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Mobilized Online, Thousands Gather to Hear Obama

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speaks to students during a rally at George Mason University in Fairfax.  The event was organized by Obama's young supporters through Web site Facebook.com.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speaks to students during a rally at George Mason University in Fairfax. The event was organized by Obama's young supporters through Web site Facebook.com. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)

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By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, February 3, 2007

At his first rally since announcing his presidential exploratory committee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) appealed yesterday for support from the young people who had mobilized for the event online.

The gathering of several thousand students at George Mason University in Fairfax underscored the potential power of online communities in the 2008 campaign. Its genesis was a group created last summer on Facebook.com, a Web site frequented by college students who post profiles and assemble virtually.

Barack Obama for President in 2008 now has more than 50,000 members, and its founders have created an offline presidential draft committee, Students for Barack Obama.

"This is a remarkable achievement, a remarkable event that speaks to what young people can do when they put their minds together," said Obama, who is scheduled to officially announce his candidacy next Saturday in Springfield, Ill.

"No one is more cynical about politics than young people," he said, adding that they would not tolerate "a politics that's all about slash and burn, nastiness and negative ads, and name-calling and gridlock."

"One thing that's been incredibly clear throughout this whole process is his commitment and dedication to students and all the young people of America. He sees our generation as a critical part of his campaign," said Meredith Seagal, a junior at Bowdoin College in Maine and executive director of the draft committee.

Another Facebook group, Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack), was started less than three weeks ago and has already recruited 200,000 members. "When you go on Facebook, as you always do, sign up," Farouk Olu Aregbe, who founded that group, told the crowd yesterday.

Jonathan Hicks, 19, a sophomore at American University, said he learned about the event through the Facebook group. "The majority of people to my knowledge found out through Facebook," he said. "Technology is changing. Politicians need to use it more, and more often, if they want to reach the youth of America today."

In his 25-minute speech, Obama promised that a better kind of politics -- led by young people -- is possible.

"You guys don't have much of a memory of the possibility of a politics that transcends and brings people together," he said. "[At] each and every juncture of our history, somebody has been audacious enough to say, 'We could do better.' . . . And more often than not, it's young people who've done it."


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