Click the link for the pdf of the story:
I’ve said much of what I want to say about the events of yesterday on Facebook, mostly in the wee hours, and I’ll paste that in below.
A good friend has said that he can’t wait for me to process this whole trip to the US that I have had because he wants to read what I’ll have to say about it.
I do feel like it will take some time to wrap my head (and heart) around all that has happened here, for me, to me, since August. I came with two hopes, neither fulfilled, but along the way so many, many, good things have happened.
I came because I feared just this outcome and wanted to do what I could to prevent it.
My one Trump-supporting Facebook friend commented on one of my posts today that I have wasted my time. To which I replied, and this before Hillary’s concession speech in which she said something similar, that it’s never a waste of time to fight for what you believe in.
I haven’t watched or read the news today. I’ve seen some headlines but that’s about it. I’m going to step away from it all for a bit – there’s nothing there I feel I need to know right now.
What I ended up doing today was this:
I woke to a grey sky after four or five hours of sleep.
I spoke some with Emma, our organiser here in Old Town, about how we were both doing … okay. We did what we could to prevent this. Now, it is what it is – we must work to assure it isn’t as awful as we feared and hope it’s a lot better.
Then I went to a diner and ate blueberry pancakes. It seemed to me people were being kinder and quieter than usual.
A formation of three or four fighter jets roared overhead with one of them peeling off just above me. My eyes welled in the realisation that those machines and the men and women who operate them will soon be under the command of Donald J. Trump.
At John Kennedy’s grave I was overtaken by a gaggle 8th graders from North Carolina. They all had matching t-shirts. A few wore Girl Scout vests, one, a hijab; they were black, white, South Asian and Latino. I wanted to look each of them in the eye and say, “I am so sorry.”
I got into politics in the first place because of Bobby Kennedy. Visiting him today I thought it was important to take the time to write down the familiar quotes at his gravesite. As I wrote them a man said it might be easier to take a photo. I explained that I knew the quotes but felt today was a good day to write them down. He asked if I was a historian; I said, “no – just a fan” gesturing towards Bobby’s grave. “Well, that makes you sort of a historian than, really.:”
It is from numberless acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance – South Africa, 1965
Aeschylus wrote: In our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our despair against our will comes the awful grace of God.
What we need in this country is not division what we need in the United States is not hatred what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward all those who still suffer within our country whether they be white or they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago – to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and our people. – Indianapolis 1968 (on the night of MLK’s assassination)
It was then I began to see my day was going to be healing and empowering.
From there I walked to the Lincoln Memorial and was met by the usual swarm of tourists. I heard a lot of Spanish speakers. A young African-American tour guide led a group including two heavy set older white men in Alabama sweatshirts and caps. He brought them to the point where Martin Luther King Jr stood to deliver his “I have a dream” speech.
Inside another guide said to his charges, “I would make the argument that America is still suffering from the wounds of the Civil War.”
A two year old gazed up at Abe in wonder.
A lesbian couple held each other while reading The Second Inaugural speech, delivered on 4 March 1865 some four years into the Civil War:
…With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
As I strode away in the direction of the Martin Luther King Jr memorial I noticed a young white guy taking extra effort to take a good photo for three black guys posed against the famous back drop of the Reflecting Pool, Washington Memorial and, in the distance, Capital Dome. When he’d done with that I saw him strike up a conversation with another black guy. I had a feeling he was trying to be extra kind, trying to do something to counter the election of Donald Trump.
I dubbed my walk the American Resilience Tour.
The sky had gone steel-grey and angry by the time I got to Martin Luther King Jr. There I found a trio of women, about my age, and overheard one say, “I’m so glad we stopped. We so needed this today.”
An African-American guy was lingering at the feet of MLK looking morose. I heard him say to someone on the phone that he often comes here when he’s feeling low.
Then to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial and more quotes that felt so appropriate to the day.
I then finished the day at the Holocaust Museum.
I was uncertain the museum was the right way to end the day but it is an ode to human resilience and a reminder of why I came to America in the first place.
Fascism is no joke – this Trump presidency calls for a new age of vigilance and activism.
We all – not just in America, but everywhere – need to be in it, we need to be paying attention, and we need to be acting – not just talking, not just Tweeting, and blogging and liking and sharing, but participating in real-life.
This is a resilient country. Americans are a resilient people. They, and we all, will get through this.
Here is what I said on Facebook on Election Night:
At 11:35 pm:
I feel sick. We are in trouble people – all of us – even if she pulls this out, and I sure hope she does, but I’m feeling sick, like I said. Something has gone wrong. Somehow we have to come together and solve these problems – the problems of people everywhere who feel like they have been f**ked by the system as we know it.
Complacency + a lack of empathy = we’re all fucked.
I’m going to sleep (perhaps with my Australian passport under my pillow). And I’ll see out my time here feeling a little guilty for being able to go home. When I get there I’m going to take a break from politics for a bit but then find a way to throw in with people working to lessen the fear, close the gaps, increase empathy and try to assure we have a system that works for as many people as possible.
What’s happened in America is part of a big big world wide problem. It’s on all of us to try to solve it – with empathy and understanding.
People who feel hard done by, feel hard done by. Dismissing their feelings as whinging or selfishness breeds contempt for the system, distrust in the policy makers, and civil discordance.
There are a lot of people feeling hard done by – Trump voters, Bernie voters, Black Lives Matter folks, young people struggling to get a hand on the ladder, any ladder – all of them have legitimate complaints that have been dismissed or manipulated by the powers that be.
I don’t know what the solution is but I think it involves ratcheting down the rhetoric and finding a way to really listen to one another somehow.
At 3am: Final comment. Sleeping now, really.
Wednesday morning: The sun has risen, the world is still on it’s axis. I’m going to go find pancakes and read my novel. For my friends in very dark places today – take a deep breath, go for a walk, gets some rest. We, everywhere, need to ready ourselves.
18 October – 21 Days
Three weeks from today is Election Day.
Here’s how it feels to me.
Hillary will win but not by as much as might be expected. Some of the people who were willing to hold their noses and vote for her to save the Republic will now skip voting for president in confidence (rightly or wrongly) their vote won’t be crucial.
The energy levels here in Alexandria have risen and fallen and risen again over the time I have been here.
At first it felt as if many were a bit complacent. Then the polls tightened and more people started registering to vote and joining us as volunteers. The first debate happened and the horror of Donald J Trump began registering more clearly, and more people joined us. When the video emerged of his bragging about sexual assault – I think the energy dropped. I know mine did. I woke that Saturday morning thinking, really? Are people really going to still vote for him? Do we still need to labour so diligently? And that day volunteer numbers were a bit down.
But then as it became clear, even as Republican leaders repudiated him, that many of supporters are welded on. The danger of even a significant minority voting for him seemed palpable in those days after the tape emerged and as women began coming forward with accusations.
And that’s where we are now.
Here’s what I fear. Trump will lose but not by as much as he should which will demonstrate the appetite in this country for hate-filled, blame-mongering, strong-father-authoritarian style leadership. The people who support him will feel, as they already do, empowered and that their views are normal and mainstream. Trump is setting them up to refuse to accept his defeat, assuming he is defeated. He is, as he has been all along, fuelling violence. Trump himself may fade but his campaign has given oxygen to American fascism.
I fear there will be regular, if unorganised and sporadic, violence. That so many police organsiations have backed Trump adds to the worst-case scenario.
I think Trump himself will probably fade, but the thing to fear is the emergence of a charismatic leader and organiser who is able to ride and control this wave. That’s not Trump – he doesn’t have the discipline or, I suspect, the interest. But somewhere out there in Trumpland are people who can see the potential of his supporters and hope to harness them to their will.
This thing won’t end on three weeks from today, not by a long shot.
I’ve just arrived “home” from watching the Washington Nationals fall to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. My hands (from clapping), throat (from yelling), and heart (from losing) are all a bit sore.
And what do I find when I check in with the internet? A 2005 recording of Donald Trump being grotesque and, seemingly, bragging of sexually assaulting women has emerged.
Given all he’s said before this should come as no surprise.
He is the absolute worst of America in one human being.
Suddenly, Republicans who were going to campaign with him this weekend are denouncing him – like such comments are out of character. This is who Donald Trump is. He hates women.
I’ve been thinking for a while about the video of the then Chief of the Australian Army’s remarks on unacceptable behaviour, particularly, the line: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
I’ve been thinking about that in relation to, especially, so-called Republican leaders who have “walked past” such a litany of foul, repugnant Trump behaviour as to now be – I hope – branded forever as having accepted that behaviour.
But I also have been thinking of what sort of people, even now, will vote for him. How is that even possible? How can a thinking human being look at him and say: Yes, he should be President?
As hard as it is to wrap my mind around that one, here’s one that’s even harder: how do you weave together a working civil society which contains millions of people who will have voted for him.
That seems to be a challenge looming on America’s horizon.
Sorry, kind readers, for going silent for a while.
When last we met I had arrived in the Blue (Democratic leaning) oasis of Asheville, North Carolina on my road-trip through Trumpland. My destination was Nashville and, more specifically, a first-ever meeting with my birth-mother. So that was strange and good and exceedingly hard, especially to have done on my lonesome. Thus the silence. Life just got too much for blogging. I don’t think I’ll have more to say about that meeting here, for now.
But there is a radio station in Western Virginia that plays nothing but theme songs from 1970s and 1980s television shows – one after another without breaks or commentary. Nightrider, Facts of Life, Different Strokes, Love Boat, Greatest American Hero, Magnum PI, The Jeffersons, and more – yes, I listened that long, playing Name that Show.
In central Tennessee The Gun Shop and Trading Post advertises on the radio as your AR-15 specialist. The AR-15 is the “civilian assault rifle” favoured by many mass murderers. A version of the AR-15 was used in the slaughter of Sandy Hook’s children, for example (that such an event could be an example of the many times an assault rifle has been so used in America is, in itself, grotesque).
I also saw billboards advertising guns as “men’s toys”. America, I really don’t know how you will every reign in the slaughter of your own by your own.
I spent two nights in Asheville. It’s a bustling, booming, mostly progressive, artsy, foodie, micro-brew-loving, mountain-and-river city surrounded by Trumpland. I barely scratched the surface of the place and sincerely hope for a chance to visit again. I had good barbecue, good beer, a good coffee, a good taco, and a fairly tasty doughnut.
While I was there I went into the North Carolina Democratic Coordinated Campaign Office to phone bank. I was pleased to recruit and schedule one volunteer – that’s a good outcome. It was nice to meet some of the people hard at work there – North Carolina has voted for the Republican nominee in every presidential election since 1980 except for 2008. Polls show the state is a toss-up right now so we have a real chance of winning the state.
The very first election I ever worked on was in North Carolina – Harvey Ganntt’s run for the US Senate in 1990. So ringing North Carolinian voters brought me full-circle, sort of.
That was the last summer all of my stuff was in one place, my parents’ house. I travelled out to the west coast – I moved someone’s car from Chicago to Portland and got a bust to Seattle where I spent a couple of days doing day-labour to make a few bucks. That involved turning up at an agency in the morning and going out to some random job – in this case furnishing a new chain hotel. We moved stuff into rooms, unpacked and placed nightstands and beds. Yup, that was a thing I did.
I caught a Greyhound bus south to San Francisco, stayed with a friend, thought about sticking around for a while but soon pushed on to Los Angeles before turning east. I was 21. I took overnight bus rides and saw cities by day – maybe I spent a night in Phoenix? No, I think I pushed all the way to El Paso, Texas in one run. I remember smoking cigarettes late at night at the Phoenix station and talking with an LA gang-member heading home to the South to get away from some trouble. From El Paso I wandered into Juarez, Mexico to check things out. This was before it was a killing zone. I drank soda from a glass bottle which had to be returned right there and then and was handed a leaflet by protesting communists.
I spent a night and day in New Orleans and a whole day being freaked out by Montgomery, Alabama. We pulled in just after dawn and I decided that, yes, it was the same Greyhound Station where Freedom Riders arrived to an absolute bashing in 1961.
That sort of set the tone. I ate breakfast with rednecks at a diner, was the first visitor of the day at the First White House of the Confederacy, sat in the quiet of Martin Luther King Junior’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and gawped at the utter white-washing of history at the Lurleen B. Wallace Memorial Museum (now closed). She ran for, and was elected, governor when her husband, arch segregationist George Wallace, was term-limited out of office. She paid him $1 per year to be her advisor. I believe she was, mostly, his puppet. But the museum did assure me that she was a “darn good fisherwoman” and displayed her waders.
From Montgomery it was on to Charlotte and a month’s campaigning for Harvey. In the end he fell short but it was a great team to be part of.
Like this journey I’m on here, now, my time in North Carolina was precipitated by my just turning up and wanting to help. I fell in with good people and got to work.
Sorry … that was a wonder down a rabbit-hole.
I was in Nashville the night of the first debate and joined a local Democratic Party watch party at a bar. The place was packed – I thought Hillary did a good job and that Trump was, as expected, rude and ridiculous as well as weirdly sniffy.
The next day I drove all the way back to Alexandria – including breaks it took about 13 or 14 hours but I didn’t want to have to pay anyone else to house me another night and I just wanted to get “home”.
That was a bit more than a week ago and, frankly, I think I’ve just about overcome the exhaustion the trip left me feeling – emotionally and physically. I’m back at the coal face – phone banking, canvassing, registering voters – but now with only 32 days to go.
I’m aiming to stay daily again.
So I missed a day, it was inevitable.
I’m writing from the dining room table of my Couchsurfing host in a suburban development outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
Yesterday I was first awoken before dawn by two men greeting one another in the car park – strangers saying good morning, and one of them saying something about it all being in God’s hands and the other saying, “Well, you have that right.” I’m in God-fearing country that’s for sure. Trump-country too. And that, really, doesn’t make any sense at all.
I stopped into a Baines Books and Coffee in the old downtown of Appomattox and, for the first time in a while, felt like I was, maybe, among my people. I just don’t want to think there are good-for-America-coffee drinking, book reading/selling, good-music-listening Trump voters. The contradiction is too great for my mind to take in.
I drove into Lynchburg to visit the Hillary campaign office there. I had hoped to lend them a hand with a volunteer shift but with my wrong turn Thursday evening and my night in Appomattox I didn’t have time. Still, one of my contacts in Northern Virginia had email introduced me to the organiser here so I wanted to say hello and deliver greetings and good wishes from deeply blue Alexandria.
Downtown Lynchburg seems midway down the track of revitalisation – there are some funky businesses in repurposed older buildings, some mainstay operations like banks and tax agents, a lot of empty shop fronts – some decorated with art courtesy of a project to enliven things.
The Hillary office is in a hollowed out shopfront – it’s actually a pretty cool space. There I found two Emilys and a Tyler. One Emily is from New York and has been in Lynchburg since May, the other is from Charlottesville VA but had been born in Michigan and Tyler is from Connecticut. These folks have a very hard row to hoe – they are truly labouring in the fields down here. This area has patches of reddy-purple surrounded by deep red turf. Tyler, who’s working the county, said his turf is like 70/30 Republican. I asked if that followed racial lines and he said no – maybe 10 -15% of white voters lean Democratic.
Lynchburg is home to Liberty University – that is Jerry Fallwell’s evangelical university. Their school of government is named after Jesse Helms – the now dead racist-asshole of a senator from the state of North Carolina. They teach “young Earth creationism” – which is to say that, as per the Bible, the earth is 3,000 years old.
In 2005 prominent biologist Richard Dawkins said: “If it’s really true that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labelled as being 3,000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university, and I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University who may be here, to leave and go to a proper university.”
Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for the presidency here. But Bernie Sanders and Ted Kennedy have also spoken there – presumably tilting at windmills.
I drove through to gawp – I probably should have gotten out of the car to look more closely but just driving through was enough. Hordes of students were emerging from an assembly hall – I’ve just learned that all students who live on campus are required to attend convocation three times a week – for worship and speakers. It was at one of these that Jerry Fallwell Jr encouraged students to get concealed weapons permits so as to be prepared to be the “good guys” when Muslim terrorists attack.
And gawp I did – open mouthed and everything – because, aside from being very white (but not entirely at all) the students looked every bit like students on any university campus. Some 15,000 of them on campus – university students being taught the earth is 3,000 years old.
When you can have a university degree from a school which doesn’t accept basic tenant of human knowledge it goes a long way to explaining Donald Trump. Truth is what you say it is. Proof is in the belligerence of your belief, the volume at which you assert it, and in being surrounded by others whom share your belief.
I sped out of there and headed for North Carolina. I spent the rest of the day driving through increasingly hilly and pretty countryside befouled by Trump-Pence signs. In North Carolina I was grateful to find National Public Radio and listened to classical music, Fresh Air (a long-format interview show) and All Things Considered (the afternoon news).
Asheville is the counterbalance of Lynchburg. It’s a mostly liberal, tolerant, artsy, micro-brew-loving, outdoorsy, foody, place. It’s like a town from Oregon in the mountains of western North Carolina. Or so it seems from the 16 hours or so I’ve been here.
My host, in his semi-retirement, is an Uber driver so he spun me downtown at the start of his night having loaded me up with tips and maps. I went to Buxton Hall Barbecue. It was packed and pumping – but an advantage of solo travel is being able to sidle up to an empty stool at the bar and tuck into my BBQ sandwich in no time. I couldn’t resist the lime/watermelon chiffon pie for dessert and was waddling in fullness when I left. I had planned on hitting a couple of the microbreweries but was really just too full so I walked around town for a bit – window shopping and people watching.
I spent some time at the weekly drum circle my host told me about. It’s been going for years. When they first started putting in fancy apartments in the downtown area a woman in one of them complained of the noise (sure to be a familiar story to my Sydneysider readers). That first night the police shut them down – even though they have a permit to be there every Friday from 7 – 10 pm. The city rallied around the drummers and said “Hell no” to the new-comer NIMBY-ism.
This felt like a nice bookend to a day that started with people who don’t believe in science.
I had every intention to be camping right now but a wrong turn found me driving narrow, winding country roads as the sky flared in the pink and pale orange of sunset.
So instead I’m drinking cheap beer in an overpriced motel room outside of Appomattox watching an episode of The Andy Griffith Show I’ve never seen before – do you remember Aunt Bea investing in a Chinese restaurant?
The tag line of Appomattox County is “where our nation reunited”.
But did it? Did the United States ever really reunite after the Civil War? Was in united before?
I left my deep blue corner of Virginia this morning and am now well into blood red Trump territory.
My first stop was Manassas National Battlefield. For those of us raised in the North this is known at Bull Run. That’s right, the South and North still have different nomenclature for battlefield sites.
I’m travelling with the Smithsonian Guild to Historic America. The Smithsonian museums are the national museums of the United States. The index of the guide doesn’t list Manassas, only Bull Run – but the page is question is titled “Manassas National Battlefield”.
Not long after I left the battlefield I passed this gun shop with a large Trump-Pence sign. I’ve since seen them everywhere.
People, where I’ve encountered them, have been very nice, very polite – but, you know, they scare the hell out of me – the white ones anyway. Obviously not all white people in this part of the state will be voting for Trump – I get that, and am happy that that is so. But a lot of them are and a lot of them are armed. I don’t know – the place freaks me out.
Later in the day I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. I toured the house and caught up with the last “Slavery at Monticello” tour of the day.
I was struck by the idea of Jefferson as encapsulating the contradictions of America. He was a brilliant innovative, revolutionary; he was an arrogant white supremacist; he owned of some 600 slaves including his … lover? Partner? Wife in all but name? Sex slave – whatever else Sally Hemmings was, she was definitely his sex slave. He owned her and had sex with her.
I learned today he likened freeing slaves to leaving children in the wilderness. He sold a 13-year-old boy to a place so distant that he was as if dead to all who knew him. He did this as punishment and to terrorise others. He did that more than once.
“We find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” he wrote.
I don’t know. Virginia. America. You do my head in.
I learned last night around this time that I have cause to go to Nashville. So I’m still in Alexandria having spent much of the day plotting my course.
This morning I took the water taxi from Alexandria to the hotel and convention centre at National Harbor – that’s across the Potomoc River in Maryland. It was my first ferry ride since coming home from Manly on 27 July. Any day with a ferry ride is a good day.
There is Air Space Cyber Conference on at the convention centre – the place was crawling with military officers, American and otherwise – including a man whose uniform involved ox blood coloured riding boots. The rest were a mix of (mostly) men with military short hair cuts and builds that were either meticulously maintained for fighting capacity or gone a bit to seed like recently retired athletes.
Part of an advertising banner from Raytheon, one of the sponsors, referred to “Actionable Intelligence”. I’m so glad a private company is in the business of helping governments to be sure they are killing the people they mean to be killing. But of course they often kill others too – what’s that? “Collateral damage”. Ah, the language of death merchants.
I was glad to collect my Hyundai and get out of there.
I’ve spent the rest of the day selecting a route, sending requests to possible Couchsurfing hosts and identifying alternatives if these fall through.
I’d tell you my plans but that would spoil the surprise.
I’ll hope for WiFi as I go so I’ll have a chance to keep up this daily habit. If I fail, forgive me.
20 September 2016
I’m not really sure what to write about today.
My organiser is off at GOTV (Get Out the Vote) Training in some remote part of Virginia, so the house/office is quiet and has been all day.
The phone bank captains are getting the usual Tuesday evening effort going in the usual place.
I’m getting ready for a road trip.
I’ve hired a car from tomorrow until next Monday.
The plan has been to head out along the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia and down to Virginia Beach. I’d like to visit Yorktown and have a look around the Hampton Roads area before hitting the greater Richmond area for the weekend.
The idea is to sign up for volunteering opportunities along the way – same as here: phone banking, door-knocking, and voter registration – so as to get a feel for the more traditionally Virginian parts of Virginia.
However, now it looks like I might have cause to go to Nashville (if it comes to pass I’ll explain why later) – if I do that I’ll take the same sort of journey (volunteering as I go) but in a big loop through Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. Or maybe just Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Pennsylvania and Ohio are critical states in any US national election; no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. This year North Carolina is in play as well – it has been reliably Republican but it seems the purple is bleeding south from Virginia.
Whatever route I take it is sure to be interesting and dangerously expensive. To be honest, everything feels expensive right now. I have written three articles for pay since beginning this journey – and I have been paid for two of them so far. Which is good. However, I have a rising sense of anticipated anxiety that I will arrive home with the last of my funds circling the drain and I will be in need of finding paid work quickly. I’m sure I’ll find something and it will all be okay. For now, I’m glad the grocery store is closer to the house than nearly any tempting restaurants, but I’m worried about this road trip.
In lieu of having a whole lot to say myself today I’ll maybe just riff a bit about something I read today – this piece about millennials being “mild” about Hillary.
There’s a lot talk about a lack of excitement for Hillary, in general, not just amongst millennials.
On the one hand I think there’s probably a good bit of stifled excitement – after taking crap from the Bernie people and now taking crap from the Trump people – look I’m really not interested in anyone’s opinion of her emails or if you think she’s an awful human being, I’m really, really not. Wearing a Hillary badge invites dickheads to share their opinions.
On the other hand, I also sort of question the need for the kind of mad adulating excitement that surrounded Bernie or surrounded Obama in 2008. I think there’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship between that sort of excitement and campaigns implying they will weave magic in office.
I understand in a voluntary voting system having excited citizens increases turn out to vote but still – excitement: is it a necessary component of a successful campaign?
I’m trying to imagine if Australian governments would be better if our elections weren’t nearly devoid of genuine excitement. I honestly don’t think they would be. I think of the players I like best – Penny Wong and Tanya Pilbersek, say – and I can’t really imagine them giving rousing speeches to excited masses, in the American way, but I sure do like both of them a lot and think they are good at their jobs.
Also, Hillary Clinton, by her own admission, doesn’t do rousing campaign rhetoric well. It’s not in her wheelhouse. Steady meticulous competency is. Knowing how to get shit done, is. So maybe it makes sense that her supporters are also steady and solid, with nothing too flash, in their support.
I don’t know. I guess I’ll see in this coming week what excitement I can find in other fields of this campaign.
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.