Obama's Campaign Kickoff Is the Product of Teamwork

By C. Woodrow Irvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) chose the Fairfax campus of George Mason University as the site of his first campaign rally, so Friday was a notable day for Obama's fledgling campaign and one that student organizers say they will never forget.

"It was an awesome experience," said Erick M. Sanchez, the president of the university's College Democrats group. Sanchez, a senior government and international politics major, estimated that 4,500 to 5,000 attended the rally, Obama's first since announcing his presidential exploratory committee.

Sanchez's group helped to organize the rally, along with the committee for Obama and volunteers from the grass-roots draft committee Students for Barack Obama.

Sanchez said he lobbied aggressively to make GMU the site for the rally once he learned that Obama's exploratory committee was looking for a suitable location in the area. Sanchez said he had about a week's notice to organize once he got approval to put the rally together.

Leaders of Students for Barack Obama and a core group of about 45 members from the College Democrats, Sanchez said, contacted officials from the university administration to secure space in the food court at the school's Johnson Center. They organized the fanfare -- including balloons, placards and music from the Patriot Pep Band -- and scrambled to alert the media.

The College Democrats got cooperation from campus police to provide security. They also contracted with a shuttle service to provide rides to the campus from the Vienna Metro station for students from other local colleges and universities.

Sanchez said the Internet was an important tool. "Communication was pretty easy with all of the technology we have nowadays," he said.

Much of the behind-the-scenes work on the rally was done online between the Obama committee, which paid for the event, and Students for Barack Obama, a group that grew out of the social networking site Facebook.com.

Students who learned about the rally online came from across the country, including from Florida, Michigan and New York, Sanchez said.

Meredith S. Segal, the executive director of Students for Barack Obama and a junior neuroscience major at Bowdoin College in Maine, said she met students from California, Kentucky and Massachusetts.

"We were thrilled with the event," she said. "The student turnout was fantastic. Everyone at Mason was incredibly helpful. Someone estimated there were over 20 different departments involved."

When he was a freshman, Sanchez said, he attended campus rallies for Democratic candidates John F. Kerry and John Edwards, which he described as "big but nothing that can be compared to what happened on Friday."

It was the best-attended event on campus he had seen, "besides basketball," Sanchez said, laughing. "It ended up being a great success."

Sanchez said that organizing the rally left little time for him to do much else last week: "I probably have some explaining to do to a lot of my professors."

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