Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Obama Rally Experience

Note: Libertarians very, very seldom rally.

When Libertarians rally, they absolutely NEVER chant cheers. Instead you get policy speeches and the occasional historical re-enactor explaining how the colonial and revolutionary experience justifies the Libertarian mindset.

There aren't many people, but when Libertarians get together they entertain themselves. (In my first draft I said "ourselves"; that's a closed chapter in my life, alas.) It's an intellectually stimulating exercise from start to finish. (Of course, intellectually stimulating does not require actual intelligence, as recent 9/11 conspiracy debate in the LP shows.)

This was my first experience of a major campaign for a Big Two candidate...

... and though I'm glad I went, on the whole it was pretty disappointing.

I parked my car in Houston, after a wasted trip to Beaumont on business (wasted because I left my wallet at home), just after 5 PM. The crowds were already pretty damn intense, and my little camera can't do them justice:

(Note: images resized to fit format. Use "View Image" on your browser to see a larger version.)

While I wandered around the building following vague directions for those of us with 'stand-by' passes, I found these two shirts together. These shirts weren't on sale at the venue, but all sorts of shirts, hats, buttons, etc. were... some of which were actually being sold by the Obama campaign. Unfortunately, the one thing not available at the rally was yard signs, which I had a belated request to locate.

Once I finally found the area for stand-bys to wait in... well, no, that's wrong. I wasn't in the stand-by line, I was in what I dubbed "the stand-by line to get into the stand-by line." I stood there, conversing with the same handful of people, for over an hour and a half before the line budged at all; we got into the building a bit after 8 PM. (Note to self: when Democrats say a rally begins at 6 PM, what they really mean is, "Don't expect the doors to open until at LEAST 6 PM, probably much later.")

The standing in line served one purpose of the rally, though: to reinforce the attendees in their belief for Obama (and against Clinton and McCain). It's documented fact that people who are weakly conservative take on stronger conservative policy in the presence of other conservatives, and the same for liberals or for whatever political philosophy or issue you care to name. There's an inner craving in us humans to belong, and it can override higher functions sometimes. Political functions serve to override doubts and questions and to unite people in strong support of their candidate or cause.

So it was in the line: as time passed, talk about Obama grew steadily more positive, more optimistic; talk about Hillary Clinton grew more negative, more hostile, more disgusted. I can't say that talk about McCain, Bush, or other Republicans grew more hostile; I don't think that would be possible.

Anyway, I got into the Toyota center when the place was better than three-quarters full. There were still empty seats when things finally got started... but so few that I don't doubt that people were left standing outside, screened off when standing-room capacity was reached. (There were a lot of people who didn't sit down at all, but just stood at the back of each section and looked down.

Need I explain that I was in the nosebleeds? Here's what it looks like:

(And that's with maximum zoom on my little bitty camera, too.)

There's the typing section of the press pool. It's the only part of Toyota Center that didn't look stuffed absolutely full. The camera platform just in front of it seemed to stay full, to the point that I half expected cameramen to fall off at any moment.

When I walked in there was a campaign staffer alternating between leading cheers- "Fired Up!" "Ready to Go!" etc.- and explaining to voters how vital it was that we vote early and then go back on Primary Day evening for the caucus. (If you haven't heard, welcome back from your vacation under the rock- Texas gives two-thirds of its pledged delegates to the primary winner by district, one-third through a caucus system that begins primary night.)

And now and again another cheerleader would come out to try to get us to show how much we wanted Obama out.

And for a bit more than an hour, that was it.

It wasn't just boring (though it was certainly that). It was nerve-wracking. We were all wondering what was going on in Wisconsin. The polls showed Obama with a fairly narrow lead, with the last couple of polls opening it up... but we didn't know if those were statistical outliers like, for example, Zogby in California.

Finally, our view went from this:

... to this.

Of course, I have never seen that video clean through. I have no broadband. Now I've seen, but not heard, it: the cheering was too loud for me to make out the words in the video. It was definitely inspiring, as were the words that came over the PA immediately afterwards: "Please welcome the WINNER OF WISCONSIN, Senator BARACK OBAMA!"

Obama spoke for over half an hour, beginning with a reminder for us to vote early and then caucus. He then swung through a bit of a "greatest hits" portion of his speech (not including the very good "just words" line he borrowed from Gov. Patrick). This segued into a point-by-point explanation of his position on an number of issues. I cheered those I agreed with him on, sat silently in my seat on those I disagreed with or doubted he could make happen. I disagreed about one-third of the time. He concluded by responding to Clinton's and McCain's attacks about "empty speeches" and "false hope," explaining that hope does not mean sitting on your butt and waiting for good things to happen; it's knowing that good things can happen if you work hard to make them happen.

As soon as he finished speaking, it was OVER. Down on the lower level, a lot of people were dancing and cheering and reaching out hands for Obama, but those of us on the upper level were gestured by Toyota Center ushers towards the stairs that dump you out on the street, without option to go back in and try to get closer to the man. Getting the car out of the resulting exodus was a pain, but not nearly as trying as getting in had been. The most painful thing about it was my lungs after I ran my 240 lb. frame up six flights of garage stairs.

Overall, from where I was I might as well have stayed home and watched the speech on TV. About the only good I did was fill a seat to show the world that Barack Obama could overflow a basketball stadium in downtown Houston. I still wonder how many people never made it in.

As to what went on inside: there was no excuse for not having more people giving speeches, for not having Obama commercials running on the Jumbotron, for doing nothing other than giving twenty thousand people the Blue Screen of Dull. US Reps Al Green and Chet Edwards, both of whom are running for re-election and both of whom support Obama, were on the floor; why didn't they give speeches? Why not show Obama Girl videos, at least? People waited, waited, and WAITED, and to be perfectly blunt there wasn't much of anything for them to do.

Oh, as far as race breakdown is concerned: about one-third white, one-third black, one-third everything else. There were a lot of Middle Eastern faces around me when I sat down, some women wearing shawls, some with Indian and Pakistani silks. There were not many Latinos- I might have seen a handful the whole time. I saw not even one Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese person- in a city with so many of them some streets have their names written in Vietnamese characters. (And just across the freeway from old Chinatown, too...)

That worries me a bit: there are rumors that young Latinos support Obama, but the old leaders know the Clintons personally from as far back as the McGovern campaign. In turn, there's a very strong Mexican tradition to pay heed to your elders, especially your elder women- your mamas and your abuelitas. Yes, the black districts of Houston and Dallas are delegate-heavy... but those neighborhoods are very much mixed African-American and Latin American.

Polls continue to show Clinton up narrowly; guess we'll wait and see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My e-ticket said the doors open at 6:00 PM. I never saw anything that claimed the rally would start at that time, if you did, you were misinformed. My line started moving and, we were searched and let in the building shortly after 5:30 PM.