Thursday, October 23, 2008

"We want THAT ONE, we want THAT ONE!"

(title is from one of the many things chanted by the crowds)

Outta bed at 5:15 a.m. I'm only selectively a morning person, and yesterday was one of those special times. I was gonna go wait in line in downtown Richmond in the freezing cold to get a chance to see the Barock concert. An Obama rally. I've been to plenty of arena concerts but this was crazier than any arena event I've been to.

6:00 I picked a friend of a friend up to accompany me. (Yeah there's no way I would get through a delirious downtown Richmond CROWD alone.) I never met her before but we bonded quite fast. She was a native Moroccan, but now also a very spirited American who knows her political stuff as if she's been here all her life. I loved that.

6:30ish we got amazing parking right across from the Richmond Colesium and followed the bright media lights. The harsh flourescent lights against the dark morning sky made things seem hardly real. We hoped that the lines were not already extending out all the way to Broad Street. It was early and it was dark but we could feel the excitement building moment by moment. We were lucky to run into a mutual friend who is a dedicated activist and journalist; and one who is familiar with political rallies. He helped us navigate through the crowd throughout the morning and afternoon.

Then the long, long wait began. For over 2 hours we waited in "lines" (the lines seemed as wide as they were long) when all of a sudden, one of the crowd controllers (not sure who exactly he worked with) screamed "move over people! The lines are shifting to your left!" Ok, you don't do that to an anxious and freezing Richmond crowd, duh. All of a sudden, there was a mad rush for the other side of the arena; something that could have become a stampede. Even my friends and I ran, hand in hand, as fast as our literally numb toes could carry us. When we reached the other side, angry complaints flew: "We were waiting there since 3 a.m.!" and "We were in line since last night, how could you be so disorganized!?"

For another hour and a half we waited behind metal barricades several yards ahead of the doors in pseudo-lines (ok, really it was just a giant crowd, security totally screwed the lines up.) My hands were white and blue. Toes...gone. While packed in the crowd as a hopeless sardine, I heard a woman say we had to now fill out an admission ticket to have a chance-but no guarantee-to get inside. I filled the form out with my useless, nearly dead fingers just so it looked like there was some sort of print on the lines. We waited for directions from Obama volunteers, colesium security, or secret service...anyone at all to give us direction to file into the hall. Secret service kept joking around and laughing, that made me kinda hate them at that point.

I wasn't sure why I wanted to get into the colesium more; to see Obama or to escape the cold. Probably to escape the cold and I knew that it'd be impossible to turn around and leave since thousands of people were packed behind me.
Finally, a lanky young fellow in a shirt and tie said "Ok, we're going to let you in. Please go in lines as I open the barricade." HA. As he started to open it, people behind me pushed forward nearly flipping the barricades and overtaking my spot. I joined them. The skinny guy screamed "Stop! Stop!" Yeah. My friend and I raced to the doors with everyone. Our journalist friend magically appeared again and helped us regain our spot in the front. There were also many random nice people that protected us as we tried to move through the crowd. For about a minute I could hardly breathe as people pushed and pushed to get closer to security clearance. Another nice person helped ease that and we got to security.

Then it was finally over. Oh wait. The speech didn't even begin yet.
So...Obama finally got in stage about 4 hours later. Before that the crowd was incredible. The feeling of camaraderie with over 12,000 strangers was energizing. Everyone sang, some danced (an Obama volunteer was even breaking in happiness on the floor) and chanted and cheered together. After a long time, I felt so proud to be American again. This is the feeling I was searching for for years; one that I knew was lost somewhere, but I knew still existed. That was a feeling I would get as a fourth-grader, thinking "I'm so lucky to be American." I got that feeling again.

Obama rocked it; sticking to substance and not insults. He did mention though that Sen.McCain "likes to talk about 'Joe the Plumber' but he's in cahoots with 'Joe the CEO.'" He asked, by a show of hands, how many made less than a quarter of a million dollars. Almost everyone raised their hands. He promised to lower their taxes, and "give relief to the nurse, teacher, bus driver and the janitor,” all while increasing his own. When it was all over, I completely agree with what one crowd member mentioned to me and other strangers around her: "God, I just want this election to be over. I'm just tired of it. I'm tired. Be over now." Whatever the outcome, I know this for sure: Obama accomplished something that I wasn't sure could be done in my lifetime: inspired millions to recapture the definition of what it should feel like to be American. I just hope we use that feeling now to generate fruitful, real, good deeds.


1 - b&w photo credit to Farrukh Hussain (stole from his facebook page)
2 - Photo #2: of part of the crowd behind me.
3 - Photo #3 "Where''s Hanan Abed?" Can you spot her!?
4 - a few seconds of footage

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