Barack Obama stops at Block E for book signing

by Courtney Blanchard

As the room erupted into cheers, two young renegades in the mob craned their necks to watch Illinois Sen. Barack Obama enter the crowd of all ages and races.

Hopkins High School student Zoe Illies, 17, and Kaly Basman, 16, skipped classes Monday to wait to see the junior lawmaker, but both insisted they had permission to go.

The up-and-coming political celebrity spent a few hours Monday at the Block E Borders to sign his latest book, “The Audacity of Hope.”

The event attracted so many people that the line was full nearly an hour before the event.

Obama, elected to the Senate in 2004, became an instant political celebrity after his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, attracting praise from all political spectrums and age groups.

Illies and Basman will be old enough to vote for Obama if he runs for president in 2008.

“He’s the only hope that we have, plus, my dad told me that he was a nice guy,” Illies said.

The high-schoolers arrived too late to grab one of the 350 wristbands that guaranteed a signed book.

Instead, they snuck along with an entourage of stroller-pushing mothers who posed for a photo-op before the book signing.

“We just wanted to show him that the youth is still involved in politics, that it’s not true that kids don’t pay attention,” Illies said.

University continuing education student Jon Berger said he came to the event because Obama is only the second politician he’s been interested in, the first being the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

“When most politicians talk, it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to get your vote,’ ” Berger said. “When (Obama) talks, it sounds like he’s actually trying to make a difference.”

But not everyone was as star-struck.

Macalester College sophomore Leah Brown said Obama’s book was a little disappointing.

“It seems more like a big campaign speech than a book,” she said.

Even so, Brown, a Chicago native, said she would still vote for him.

Obama addressed the crowd shortly before taking his spot at the signing table.

“This is not a campaign manifesto,” Obama said.

He said the book’s title is from a sermon that his pastor gave 18 years ago about looking at the world’s problems.

“What requires a certain audacity is to believe that you can actually make things look better than they are right now,” Obama said.

Cinema and media culture senior Matt Morosky walked away from the table arm-in-arm with his mother, Denni Ryan.

He said his mother saw Obama on “Oprah,” and he knew of him when he went to school in Illinois, where he voted for him.

“Who knows what’s going to happen in 2008. It seems like a lot of people are looking to him for hope,” Morosky said.

Though some criticize Obama for being too young and inexperienced to make a bid for the presidency, many praise him for his ability to energize young and apathetic voters.

Cam Winton, 27, a Minneapolis attorney, said Obama inspires people in a way few politicians do anymore.

Winton said he’d want to ask Obama for any advice he’d give young people wishing to get into politics. As for the new book, Winton said, “I’m impressed with how humble he is given what a rock star he is in politics.”