19 September 2016
Sometime last week I followed a link on Facebook and registered my interest in seeing Michelle Obama speak at George Mason University.
As I stood in the kilometre-long queue, ever grateful the weather had cooled, I started wondering when I last attended a political rally with a speaker guarded by the Secret Service. Attended rather than worked, that is.
I decided it was probably when I saw Geraldine Ferraro speak at Northwestern University in 1984.
Funnily enough 32 years later and the crowd waiting for Michelle Obama was much the same, in some ways – more than half were women, most were students, those of us from outside the university community were largely women in their 50s, 60s and beyond. The racial mix had probably changed – there would have been African-Americans at the Ferraro event, and some Latinos, some Asian but probably not as many Muslim women in head scarfs.
There we stood for a good couple of hours, regularly asked if we were registered to vote and if we were signed in for the event. An incredibly high-energy young woman in business dress and heels skips through now and then to try to wrangle us into a single file line.
Eventually we begin moving, snaking our way across campus, and past the inevitable anti-abortion protesters. There’s a group of union guys seeking signatures for petition to do with payroll taxes fraud. I take their flyer feeling a bit bad for them – they are white working class men and it feels like they are being greeted with scepticism. In that way the Democratic Party has changed a lot since that Ferraro rally in 1984.
We crawl through security as the Secret Service actually search bags – not that cursory feel you get at, say, the ball park – they are confiscating umbrellas, drink bottles and food. (Food? Okay.)
The event is being held in the student union – a narrow atrium with balconies rising two or three floors above. I was directed to an area on the ground floor to the right of the stage, well to the right of the stage. I found a spot where I could more or less see the podium.
Donna Brazile is giving a rousing speech inveighing the students to get involved. She is followed by a nice-effort-but-a-bit-bland-in-comparison speech by the First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe.
The students around me are getting antsy – they have not come, not stood line for two hours, for this woman. A pair of African-American women, young students, in front of me are particularly agitated. Not angry but just anxious to get the main attraction.
A George Mason student, Latino and undocumented, does a great job telling his story and introducing the First Lady – and out she dances to Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours. And the crowd loses their shit – whooping and jumping, high fiving. Of course they are doing that as they watch events unfold through the screen of the mobile phones.
(This video – taken by someone on their phone nicely captures the squealing, shit-losing, aspect (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il6Sli6DXt8) )
In person I can’t quite hear all of the speech but there are a lot of “amens” and “tell it sisters” and “mmm hmmm you know that’s rights” coming, especially, from the older African-Americans among us.
I’ve since watched it and read it and it is a hell of a speech. I encourage you all to watch it – saying what the presidency demands and the qualities which are and are not appropriate in a person holding that office. She never says “Trump” but puts him to the sword just the same. She talks about how inspired she is by Hillary – and lays out the argument for her in detail and with verve.
Here’s the whole thing (less than 30 minutes) courtesy of CSPAN (https://www.c-span.org/video/?415374-1/first-lady-michelle-obama-campaigns-hillary-clinton-virginia).
Or you can read the full text here (http://time.com/4498086/michelle-obama-hillary-clinton-campaign-trail-transcript/)
Turns out I was standing next to, maybe, the only other Australian in the crowd. Pat is a student from Clovelly and a student at the University of Technology – Sydney (UTS) doing a semester abroad at George Mason.
He and I agreed that it is unimaginable that any Australian politician could draw 1/5 of this crowd, let alone a politician’s spouse. And, frankly, I mostly think that’s a good thing – that Australian elections are short, fought in the centre, and devoid of celebrity worship. The outcomes aren’t always better but the road to them is less painful and crazy.
I’m glad I went but it reminded me of when I went to a Cubs post-season game last year – one of the NLCS games they lost to the Mets. I was glad to be there. I enjoyed watching, but I didn’t feel the emotion of it. Many around me were feeling a lot of emotion. Me? Not so much. I care about this election and I care about this country but I’m not emotionally engaged in that way anymore (or maybe “right now” – I suppose it could change).
And that, my friends, is my Michelle Obama story.
NOTE: If anyone knows how to embed video into my blog – just pasting the embed copy-and-paste isn’t working – message me please.