Saturday, April 19, 2008

What if they gave a debate, and nobody came?

Well, that didn't happen last night. Apparently there were 35,000 people at Independence Park last night, and for three hours, I was one of them. I'm not a big lover of crowds, but when your candidate of choice is speaking in your city, a few days before the primary, how do you stay home?

Posters said the rally started at 6:00 p.m. We walked down after work and got there around 5:30 p.m. Though the posters also said no tickets required, you did need a ticket to be in the section of the park where you could actually see Senator Obama. He would be onstage in front of the National Constitution Center, which is almost at Arch Street. Between the Constitution Center and Independence Hall is a two-block stretch of grass, bisected by Market Street. Non-ticket holders were on the other side of Market Street behind barricades.

A volunteer we ran into said that nothing would start before 7:00, when several local politicians would speak before introducing Obama. Well, okay, I don't feel like standing in the sun for over an hour, so off we went to find a snack and a bottle of water. Made it back to the park in about 40 minutes, not much more crowded, so we found spaces right behind the barrier and settled in to wait. And wait. And wait. It started to get dark.

At around 7:30 p.m., an organizer got on the mike, thanked a bunch of people, and introduced a musician who played a few songs, including a cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" with lyrics about Obama. After that, nothing. It got darker.

Why did they only have one lame CD on a loop? Why were there no video screens? These seem like no-brainers. I know it's a big open space not really intended for these events, but they managed speakers and staging and places to put the snipers (men in black with really really big guns who walked down Market Street without even needing to swagger).

At around 8:00 p.m., a flag was hung in the center of where I assumed the stage was, not being able to see it from my spot. I hoped this meant something was going to happen, but no.

The crowd got really enormous. It kept pushing forward until there was absolutely no space between the bodies. Let's say I met quite a few new people Friday night. 8:30 p.m. came. It was dark. The moon came out. There was much chanting over the tired CD loop, but no one came.

I am embarrassed to say it, but I gave up. I went home. My head hurt, my feet hurt, I was hungry, and I felt like a whiny, cranky toddler. I ran into another volunteer as we were leaving, and asked what the delay was. None, apparently. They always just herd the people in hours in advance, so that there's no delay when it's actually important. Besides, it gives them time to do a head count, and it looks really impressive for people driving by to see thousands and thousands of people yelling and waving signs.

Maybe so. But it's a sucky way to treat your voters. I'm not blaming the candidate, mind you, just a system that makes it okay to treat the people whose votes you want like they're a bunch of sheep. A lot of other people left disappointed at the same time, lots of them parents with kids who had really wanted to hear Obama speak.

From Obama's speech: "It was over 200 years ago that a group of patriots gathered in this city to do something that no one in the world believed they could do. After years of a government that didn't listen to them, or speak for them, or represent their hopes and their dreams, . . . "

I may not have been there, but I'm there.


Sewer-Sewist said...

Too bad! I hate crowds--especially the outdoor, corral you in sort of crowd, too, so I totally understand.

We were able to hear Sen. Obama speak when he was here in Portland a few weeks ago--it was so inspiring! We were fortunate, though, that the event we went to was the first one of the day, so it started right on time...

Elaray said...

I get a little nervous in big crowds. Too nervous to focus or enjoy the event. I watched the debate from the comfort of my sofa! I'm happy to see so much interest in an election!

Anonymous said...

When the candidates were in my area, they wouldn't announce the events until the last minute, supposedly for security reasons. I never did figure out where or when he was speaking.

One nice thing: for the first time ever, I had to wait in line to vote. Like Elaray said, I'm happy to see some interest in an election.