Tucked away into an unassuming corner of a Hollywood, Florida neighborhood, McArthur High School normally gallops on as the educational heart and soul of a working-class community brimming with Latinos, Blacks, and elderly whites. But today, the "Home of the Mustangs" became the "Home of the President", as President Obama treated Broward County residents to a rousing speech most of us political junkies have come to know as his closing argument for re-election. This is the story of what it was like to attend my first—and, sadly, last—Obama campaign rally.
Like Any Other Day
My day started as any other might: Starbucks hot chocolate in one hand, a warm artisan bacon-and-gouda sandwich in the other. Hung over from a night of vodka, tired from a Saturday spent helping a friend move, and relieved at having had an extra hour of sleep due to the end of Daylight Saving Time, I strapped myself into my car, picked up a buddy in East Hollywood, and headed towards McArthur.
"Why do we need to leave so early?" asked my friend. "It's only 10 AM. Obama speaks at 12:30". I reminded him that this wasn't a Ringling Brothers show; this was Barack Obama, a guy that fills stadiums as easily as The Beatles might. "Dude. People camped out overnight. We're probably already too late. Come on," I responded. Twenty minutes later, as I approached the school and saw how the line snaked around it, he realized I hadn't been kidding, a totem of dread hanging around our necks like ten-pound bells. Both of us: "We have got to find parking. Now."
Mama Didn't Raise No Fool
I parked at Broward College adjacent to Perry Airport, a mile west of McArthur High. Equidistant between the middle-class enclave of Pembroke Pines and the surfside haven of Hollywood Beach, this part of Broward County might not rank as the top choice on most people's shortlists of potential towns to hold an Obama rally in. But, for the initiated, it's not difficult to see why: after Fort Lauderdale, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th most populous towns in Broward County are Pembroke Pines, Hollywood, and Miramar, respectively. These four towns collectively account for 30% of the entire population in Broward—a county made up of a whopping 50% Black and Latino demographic. Obama's grandmama didn't raise no fool. Not only is McArthur easily accessible to the residents of these four towns, but it is also a mere five miles north of the Broward/Miami-Dade County line. Broward, by the way, is also home to the 8th largest Jewish population in the country and gave Obama 67% of the 2008 vote. All things considered, then, it's easy to see what David Plouffe was thinking when Team Obama picked McArthur High School as the place to be today. And boy were they right. Which brings me to the line—that godawfully-long line.
The Longest Line of My Life
The walk from Broward College to the back of the rally line was a slow exercise in muddy apprehension wrapped in many questions: had we arrived too late? Where was the entrance to the rally? Were there multiple lines, or just the one? How many people would they let in? Would they honor the no-entry-without-a-ticket rule, and would that make a difference? Was Obama really going to speak at 12:30? Had anyone started a Twitter hashtag to track this stuff? And could someone, anyone, please get rid of that small plane flying overhead with an idiotic "For real change, vote Romney" banner?
No answers. Only a line that creeked up along Hollywood Boulevard; turned in towards a neighborhood at 68th Ave, curving back into five blocks' worth of Tyler Street, up 65th Terrace, and banking sharply left at Filmore; and only grew unfathomably in size as 10:30 turned into 11:30 and waves upon waves of fresh faces made the trek backwards toward the end. In our corner of the rally-line universe, we spotted a few speckles of salt sprinkled amidst a sea of pepper, everyone wearing his or her favorite Obama/Biden tees and holding up signs like the off-color "Gators for Obama" (Gators and Canes do not friends make) as we all got battered by an oppressive midday sun. To pass the time, I created a makeshift cheer that people seemed to love:
"Hey, are there any Romney fans here, anyone? [Nooooo! Boooo!]These were fun. The kids loved it and I invited a few of them to help me make the "O B A M A" letters with our arms during the later cheers. I led various segments of the line with this cheer every 20 or so minutes to avoid getting antsy, lest my undiagnosed but suspected ADHD kick in. By 12:30, word got around that Obama wouldn't be speaking until 3, but our line had not budged in two hours and I still didn't know how what the rally capacity was going to be, so I set out to find out. I left my buddy and the line in search of answers. I didn't realize I was about to walk a mile to get to the entrance. That's how long the line was from where we were.
Okay, good, because I want us to do a cheer and I don't want to offend the Mitt fans haha. You guys ready?
Give me an O! ["Oh!"]
Give me a B! ["Bee!"]
More enthusiasm, more enthusiasm...give me an A! ["Eyyy!"]
Give me an M! ["Em!!!"]
GIVE ME AN A!!! ["EYYYYY!"]
What does that sayyyyy? ["OBAMA!!!"]
Who are you voting forrrrr? ["OBAMA!!!"]
Who's the best President?????? ["OBAMAAAAA!!!!"]
YAYY! [Lots of cheers, laughter, clapping, and hollering]
The Wrath of Crowds
Place a hurricane in humanity's path and ordinary people will turn into heroes who dash into crumbling buildings to save colleagues; lead whole families from flooding basements to the safety of attics; climb on stationary bicycles for hours to charge other peoples' cell phones for free; and altogether give a would-be alien observer the impression that humans are pretty decent after all.
But give a mile-long line of Obama supporters who've spent three sweaty hours waiting to get into a football field the impression that you might be cutting in line, and you'll have the fiery social equivalent of Sandy's wrath up your ass faster than you can say "ready to go". Ah, humans.
The intel was worth it. A police officer told me the capacity would be 20,000. That assuaged me—until I surmised that for every step I took during my walk, I passed roughly 2 people standing in line. Since a mile is a little over 5,000 feet, I'd passed some 10,000 or so people by the time I reached the entrance. Without knowing how many people were already inside, getting in from way back in my original starting point would be a true tossup—unlike the election—but I decided to take a leap of faith anyway. I walked another mile back to where my friend was, passing the bazaar of Obama tee shirt vendors and $1 ice-cold-water entrepreneurs who dotted the linescape as I went. A few people who'd assumed that I'd been trying to unsuccessfully cut the line but had been sent back in Scarlet letter shame nodded and clapped in seeming vindication, shouting, "to the back of the line!" in confused bloodlust. (I tapped my inner Romney, giving them an awkward smile and robotic wave.)
Finally, We're Moving FORWARD
By the time I reached my friend, the line had started moving forward and people were in good, albeit tired, cheer. Some thirty minutes later, we thankfully made it through the gates, letting out a sigh of relief as we passed a surreal mashup up Secret Service agents and cops ushering people through metal detectors. Inside, we saw packed bleachers on all sides; a huge American flag slung over the Mustangs scoreboard; speakers blaring with bad warmup music; and port-o-potties we dared not use. We quickly figured out which direction Obama would be speaking in and maneuvered our way to that side of the field.
We tried to push in as far as possible, but human nature kicked in among the crowd members who demanded with off-with-their-heads fervor that we go back because fairness. I half-expected someone to wheel out a mobile guillotine and strap my arms and neck into a wooden lunette. We decided not to push our luck and settled in at a reasonable spot some 70 feet from the President's lectern. He wouldn't end up speaking until a revised 4 PM, but at least we'd made it.
Wow. There's the President. Right in Front of Me. I Can't Believe It.
Two hours later, after Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, (bad) rapper Pitbull, and other guest speakers, the leader of the free world stood there in front of us, hoarse from his unimaginably grinding campaign schedule but no less excited, telling us and a rapt audience of 25,000 Floridians why he deserved our vote. And he will get every single one.
He talked about teachers, healthcare, trust. He talked about failed economic policies we've already tried, and the rich folks who'll always have a place at the bargaining table, who already have a shot; he mentioned the middle class and the factories and the cars and all the other things that make us great, and foreshadowed several of the things, like energy independence, a stronger economy, economic fairness, and various others, that will make us even greater. Political junkies will note the main points he's been hitting for weeks in other speeches. As one of those junkies, I had heard bits and pieces of his stump speech, but to hear your President say them to you is just beyond...just beyond. To know, too, that this man works harder than anybody—he gave a speech in New Hampshire this morning, stopped by to see us in Florida, headed for Cincinnati, and will end the night in Denver...all of this in a single day!—is truly, deeply inspiring.
Which brings me to the end of my tale:
A Fairy-Tale Ending
After the speech ended, my friend and I booked it to the exit, hoping to avoid the ensuing traffic. Because of that, we got front-row seats as the Presidential motorcade sped off, and you had to be there to witness the cheering, the afterburner excitement, of the crowd as the President's motorcade passed us by. "There he goes," I thought. "There goes the President, and this is as close as I'll ever be to him again." Minutes later, we were on our way.
Having dropped my friend off, I stopped by a Chinese restaurant in East Hollywood after seeing a police car there. I figured the restaurant had to be delicious for a cop to dine in it. "Is this any good?", I asked the officer. "Best Chinese in town," he responded. I smiled and asked if he'd been part of the rally, to which he mentioned that he'd been over there since 7 in the morning; apparently, the unit had been short 25 cops, so all of them had to work that much harder throughout the day. He was picking up Chinese on the way home. I thanked him for his service and ordered a fried jumbo shrimp with pork fried rice. When the owner asked, "For here, or to go?", I hesitated: like the cop, I was tired and ready to be at home, but I decided to just stay.
While I sat, a mom walked in with two kids. One of them looked very familiar, but I was too tired to think of why. When I overheard her telling a friend she'd just got back from the rally, I remembered: her little boy had been shouting, "Obama, baby!" earlier in the day as they'd waded towards the back of the line. I smiled at the kid and marveled at how much energy he still had. "You guys had fun?" He was too busy spinning and hopping and running to answer, but his mom responded, "Oh yea. It was so worth it. Loved it." At that moment, the boy's little sister looked up at me. She couldn't have been older than ten, probably younger. I leaned in and asked her, "What'd ya think?"
"I liked it!" she exclaimed proudly, with eyes as wide with joy as her smile, and, as if to punctuate her point, she repeated: "I really, really, really liked it."
I guess he got her vote, too.
First of all, I'd like to thank TomP for organizing the daily ONN series several months ago. As an admin in the Obama Nightly News group, I got to see the behind-the-scenes work that went into this, and TomP really worked his butt off to make this happen. As 2thanks mentioned, we raised several thousand dollars, rallied spirits, cheered our guy on through the thin and thick, and generally showed ourselves to be one of the great sub-communities that make the larger Kos community so special. Thank you, Tom, and thank you everyone that participated, edited, contributed, or just plain ol' just read.
Second, I'd like to share two funny tidbits that did not make it into my diary:
Throughout the day, this guy drove around the neighborhood with this Seamus getup that was just hilarious. If you're here often, you already know the story haha. Was really cool to see an in-the-flesh parody of an inside Romney joke. WOot!
Rabbi during the invocation: "...and if Obama's re-elected". The crowd interrupts with "Not if...WHEN!". Poor Rabbi haha #ObamaMcArthur— therehastobeaway (@THTBAW) November 4, 2012
Okay, so this was funny to me. Before Obama came on, several formalities ensued, like the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner and the invocation, which was read by a rabbi.
Well, as the Rabbi was invocatively thanking Obama and wishing for good stuff to happen down the line, he said something to the effect of "...and if Obama is re-elected, we hope that blah blih bleh blah". The crowd took mock-offense at the "IF" and interrupted him, shouting "WHEN! WHEN! WHEN, NOT IF! WHEN!". But the Rabbi totally did not get it! He didn't understand why people were shouting at him; he thought it was just random heckling. This went on for 30 seconds or so, and the Rabbi finally got upset and shouted something to the effect of "I need you to let me finish this invocation!!!"
Hahaha. Poor Rabbi! He had no idea he'd committed a "gaffe". Later, Charlie Crist made a similar "If" statement—but quickly corrected himself, much to the delight of the audience.
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