President Obama took his message of economic recovery yesterday to a middle school in one of L.A.'s most densely populated immigrant neighborhoods. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez was there and prepared this report.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: A thousand or so people took their seats at the Miguel Contreras Learning Center gymnasium. After they waited about an hour they made it clear they wanted the show to start.
Guzman-Lopez: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger offered the opening act.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
Guzman-Lopez: The president suggested that the warm-up number was too brief.
President Barack Obama: Although I was hoping that the governor was going to take a little longer on his remarks because I was standing outside soaking in some rays. Nothing like California weather.
Guzman-Lopez: He spoke to an ethnically-mixed audience of public school students, social activists, campaign volunteers, and lots of elected officials. Many of them had actively campaigned for President Obama. He didn't waste time explaining why he chose to spend a couple of days in this part of the country.
Obama: The one thing I don't need to tell you is that these are challenging times. I don't need to tell you this because you're living it every day. Between December of last year and January of this year, this state lost more than half a million jobs.
Guzman-Lopez: In 20 minutes of prepared remarks, the president criticized Wall Street greed, called for health care reform, and announced $145 million in federal money to buy and resell foreclosed homes in California. In conclusion, he said, he wanted to solve the nation's economic problems – not pass them on.
For the question-and-answer portion, he told the audience he'd pick boy, girl, boy, girl. Instead of asking questions, most people used the microphones to express how much they admired the president.
Sharnette: Hello, my name is Sharnette, and first of all I'd like to say that as a mixed race individual it's so fantastic to finally have a role model and a leader I can identify with.
Obama: Thank you.
Guzman-Lopez: Sharnette did ask why the president's stimulus plan doesn't take into account the high cost of living in places like California. In response, President Obama said that the bigger problem is unequal tax rates within a state.
He used each answer to ease into his analysis of the economy's problems and to argue how his reform proposals would help. This man told the president that he's losing hope – and that he's worried the United States is veering toward bankruptcy.
Peter Graf: My name is Peter Graf, I immigrated here from Germany. I'm very happy you're in the White House, but for the first time I'm worried about this country. The stability and the future.
Guzman-Lopez: The president proclaimed that it's time for truth telling. Getting out of this economic mess, he said, is going to take money, personal sacrifices, and reforms from some of the constituencies that helped elect him, such as teachers unions.
Eight-year-old Ethan Lopez, in a crisp white shirt, necktie, and neatly combed hair, got to ask the last question.
Ethan Lopez: President Obama, our school is in big trouble because budget cuts are holes, 25 of our teachers have been fired to get pink slips.
Guzman-Lopez: After some small talk the president told Ethan about his effort to send states more federal money so they could protect teacher jobs and improve schools.
The event disappointed L.A. immigrant rights activist Angelica Salas. Amnesty advocates staged a loud rally outside the venue, and she said the president missed a chance to say he'd push to legalize their status in this country.
Angelica Salas: We actually succeed as a city and as a nation if this issue gets resolved. The tax base is increased because you have more people who are legalized who can put more money in the economy.
Guzman-Lopez: Salas vowed to lobby more on the issue. She's taking to heart the president's suggestion to a campaign volunteer during the town hall – stay engaged in the policy issues of the day.