Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Time to Rally

I nearly talked myself out of it quite successfully. I hate crowds and queues, I get migraines when I have to be in enclosed spaces for more than a couple of hours, couldn't manage the timing with the kids getting back from school, they were going to cover the event on live television and everyone know that you get a better view on HDTV anyway, so I would be better off watching it at home. And yet, barely four hours later, I was waiting with S in midst of a crowd of about 13, 000 screaming and adoring fans of ...Barack Obama the political rockstar.

The pressure started piling on the day before:

"Sujatha --
I'm coming to Pittsburgh today, Monday, October 27th.
I'll be holding a rally at Mellon Arena and talking to folks about what we can do together to change this country.
See the details below and RSVP for the event:

Hope to see you there,

With this personal email request, how could I be so hard-hearted as to ignore the invitation? I dawdled over the thought for about 5 seconds before my left-brain kicked in and told me "Not on your migrainy head-head-head!"
Next, a couple of hours later, a phone call from J the activist in our township. He was assembling a carpooling, train-riding contingent to attend the rally, planning to leave at 1 pm to get to the opening of gates at 3 pm. I told him, "I'd love to, but can't- I get migraines in crowded situations!" He 'tsked' his disappointment.
The next morning, I plodded away to contribute my once-weekly volunteer hours in local Obama campaign field office. As I pecked away at the computer terminal there, Cindy popped by, sliding me a couple of blue tickets that would guarantee the holders 'VIP seating', whatever that meant. I wasn't going to fall for this. I cast around to see if there was anybody else who might like my tickets, and mused on whether I should hawk them around my neighborhood or pass them on to J.
I got home and showed my tickets to my husband and he promptly took over planning how I was going to leave with S as soon as he got home from school. He didn't fall for my migraine protestations and bamboozled me into a plan that might actually be workable, assuming that the average time to enter the Mellon arena wasn't four hours waiting in line. We left the house as soon as M got home from her school, shoehorning her into the van with a bag of snacks, as we raced to beat the traffic.
45 minutes later, S and I jumped off the van, walked up to the end of the queue which appeared to snake around the building, only to be told that we were in the wrong 'short' queue for blue-ticket volunteers. Ha, I waved my tickets triumphantly and stayed in line. We waltzed through security and were seated in under half an hour(!!??!!) in a prime position to take reasonably good photographs. (I feel faintly guilty admitting how easy it was, considering that some of the audience had been parked in line since 7 am in the morning.)
The atmosphere was joyful and enthusiastic, some bored members of the audience taking it upon themselves to exercise all those stiff backsides parked in the chairs by 'doing the wave'. We tired of it after the third round.
The large gentleman directly in front of me could have easily auditioned for a rap video, and was loudly insistent in exchanging his 'Change we need' sign for one that said 'Veterans for Obama'. "I am a veteran", he shouted over the noise to the volunteers handing out the signs. We got handed tiny little American flags, since we didn't care to haggle for the signs.
With remarkable timeliness, the events of the evening were started off at 5 pm with a fairly inclusive non-denominational prayer by Sr. MaryAnn Something, praying for peace upon the world, the country and the candidate and all and sundry, followed by loud echoes of her Amen, reminding me of the days when I was called upon to sing a suitable shloka at the start of IEEE conferences on electrical engineering papers (Don't ask why an engineering conference needed a starting prayer!). I was tempted to shout 'Ameen' or 'Tathaastu', but missed the moment by a millisecond.
Then, a field organizer in a taupe suit took the stage to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, to which I mumbled along- the words aren't second nature to me as a relatively newly minted US citizen (only 4 years), unlike the rest of the audience. A lady in red came up to sing the Star Spangled Banner, and was given a background chorus by the audience as she sang. Very patriotically inspiring, like American flag lapel pins ;)
Next, the crowd howled its approval as the campaign field director, followed by governor Ed Rendell, senator Casey and congressman Dolan took the stage, all making brief speeches patting the campaign on its back as a prelude to the main act. I didn't hear or pay attention to what they were saying, just primed my camera for the right zoom as I remarked with annoyance that Mr.Veteran had decided to stand up, blocking my view of the podium unless I stood too.
A couple of toe-tapping but pounding-the-brains-bass-boosted songs later (did I detect a tiny protest starting in my head, a glimmer of headache to be?), the whole crowd started their shouts of approval as ....Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney strode on stage. 'Not more blathering', I thought as I sank back to the seat, a moment too early, as Sen. Obama ran on stage from another side, waving to the crowd. Holy cannoli! I missed clicking the moment when Rooney handed him a Steeler's jersey with 'Obama 08' in huge letters. Never mind, there will be other photo ops.

Obama started off with some routine thanks to the organisers, other politicos present and then launched into his well-rehearsed stump speech, modified with small adlibs and improvisations to play to the Pittsburgh audience, eliciting approving shouts and extended applause and sign/flag waving every now and then, occasional boos when mentioning McCain/Palin, with Obama's now trademarked "We don't need those boos, we just need you to vote."
The speech flowed on with all the cadences of the accomplished orator, ringing out stentorian, dropping down to conversational levels occasionally. I gave up looking at the larg screen closeup on the closed circuit screen display hanging above us and focused my attention on the demeanor and body language of the senator as he stood at the podium.
Determined as I was not to be impressed, I did feel a prickling at the back of my eyes as tears threatened to flow when he said something about immigrants moving into America trying to make a better future for their kids. I suppose that was the 'highlight' of the speech that connected with me.
Obama's speech was less about content (which is talking points cobbled together from a zillion stump speeches) and more about how he was connecting with the audience- it almost seemed like a preacher's challenge in church with a response from his parishioners at appropriate intervals.
Bingo, it was like a really big tent, with people of all colors and creeds and backgrounds, but an evangelical fervor pervaded the air, just like in a church! At least two skeptics were in the crowd, unwillingly drawn into this manic response, waving our flags rather weakly when prompted by the crowd, but clapping with moderate enthusiasm when a non-talking point statement adlibbed its way into the speech. S was soaking in the atmosphere and impressions- "This is the last chance I may have to see Obama in person as a candidate- he could be the next president, or not!"
So, it was as a tired crushed-to-the-bone contingent that we returned home, surrounded by joking cheerful party acolytes on the train home. Regular commuters handled the extra rush with good humor, squeezing their way to the exits with polite "Make way please!"s. We got a seat halfway back and sank into them gratefully. S declared "Today is a mixed bag, rather than being totally wonderful! I enjoyed the rally, but not the train ride home."
I smiled - the poor kid didn't know what a real crowd meant, having never sat between two fishwives and their largely empty baskets at the end of a busy day, among the other crowd on a KSRTC bus. And he was complaining about a commuter squeeze on a train after a rally that had drawn 15,000 people by the final counts?
It's all for the good. Now, if he could only vote, which he can't for another 4 years at least.
Who knows, maybe S will get a chance to decide if we should re-elect a President Obama or not!

P.S to the 'anonymous' trolls: Ad hominem attacks and Godwin's law invocations will be summarily deleted.


Anonymous said...

Hilarious! The photo tells me that you had excellent seats!

I guess it's good news for Obama if he can draw such crowds in suburban PA..

Sujatha said...

Mellon Arena is in the downtown area, but a large group did come from the suburbs and nearby counties, I believe. The arena seats 16,000, so allowing for security restrictions and requirements and a weekday evening, I would say 15,000 is a great crowd!

I still can't believe the way the timing to reach there and be seated worked out (probably some seriously good karma, I expect;)

Sujatha said...


Thanks for the Desipundit link, as well :)

Arun.N.M. said...

Great post. Hope he will win.But can he make any real difference?

Sujatha said...


Thanks, glad you liked it. Will he make a real difference? I think that it will definitely be different from the same-old that we would get with McCain. I understand that people in India are a little apprehensive what that might entail, but my impression is that Obama will be a smart 'thinking' president, a type we haven't had for the last 8 years with the 'gut instinct' approach of Bush. This goes for India related issues as well, so you would have to expect a more pragmatic approach than the 'Big Business uber alles' approach of the Bush admin.

Anonymous said...

I am an IT professional working in a US Healthcare IT comapny in B'lore. Who do you think would be a better Prez from my POV. i.e on issues like outsourcing and all?