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Freedom riders 

Hope reigns on the road to Obama's encore.

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"Look at health care reform," Lareau said. "That's one of the most significant changes in the past 20 years. Bill Clinton tried to do it and even he failed ... I really like his new Cabinet. I really like John Kerry for secretary of state, so I really think his second term is going to be another A. I think he's going to position the party even better for another Democrat in 2016."

While Lareau agreed that many young people — even those who lean left — have been heard to complain that Obama didn't do more with his first four years, he said that attitude doesn't take into account what Obama has faced.

"Young people who are disappointed in the president don't understand the realities of what a president can do and what legislation he can push," Lareau said. "Either people are too apathetic or too ignorant of politics in the real world to understand how much he has done."

Soon, the dome of the Capitol rose up between the townhouses. We worked our way through security, and at last we were there, standing on the Mall in the cold daylight between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Seagulls turned and wheeled over the pool before Capitol Hill. The balcony where the president and dignitaries would appear was lost in the far distance for cheap-seat ticket holders like us, but there were Jumbotrons and big speakers set up, and we were glad to be there.

We found college student Arzalious Davis in the throng. A native of Helena, Davis was one of 100 Arkansas students chosen by the MLK Commission to attend on the strength of an essay he wrote. Davis, who grew up in poverty, said that when he heard he was going to Washington, it was like he'd hit the lottery.

"I was like: I'm going to see President Obama's inauguration — to see this, in person," he said. "I'm 20, and I voted for him, and it's a great feeling to see him have four more years and to visit this wonderful city."

Asked if he thought Obama's re-election meant we're finally getting past race in this country, Davis said he believes it does. "You can actually see the change," he said. "There's progress being made now. We were watching the polls, and we were nervous, but I kept my faith and he won. That lets me know it's going to be all right ... . When you grow up with nothing, it makes you want to strive for more. That's what I did, and that's what he did too. He grew up with practically nothing, and look at what he did."

Standing nearby was Chris Melendez. Born in the United States to parents who came here from Guatemala, Melendez, 19, cast his first presidential vote for Obama last year. "Before this, I wasn't really informed about anything political," he said. "I wanted to use this as a start so I can become more informed when I vote."

Melendez said he has followed Obama's progress on immigration issues, and said that Obama has accomplished a lot in that regard considering his opposition in Congress. "With his second term, he'll actually be able to do a lot more of what he actually wants to do," Melendez said, "because he won't have to worry about public opinion and re-election. He's got it already. So I'm pretty sure we'll see a lot more done with immigration reform."

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