Obama queried in conference call

Anxious tittering mixed with the monotonous crackle coming over the phone, only to be interrupted occasionally by a recorded message.,Erika Rydberg stood at the front of a small room in the Tufte Performance and Production Center, one hand holding her cell phone out to the approximately 25 students seated in front of her.

Anxious tittering mixed with the monotonous crackle coming over the phone, only to be interrupted occasionally by a recorded message. And then finally, after almost 10 minutes of waiting, the man of the hour, Illinois Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama, came on the line.

The April 19 event was a teleconference, between Obama and members of the nationwide grassroots organization Students for Barack Obama (SFBO).

Over 800 members of SFBO from around the country signed up to participate in the event, which lasted 20 minutes and included an address from Obama in which he highlighted the importance of the youth vote, followed by questions from participants.

“I really believe it’s going to be all of you who make this campaign special,” Obama said. “Young people have always been the backbones of campaigns for change.”

Rydberg, a junior communication studies and writing, literature and publishing double major, started the Emerson chapter of SFBO earlier this semester, and the group already has almost 60 members on Facebook.com. Because the group was formed so recently, many of the group’s plans, such as a voter registration drive, will not take place until next year, according to Rydberg.

Only three questions, selected prior to the start of the conference, were asked. The first came from students at Boston College, who asked about foreign policy.

The other two questions came from students at Bowdoin College and the University of Nevada, who asked Obama about American race relations and healthcare coverage concerns.

In addressing the healthcare issue, Obama centered his response on his listeners. He said recent graduates often have a tough time paying for health care because they are fresh out of school and usually have little money to spare. He said his plan would focus on reducing overhead costs from health care programs, and using the savings to extend coverage to more people.

Though Emerson students were not chosen to ask Obama a question, Rydberg said she was still pleased with the conference, because it showed Obama cared about American youths.

“By contacting the students, that shows a greater level of acknowledgement that young people are important in this campaign,” Rydberg said.

While there are no future conferences scheduled, Rydberg said there has been talk of holding another one, and she hopes Emerson students would have a chance to ask a question then.