peter said.

Peter who has lived with AIDS for nearly 20 years, said sufficient health insurance is hard to get for people with her condition. She said Obama's plan would give her and others a chance at finding the coverage they need with a pre-existing condition.

Peter's mother, Myra Craney, who supported Hillary Clinton earlier in the campaign, worked since 4 p.m. with her daughter and granddaughter to help volunteers prepare for the presidential hopeful's visit.

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Sisters Kristen Tarr, 11, and Stephanie Tarr, 10, sat on a bench near Cornell Hall and read books, while their parents, Marie and James Tarr, stood behind them.

"I came here from school and did my homework in the line," Kristen said. "I'm reading Frogs and French Kisses." 

Her sister Stephanie was reading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning.  

Once the speech began, children quieted down and pressed up against the metal barriers, peering through the bars toward the stage. Some gripped the holes in the orange netting. Stares were briefly broken when costume characters Big Bird and Elmo passed through the crowd.

* * *

Earlier in the evening, the children dotted the long lines that wound around campus streets.

Columbia resident Regan Washington brought her godson D'Auntre Prince, 11, to the event because of its "educational" nature.

"I think it's going to be history in the making," Washington said. "It's a great opportunity for him to hear a great man speak."

Washington said that the late night was not a concern.

"Not for this, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Washington said. "It's close to home, can't get any closer."

Lucretia Sheard, also of Columbia, and her 8-year-old son Tamar began waiting in line at 4: 30 p.m. 

"He was just as excited as I was, and he wanted to be a part of this so I brought him along with me," Sheard said.

Politics is a topic of discussion in the Sheard home, she said, "especially during this past year."

As a child, Sheard said she never had a chance to go to any political rallies, but she still remembers participating in her school's mock election when Geraldine Ferraro and Walter Mondale were running on the presidential ticket.

Sheard said that the late night was a concern, but she felt it was worth it to allow Tamar to be a part of a historic event.

"I think it's showing America's making strides in a lot of different areas, this being the first African-American candidate to have made it this far in the process,"  Sheard said.

* * *

Amy Moser and her husband, Bill, brought their 5-year-old daughter Madeline to the event but decided to leave their 4 ½- and 2 ½-year-old daughters at home.

The Mosers said Madeline's interest in the election caused them to bring her along.

"She's been kind of following the election and was excited about Barack Obama," she said.

"It isn't often that you get to hear a presidential candidate speak," Amy Moser said. "It's the first time I've come to a presidential rally. In my opinion he will be the next president, and when will we get an opportunity to hear him speak again?"

But for the Hamilton family the late bedtime and long lines were a deal breaker.

Archie and Melissa Hamilton of Columbia had been considering going to the event but after walking by the massive line at about 5:45 p.m. they decided to take their children Ethan, 8, and Amelia, 15 months, home.

"We were hoping we'd be able to stay and hear Barack speak, but we didn't realize he wasn't going to speak until 10 p.m.," Archie Hamilton said.

* * *

Some children were so interested in politics that skipping the rally was not an option.

Outside Middlebush Hall, Clara Wright sat under a tree doing her homework. She and her twin sister, Ella, who are both in middle school, begged their mother, Jennice Wright, to bring them to the rally.

"I want to know what's going on," Ella said.

Jennice Wright said she decided to bring her daughters when they insisted, "We could be a part of history."

"Couldn't resist that one," she said.

Jennice and her husband, Scott, are both social studies teachers and encourage their daughters to pay attention to the election because they grew up in families that didn't talk a lot about politics. Clara and Ella watched some of the debates, even though they don't talk about politics in school yet.

Standing further down the ever-growing line was Lauri Garman and her daughter, McKenna, who skipped soccer practice to attend the rally.

Garman said Obama is "calm and reassuring" in a time where there are a lot of worries on people's minds.

As a child, Garman's family never addressed the issue of voting and never attended rallies. She tries to get her children involved in politics as much as possible and even takes them to the polls on Election Day. Even though McKenna's father is a McCain supporter, McKenna is an Obama fan like her mother. She has been nominated to represent Obama for her seventh-grade class in a mock debate that will precede an election at her school next week.

Garman saw Obama speak in St. Louis in January and said he was inspirational. She wanted McKenna to have a similar experience Thursday night.

"You see it on the TV, but it's not really the same. It's so much more amazing in person because you get the energy and the excitement of the crowd," she said. "You feel like you're on the edge of something big about to happen."

Missourian reporter Jenn Herseim contributed to this report.