Michelle Obama speaks at presidential rally in Skibo Gym

Only a week after her husband drew throngs to Soldiers and Sailors, Michelle Obama wooed a small crowd at Skibo Gymnasium on Wednesday.

Skibo’s risers were packed with community members and students from many of Pittsburgh’s universities. The rally was staffed by volunteers from a number of Carnegie Mellon student organizations, including Carnegie Mellon Students for Barack Obama, Student Senate, AB Political Speakers, and College Democrats.

Helping Students for Obama lead the crowd in cheers of “Ready to go” was Steve Sovern, a professional mediator from just outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who got excited enough about the campaign to travel to Pennsylvania and rally for Mrs. Obama. Sovern, alongside student volunteers, built up a palpable excitement around Mrs. Obama’s speech.

“I’ve been here since 11 a.m. setting up and it’s been amazing. It feels like [Barack] Obama is coming,” said sophomore social and decision sciences major Rotimi Abimbola, a leader of Students for Obama who had only a few days to coordinate the event.

While the crowd was indeed diverse, some students at the event questioned the practices of Mrs. Obama’s event coordinators, who handpicked the crowd sitting behind Mrs. Obama. The Tartan’s correspondents observed one event coordinator say to another, “Get me more white people, we need more white people.” To an Asian girl sitting in the back row, one coordinator said, “We’re moving you, sorry. It’s going to look so pretty, though.”

“I didn’t know they would say, ‘We need a white person here,’ ” said attendee and senior psychology major Shayna Watson, who sat in the crowd behind Mrs. Obama. “I understood they would want a show of diversity, but to pick up people and to reseat them, I didn’t know it would be so outright.”

Mrs. Obama was introduced by Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of former Democratic
presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry (D–Mass.), who endorsed Mr. Obama’s candidacy in South Carolina last January. Heinz Kerry stressed the similarities between Mr. Obama and her late husband John Heinz III, the popular senator from Pennsylvania. She remarked that she has become friends with Mrs. Obama, mainly from exchanging messages on their Blackberries.

Mrs. Obama spoke about her husband’s triumphs over adversity throughout his life, focusing on the decisions he had made that, she said, set him apart from his opponent, Hillary Clinton. As the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, Mrs. Obama said, Mr. Obama could have been successful in the private sector, but chose to go into community organization instead.

“When you’re given the gift of advocacy, you don’t sell it to the highest bidder,” Mrs. Obama said.
Mrs. Obama stressed how her husband has relied on “regular folks” instead of big donors.

Instead of thousand-dollar donations, the Obama campaign has raised millions on small checks of $20 to $50. Mrs. Obama sees this participatory attitude as a new trend.

“Folks have been engaged in a way they have not been before. People sit around the TV with their 5-year-olds watching debates.”

Mrs. Obama was careful to note that the Obamas, both of whom are Harvard-educated lawyers and who together own a million-dollar home in Illinois, grew up under difficult conditions.

“In my house, there were no miracles. All I saw was hard work and sacrifice,” Mrs. Obama said, speaking of her youth. “My father did not complain and went to work every single day.”

Most of Mrs. Obama’s statements were met with cheers and enthusiastic support, especially the televised crowd, many of whom were long-time fans of Mr. Obama.

One attendee, Joanne Plummer, a resident of Wilkinsburg, has been waiting a long time for an Obama presidency.

“Four years ago, when I first saw him speak for Kerry, I just knew — this man will be president,” Plummer said.