Performance artist has 530 messages to give to Obama

Paddock is a Times staff writer.

A performance artist who collected hundreds of postcards from Americans expressing their hopes for the future president has a wish of her own: to meet President-elect Barack Obama and hand over the stack of messages.

Sheryl Oring, who traveled around the country typing postcards on street corners for her “I wish to say . . . " project, said she has requested a meeting with Obama to hand over the 530 postcards she collected in 18 cities this year.

Although she knows chances of meeting the president-elect are slim, she wants to make sure the missives aren’t mislaid or neglected by the incoming administration. She said she hasn’t heard back on her request yet. “I want to make sure they actually get there and get read or get seen,” she said.

To collect the postcards, Oring dressed in the style of a 1960s secretary and used an antique typewriter with carbon paper. She set up a table on street corners, took dictation from passersby and typed their words. In April, she collected dozens of cards at Venice Beach.

Three hundred cards and matching photos were on exhibit Saturday at the McCormick Freedom Museum in Chicago, where she also did another round of typing.


“There’s a lot of hope and a lot of expectations,” said Oring, who began typing postcards to President Bush in 2004 and collected birthday wishes for him in 2006.

This year, except those from Chicago, she collected the postcards before Obama won the election.

“Dear Mr. President, I sure hope you’re a black dude cuz if you’re not, I’m already in Canada,” Delaney Walsh wrote at Belmont University in Nashville in October. “P.S. Either way, please eliminate the cap on Social Security taxes and find a way to help homeless Americans -- especially those with mental illnesses.”

Some of the cards are emotional. Many express ideas for solving the nation’s problems or expound on national priorities in next four years. Often they focus on substantial issues and include pleas to end the war in Iraq, create more jobs, improve education and safeguard human rights, women’s rights and gay rights.

“Americans are much stronger and more capable of sacrifice than you might think,” dictated Cynthia Curtis of Nashville. “Please help us get away from our addiction to oil and preserve our environment.”

And Roxanna Hajjafar, also of Nashville, offered this advice to the next leader of the United States: “Be wise Mr. President. Our nation is in your hands. Please do not make decisions in haste. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you. Our nation is in need of leadership and wisdom.”

In Chicago after Obama won, the tone of the postcards shifted, with many offering the president-elect their enthusiastic congratulations. One said he was “ecstatic” that a person of color had won the presidency. Another said he was “still floating on air” 10 days after the election.

“I just turned 21, so 2008 was the first opportunity for me to vote,” Irene Chin of Chicago wrote in a postcard to Obama. “I’m proud to be one of the many young Americans to hand you the task of leading America. Change takes time and we understand that it will be a long process. But I understand that you will do a good job.”

Oring, 38, who had a baby in July and then moved to San Diego, got the idea of traveling around the country and interviewing people for the postcards in 2003 as a way of reconnecting with America after living in Germany. She is keeping a blog and hopes to publish the postcards in a book, as she did with the birthday cards for Bush in 2006.

“More than a few tears have been shed at my office desk,” she writes in her blog, “There’s something magical that happens in the few minutes I share with each person who stops by.”

Polls measure where people stand on the issues, but Oring believes the postcards could offer a better snapshot of how people feel about their nation and future leader.

“Please help my daughters to feel proud of being an American and please give them a better future,” Carlos Arboleda wrote at the exhibit in Chicago.

And Susan Lane of Brooklyn wrote simply, “Dear President. Be worthy of our trust, please.”