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College Dems leader travels to Washington for historic day

Kaitlynn Riely | Monday, January 19, 2009

WASHINGTON – When Sen. Barack Obama became President-elect Barack Obama on Nov. 4, Notre Dame senior Spencer Howard knew where he would be on Jan. 20.

Throngs of people departed the National Mall Sunday afternoon after the pre-Inauguration Day “We Are One” concert, an event that featured the president-elect and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and their families, as well as several dozen big-name actors and performers. Howard, the co-president of the College Democrats of Notre Dame, was standing at the corner of 18th St. and E. following the concert.

Howard watched election night coverage on Nov. 4 from the Democratic headquarters in South Bend, and when the results came back in favor of Obama, he knew he had an aunt and an uncle in Lorton, Va. who would be willing to loan him a bed for a few nights in January.

Driving with a friend, Howard left Notre Dame Saturday at noon and arrived in Virginia at about midnight.

As he drove east to the Washington D.C. region, he said he saw many cars with Obama stickers on their bumpers.

“Stopping at rest areas, people were talking about [the inauguration],” Howard said.

He arrived in downtown Washington Sunday morning shortly before noon, and a few hours later squeezed into the crowd of people gathered on the National Mall to watch musical acts like Bruce Springsteen, U2, Beyonce and John Mellencamp and speakers like Tom Hanks and Jamie Foxx.

Like most Americans, Howard saw Obama for the first time when he delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

“I thought it would be eight years later because I was hoping [Sen. John] Kerry would win, but I told my mom while I was watching that I thought [Obama] would be the next president,” he said. “It was a little sooner than I expected.”

Howard went to work for Obama starting in the summer of 2008, organizing Notre Dame volunteers and working out of a College Democrats office in South Bend. He galvanized volunteers into knocking on doors and making signs.

From the time Obama won the Democratic nomination until Election Day, Howard said he worked every day to help get him elected.

Howard said he was attracted to Obama’s “forward-looking vision.”

“He seems to have a way of uniting people and getting people to work together,” he said. “The other day he met with conservative journalists from D.C., and that’s kind of an interesting thing because he’s a democrat. But he’s met with both sides on everything.”

Stevie Wonder’s performance was popular among the crowd he was standing in, Howard said, but the highlight of the concert, for him, was Obama’s speech to the crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

“I think Dr. King would be really proud of our country,” Howard said. “That’s not to say that there is no work to be done. President Obama was saying there is still more work to do. It’s a collective effort. It’s not just one person.”

Obama delivered a short speech towards the end of the concert. On Tuesday, he will again speak, only next time in front of the Capitol building as president of the United States.

“I expect big things for the inauguration, but it’s the same kind of things he’s been talking about for the last two years,” Howard said. “Just making sure everybody understands what he wants to do and why he’s doing it. If you want to have people follow you, you have to articulate why you are doing it.”

Howard has no tickets to the inauguration, but he plans to find a spot to watch the swearing-in and the speech among the millions expected to attend the ceremony.

Howard will make the 10-hour drive back to Notre Dame Wednesday morning. His “check engine” light came on during the ride to Washington, but he said the trip was worth it.

And his work will not be done when Obama is sworn in on Tuesday.

“It’s just the beginning,” he said.