One of a million
Paul Barkla has seen enough of the political world to recognize the tricks of the trade.
"I've been around politics long enough to realize that, if a politician is looking at you, they are actually looking over your shoulder," the Pierce County Board Chairman said.
However, Barkla saw something different with a candidate who entered the 2008 Presidential race.
"Barack Obama had a very patient quality about him," he said. "When you shook hands with him, you could feel his warmth and realize he was an intense listener."
Barkla soon found himself one of many volunteers working for the Obama campaign during the primary and general election, whether knocking on doors or making phone calls, as his travails led him across the Midwest. And when Obama won the General Election in November, it led Barkla to take his final trip for Obama, to Washington, D.C., to watch his inauguration.
His adventure started last January, when Barkla traveled to Des Moines for the Iowa Caucus.
"It was just for fun. No agenda," he explained.
He heard speeches from senators John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Obama. There, while hearing Obama speak, he met up with a friend named John Carson, who was national field director for the Obama campaign.
The two got to talking and Barkla then found himself knocking on doors in St. Louis Park, Minn.
Barkla explained his message was simple: Go out and vote. And if you do, vote for Obama.
"I believe by knocking on doors, spending money and voting, you have purchased your rights to complain about politics," he said. "We were knocking on doors from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. in strange neighborhoods. It was fun."
After his Minnesota experience, Barkla was then in Ohio and spent 13 days in the Dayton area. A majority of Barkla's time was spent in ghetto areas of that city.
"It was such an interesting experience," he said, adding he was never alone.
During his time in Ohio, Barkla witnessed an Obama speech that drew an estimated 17,000 people. The number of people isn't what struck him about the event.
"Except for those around him on the floor, there was a sense of no security (guards)," he said.
After coming home for a while, Carson called Barkla again, wondering if he could spend time in Indiana. So, Barkla was back on the road, spending most of his time on the north side of South Bend.
"South Bend is a very affluent city," Barkla said. "The downtown is really moving up, as the NCAA College Football Hall of Fame is there, but there were parts of that city that made where I was in Dayton look good."
The reception he got, though, was noteworthy.
"Wearing a red and white Obama T-shirt in a devastating neighborhood, I felt perfectly welcome," he said.
Barkla's tour of the Midwest wasn't finished, as his next stop was Sioux Falls, S. D. He estimated that trip lasted about three to four days.
"Most of my time was spent in working class neighborhoods," he explained. "The women there were invigorated by Mrs. Clinton. They felt in debt to her. So it wasn't a shock to me she won the primary."
Also, in South Dakota, Barkla heard Obama's speech for the fourth time (along with Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin) and noticed something different about each one.
"After saying Hello, Minnesota, or Hello, Wisconsin, the rest of the speeches were the exact same," he said, laughing.
Barkla's tour wrapped up in Iowa, where he spent July 4th, at a parade in the southeast portion of the state, along with knocking on doors.
"We were getting on-the-street voter registration," he said. "It was great fun."
Meanwhile, on the phone, Barkla called people in Oregon (where he's from), Wisconsin and Mississippi. He spent time there after Hurricane Katrina, hauling debris.
Barkla was a legislative assistant for two U.S. senators and two congressmen, so he was quite familiar with the nation's capital.
When Obama won on Election Night, Barkla knew his inauguration was something he wasn't going to miss.
"It was important for me," he said. "I believe an inauguration isn't a partisan event. It's a celebration of our democracy. It's a peaceful and successful change in our leadership that we engage in every four years. We set aside our partisan differences so that we can recognize and understand all Americans."
Barkla had been to nine previous inaugurals, starting in 1957 with Dwight Eisenhower's. Between now and then, he's attended John Kennedy's, Lyndon Johnson's, Jimmy Carter's, George H. W. Bush's, and both of Bill Clinton's and George Bush's.
What struck Barkla the entire time he was in Washington, D.C., was a mood of happiness. Whether it was seeing entertainers such as Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow in concert, seeing the facial expressions of the Obama and Biden families or the Inauguration Day itself, in which an estimated one million people were in attendance.
"It was such an incredible experience," Barkla said. "(Watching Obama being inaugurated) was a culmination of the dream that begin in 1963 on a hot August day when I was able to hear and participate in the march on Washington when Dr. (Martin Luther) King gave his speech in which to judge people on the content of their character and not on the color of their skin."
He continued, "It's going to be the last inaugural I'm going to. It's a fitting end to the cycle. It's been a great ride."
With the election now over, Barkla is happy to devote his complete time and energy into Pierce County.
"I'm glad to be home here in Pierce County," he said. "Working with the county board and the men and women in these buildings (Barkla is also the interim administrative coordinator). We've got good people that work together well, who all share the same dream of making this place a better place."