29 April 2008 - Attending the OBAMA rally in Chapel Hill, NC ..... I support Senator OBAMA's candidacy and have put some money where my fingers are as I type this. You should know that as I offer some reactions to the OBAMA "One-Stop Early Vote Rally" at the Dean Dome on 28 April.
It was a rainy night, as Garrison KEILLOR might have introduced the experience.
So I took an umbrella with me. When I got to the Dean Dome, the security people (still not sure whether they were Secret Service or some other service with American eagles on their sleeves and impressive badges) told me and everyone else that the “staff” for the organizers of the event had said no umbrellas inside...actually, it was "no metal" and so far, I guess that covers all umbrellas. Life gives us so many of these choices.
OBAMA or umbrella?
We all chose the candidate, and that meant a giant collection of umbrellas at the entrances. At least we had a shot of retrieving them unlike all of that stuff confiscated at airports, which on my last flight, do seem to allow umbrellas onboard. The agent told me I would find my umbrella in one of the big barrels that would be at the entrance when I left.
I thought about my umbrella - not a particular favorite - during the event, especially as I gazed at the 18,000 or so other people in the arena.
Well, to put your mind at ease, I walked out at 11:20 or so, and there was my umbrella, right where the agent said it would be! I don't know if others were so lucky or whether there is a rain sale today at the Dean Dome of all the leftovers. I suppose they hold on to the residue for some period of time?
Now that I've gotten that annoying detail out of the way, back to the story.
I did not take a bus this time as they stop running, I am pretty sure, for these late night outings, at least for the return. So I tried to find some other people who wanted to go and thought we could at least car pool. None of my friends was able to make it. I drove to the first sign for the "Smith Center" parking and that was in the new garage more or less across from the new Cancer Center at UNC Hospitals. Parking was free, or I hoped it would be. From there, with my trusty umbrella in hand, I walked to the Center.
I felt a little Pied Piperish as there were only a few ahead of me at first, and others falling in line behind me. But as we wound our way toward the Dome, more people appeared ahead. It was a mostly young crowd - although mighty quiet I thought - and the people I saw as we began to get in line outside the arena seemed to reflect both the larger group inside and the community as a whole - old, young and multi-colored, if you do not count Latinos and Latinas. I heard nor saw not a single reference to them or the Spanish language in the course of the event.
En route to the arena, I passed two guys selling OBAMA buttons (it was t-shirts on the way out), got a flyer from someone on behalf of Hampton DELLINGER running for Lt Governor (and talked with the fellow handing them out about whether Hampton is "from" Durham or Chapel Hill -- he told me I just missed his parents.....delighted to see Hampton and I presume his parents supporting OBAMA, as his father had worked for Bill CLINTON; finding anything about Hampton's support of OBAMA on his website, however, is a fruitless task), and met Jim NEAL from Carrboro, running for the US Senate (he gave me only his hand and no paper!).
Along the way, someone collected the part of the ticket on which you had to give name, rank and serial number. It was curious to me that with all the effective use of the internet by the campaign, there seemed to be something less than a creative effort to use the database of people within driving distance of Chapel Hill to bring them to the event. It will be interesting to see if I receive anything by way of followup via phone, e-mail or snail mail.
In the parking lot were a couple of TV trucks from local stations, contributing at least some very local bad air to the environment, presumably burning gas the whole time we were inside.
I had left home at 8:30 PM and was in the arena (without my umbrella), following a nice rainless walk, at about 8:55. I'd say 80% of the people had arrived at that point, maybe 85%.
There was some excitement in the air, but not as much as I would have expected.
There were a few people on stage setting up things, but the real star was a woman who came out twirling OBAMA t-shirts and tossing them into the crowd the way a stripper might do the same with other articles of apparel! She did a great job. When a guy joined her, he clearly did not have the same savoir faire that she did!
In the stands behind the podium was a large "Chapel Hill for Change" sign, and over to one side a row of sign holders spelling NCforOBAMA. The monitors up high were promoting early voting, and there was one additional OBAMA sign in the hall that I could see, other than small ones that people, especially behind the podium, were holding (and who received some instruction at one point on how to wave them from one of the staff).
A "privileged" group got to stand the whole time (over two hours) in front of the podium. These were the people who reached their arms the highest when trying to catch a flying t-shirt. Another group was ushered in somewhat ahead of OBAMA who must have been the high rollers and some of the visiting firemen and women politicians; they got seats.
There were only a couple of people who may have been reporters sitting at the press desks. It looked pretty deserted. That was a good sign that there would not be major announcements. There were more people running the half-dozen or so TV cameras, but I presume all of them were local stations, although I did not look closely.
There was good music, and I thought it was all recorded stuff carefully picked by the organizers to get the crowd in the right mood. Instead, I learned later, it was a real band! They did a great job, and I wonder who pays the royalties for using what they performed? I am not a good person to identify songs, but I think one might have been "Right Back where We Started From".
And there were, as was reported by at least the Herald-Sun some number of "waves" making their way around the hall. Actually, just a few.
One young guy arrived near me - I was up in the stands, about two-thirds of the way - proudly wearing a t-shirt with Fxxx BUSH in large letters. Several people asked him to pose for photos.
Otherwise, there was only one tie that I saw in the stands; it was a pretty informal crowd. Some of the organizers, and of course the Secret Service, were well-suited for the occasion.
A few people munched on popcorn and soft drinks....
At precisely 9:30, out came a minister (from the Chapel Hill First Baptist Church, Dr. J.R. MANLEY I believe) to deliver a very long prayer that I found very hard to follow. Most every head was bowed for the duration. He said nothing that I could discern about politics, but did talk about love a lot.
Then someone else appeared whose name I did not get, and once he found the flag way up high, we all rose to say the Pledge of Allegiance. It's been a long time since I attended an event where we recited the Pledge en masse.
It was then the turn of Reps David PRICE and Mel WATT to speak. PRICE seemed a little uncomfortable in front of all those people and referred to his notes a little too often. As the former Duke professor he is, it seemed quite appropriate that he rattled off a bunch of wonky issue points, some of which seemed to spark a bit of interest. He got a fair response on ending the Iraq war and next to nothing when he spoke of restoring America's "moral leadership" in the world. WATT was more of a cheerleader and got more juices flowing after noting that PRICE had taken care of the substantive stuff.
The regional director for OBAMA came on stage and tried to whoop up the crowd a bit. He claimed that we were no where near as loud as we should be for "one of the biggest indoor events in the history of the Barack OBAMA campaign". He urged everyone to get to work over the next 8 days, getting a good response from noting North Carolina's ability to make a difference for the first time in the primary process.
He left the stage about 9:50.
I was thinking I should have brought binoculars with me. The couple ahead of me had a pair. I guess there must have been a binocular exception to the no metal rule?
There was no announcement about timing.
I wondered about how much an event like this really costs.
I picked up snippets from the music - coming to America and my country.....that sort of thing.
Next up was Sam PERKINS, I take it a UNC basketball alum and NBA veteran. He talked about why it is so important to stay in school and to "pay attention". He had played so long ago that the Dean Dome had not been built at that time. He talked about wearing the "uniform of hope" and winning the "championship of hope" with OBAMA as the coach. The crowd seemed to like this a lot.
A female UNC senior from another town in North Carolina took the podium next. (OBAMA later wished her a happy 22nd birthday which must have made it quite a birthday for her.) We all gave the late Eve CARSON a moment of silent tribute, and the woman behind me even stopped jabbering on her cellphone at that time. The speaker was very impressive and very committed, talking about how she had traveled to several states to support OBAMA, and noting how a Swedish exchange student friend had given so much of his time for the same cause because he believed so much in the OBAMA candidacy.
She introduced OBAMA to a standing ovation. We knew he was about to appear as the Secret Service - pretty sure this time - had lined the entry walk on both sides standing at conspicuous attention. (They did the same throughout his remarks from strategic points around the podium.)
It was 10:30 and time for the candidate. On stage he came with a number of handshakes and many waves.
He thanked PERKINS and noted work he has done on the Special Olympics and fighting malaria.
I could not help but think how silly it was to sit there and watch the big monitors instead of squinting to see the real person on the stage. Those monitors really turn the experience into nothing more than what you can do at home in a more comfortable seat.
OBAMA thanked Chancellor "MESSER" and then corrected himself (MOESER) from someone in the privileged standing group in front of the podium. And he thanked others from Tarheels for OBAMA to his lead organizer for these big rally events, a UNC alum.
He then gave us his stump speech. The "fierce urgency of now" was followed by words on Iraq and the economy, on energy and education.
It was good to hear it all in one sitting, but nothing new. We listen to bits and pieces too often, and we need to hear all candidates go through the full pitch a couple of times in the campaign to make sure we keep things in perspective.
There seemed to be a little too much at this point about "why" he chose to run.
He did not use teleprompters as best I could tell.
And no notes.
He talked about BUSH and CHENEY and McCAIN, with his key phrases deployed at key moments like assuring us the first two would not be on the ballot in November. CLINTON was next, and she and others were treated quite reverentially.
He was much more critical of lobbyists et al to whom he will not be obliged in any way. (The role of lobbyists apart from campaign contributions is a subject on which I'd love to debate OBAMA; I have some perspectives to offer....)
Throughout, he kept his sense of humor.
And, of course, he used now well-established lines like not hiring someone to play the game better, but hire someone who is going to "change the game plan" to be President.
In his words about energy, he said that the McCAIN proposal to lift federal gas taxes for a while would amount to only about $25 for most people. "Is that the best you can do?," he asked. He noted that the missing taxes would deprive America of funds that would otherwise go to the highway trust fund.
OBAMA got a good response talking about Research Triangle Park and its importance and contribution and the need to do more of that, and he got an even bigger response in talking about paying teachers better.
He did better than PRICE had in getting people revved up about global issues. He talked about Iraq and reminded us of his opposition in 2002 and his promise to bring the war to an end in 2009. "America's back; we are ready to lead again," he told us would be the headline next year. Helping the developing world with health issues, education, and respect for human rights - resolving Darfur - will be at the core of that effort, he said. And he promised that America would once again obey the Constitution and protect and civil liberties.
Bringing everyone together was another big theme. Republicans, independents..... He said we need to reflect "the decency of the American people".
He had reminded his staff, he told us, that after the elbowing et al, they and all of us need to remember what the campaign is "all about". "Don't get distracted" from this, he warned. Don't let comments about a "pastor", a "lapel pin", questions about patriotism or suggestions about being Muslim..... take you away from working to insure that "this country is about every child having an opportunity". He criticized the media for allowing those sorts of issues to "dominate" political coverage for the last "several weeks".
He concluded by talking about "values". He reminded everyone of his upbringing, of the ways in which this country had helped his parents, and about his wife's background as well and her humble beginnings. He seemed so inspired that she might become the "First Lady of the United States". For those who question his patriotism, he told us that his story could not happen "anywhere else on earth". Despite all our "imperfections", "each of us can grab for that dream". We can, together, fight for liberties, make the world more just and more equal, and more unified.
He finished at 11:15.
OBAMA got a standing ovation, shook a lot of hands, I walked out with the crowd, found the umbrella, and walked with a group that had turned once again much quieter than I would have expected back to my car. Yes, the parking was free. And I was back in Southern Village at 11:45.
It was an evening well-spent.....