Another memorable event from the 2012 presidential campaign was President Obama’s final speech in Des Moines, Iowa on November 5th, the evening before the election. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube. He told a wonderful story about getting inspired by Edith Childs, a woman from the small town of Greenwood, South Carolina, whose call and response chant became part of his 2008 campaign.
That story begins at about 21 minutes in. Here’s a transcript of it:
“...Don’t let anybody tell you your voice can’t make a difference. It makes a difference.
I got a powerful reminder of this myself on our last campaign. Folks in Iowa, I know you may have heard this story, but it was early in the primaries, and we were still way down in the polls, and I think this office had just finally gotten the heat turned on.
And, at the time I was still competing in South Carolina. It was one of the early primary states, and I really wanted the endorsement of a state representative down there. I’d met her at some function where I was, nobody knew me, nobody could pronounce my name, they’re wondering what’s he thinking. So, I asked her for her endorsement. And she said, I tell you what, Obama, I will give you my endorsement if you come to my hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina. And I think I had a little bit of wine during dinner because right away I said OK.
So, it’s about a month later, and I’m traveling back to South Carolina, and we flew in late at night. I think we were coming from Iowa. We’d been campaigning nonstop, you know traveling all through towns, and having town hall meetings, and shaking hands. And, in between I’m making phone calls asking people for support. So, we land in Greenville, South Carolina, at around midnight, we get to the hotel at about one o’clock in the morning. I am wiped out, I’m exhausted. And I’m dragging my bags to my room. Back then we didn’t fly on Air Force One, and you know, the accommodations were a little different.
And, just as I’m about to walk into the room, one of my staff taps me on the shoulder and they say, excuse me Senator - I was a Senator back then - we’re going to have to wake up and be on the road at 6:30 in the morning. What! Why? Well, you made this promise to go to Greenwood, and it’s several hours away.
And, you know I try to keep my promises, so a few hours later I wake up and, I’m feeling terrible. I think a cold’s coming on, and I open up the curtains to try to get some light to wake me up. But, it’s pouring down rain, terrible storm. And I take a shower, get some coffee, and I open up the newspaper, and there’s a bad story about me in the New York Times. I was much more sensitive at that time to bad stories. I’ve become more accustomed to these now. And, finally I get dressed. I go downstairs, and I’m walking out to the car, and my umbrella blows open, and I’m soaked. So by the time I’m in the car I’m wet, and I’m mad, and I’m still kinda sleepy.
And it turns out that Greenwood is several hours away from every place else. So, we drive, and we drive, and we drive, and we drive. And finally, we get to Greenwood, although you don’t know you’re in Greenwood right away, cause there are not a lot of tall buildings around. And we pull up to a small field house, and I walk in, and I’m looking around, and I don’t hear a lot going on. And, the state representative said she was going to organize a little meeting for us, and we walk in and there are about twenty people there. And, they’re all kinda wet too, and they don’t look very excited to see me. But, you know, I’m running for President, so I do what I’m supposed to do. And I’m shaking hands, and I say how do you do, nice to meet you.
And, I’m making my way around the room, and suddenly I hear this voice cry out behind me: ‘Fired up!’ And, I’m startled, and I don’t know what’s going on. But, everybody in the room - this is a small room - they act like this is normal. And, when the voice says ‘Fired up!‘ they all say ‘Ready to go!‘ And so, once again I hear the voice: ‘Fired up!‘ And they say ‘Fired up!’ And say ‘Ready to go!‘, ‘Ready to go!’ I look around, I turn around me there’s this small woman, she’s about sixty years old, looks like she just came from church - she’s got a big church hat. And she’s looking at me, kinda peering at me, and she’s grinning, smiling, looking happy.
Turns out she’s a city councilwoman from Greenwood who also moonlights as a private detective. I’m not making this up, this is true. And, it turns out she’s famous throughout the area, when she goes to football games, and when she goes to rallies, and she goes to community events, she does this chant of hers. She does it wherever she goes. So, for the next few minutes, she just keeps on saying ‘Fired up!’ and everybody says “Fired up!’ And she says ‘Ready to go!’, and everybody says ‘Ready to go!‘
And, I’m thinking, you know, this woman is showing me up. This is my meeting, I’m running for President, and she’s dominating the room. And, I look at my staff, and they just shrug their shoulders. They don’t know what to do, so this goes on for a few minutes. Now, here’s the thing, Iowa. After a few minutes, I’m feeling kind of fired up. I’m feeling like I’m ready to go. So, I start joining in the chant, and my staff starts joining in the chant. Suddenly I feel pretty good. And, we go on to talk about the lives of the people in the room, and their families, and their struggles, and their hopes for their kids and their grandkids.
And we drive out, and it’s still raining, but it doesn’t seem so bad and we go to our next stop. For the rest of the day, even after we left Greenwood, even though we still weren’t getting any big crowds anyplace, even though people still couldn’t pronounce my name, I felt good. And, I’d see my staff, and I’d say ‘are you fired up?’ and they’d say ‘we’re fired up!’ I’d say ‘are you ready to go?’ and they’d say ‘we’re ready to go!’ And we brought that to Iowa. And during our rallies this became a chant, and we’d have signs saying ‘Fired up!‘ ‘Ready to go!‘
The woman, her name was Edith Childs, she became a celebrity and she was written up in the Wall Street Journal. And folks did news stories on her. And this became one of the anthems of our campaign back in 2008. Now, here’s the end of the story though. We knew we were coming back to Des Moines for the last campaign rally I’ll ever do for me. And so we were getting kind of sentimental and we called up Edith Childs. And we said, why don’t you come on up? No, no, listen to this. We said, why don’t you come on up? We’ll fly you up from South Carolina, and you can do this chant one more time just for for old good times sake. It’s like getting the band together again.
And, you know what Edith said? She said I’d love to see you, but I think we can still win North Carolina, so I’m taking a crew into North Carolina to knock on doors on election day. I don’t have time just to be talking about it - I’ve got to knock on some doors. I’ve got to turn out the vote. I’m still fired up, but I’ve got work to do.
And that shows you what one voice can do. One voice can change a room. And, if it can change a room, it can change a city. And if it can change a city, it can change a state. And if it can change a state, it can change a nation. And if it can change a nation, it can change the world.”
There’s also a shorter video about Edith Childs here.