Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Barack Obama Experience

Saturday November 1, 2008.

All the lonely people.

Lonely? Arguably, in a political sense.

Excited? No doubt about it. Standing 1 mile from the gates, at the end of the line to see Barack Obama speak, I knew there was something bigger present than the nearly 40,000-strong who showed up see the man talk.

It was a phenomenal sight for little ol' Springfield, Missouri. Employees at business along the line's route gathered outside to look for its end, marveling at its enormity. Cell phones, in the hands of both drivers and passengers of many slow-moving cars, snapped photos of the line. In one such car, a head, tightly wrapped in a faded red hoodie, looked out his passenger-side window. With the purest expression of bewilderment painted on his roughly 20-year old face, he scanned the seemingly endless line of people and asked, "What's this for?"

It's Obama, man.

Walking my mile toward the back of the line, I was cognizant of the crowd's diversity. Thinking back to the Sarah Palin rally, a week earlier, a far-reaching cross-section of people was not so apparent. While the crowd was enthusiastic to see Sarah, the atmosphere created by those to see Barack was festival-like. These people were here to see the Rolling Stones. Tonight, the magnitude and magnetism of the message of one man, reflected in the life's experiences and hopes of both the 18-year old, first-time voting college student, and the 80-year old African-American grandmother, was electric, and positively lit up the high school football stadium where that very man would soon take the stage.

Around 8pm, I made my way through the metal detector, and safely into the stadium. The stands with a clear view of the stage were packed to the gills. The other side of the stadium, partially blocked by the press stand in front of the stage, had people filling seats that provided any kind of view. I found my way onto the football field and picked a spot on the 40 yard line to call my own. The stage was situated in the end zone. Directly behind, was the VIP section, reserved for ticket-holders.

"CHANGE" in white block letters, positioned next to the familiar circular red, white, and blue Obama logo, on a big blue banner, provided the VIP backdrop. Looking to the left was a large American flag, and further to the left was a large Missouri flag, both hanging vertically. The same kinds of handmade signs peppered the Obama VIP section that were prevalent in the Palin VIP section.

"MO (heart) Obama" and "Show Me Change" were 2 such signs.

The rally began with a prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and a couple of inspirational songs from the Lennon brothers (remember the Lennon sisters?). Missouri Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, took the stage and smartly spoke directly to young voters, giving them some dos and don'ts on election day. Jay Nixon, the Democratic candidate for Missouri Governor, gave an impassioned talk about the remainder of the Democratic ticket. Motown, rock, pop, and country tunes filled the air from the concert sound system in advance of the next speaker.

The beauty of attending events like this, in-person, are the details -- characteristics that make the event special, and something one could never know, otherwise.

Kool and the Gang whipped up the crowd with "Celebration," U2 told us what a "Beautiful Day" it was, and Earth, Wind, and Fire sang "Shining Star." The anticipation was enormous as, arguably, the most famous person in the country was soon to be standing in front of a wildly curious and fiercely adoring rural Missouri audience.

Every little cue from the crowd was scrutinized, as no one wanted to be out of the loop to any important goings-on.

Why are the VIPs turning around and looking behind them?

Why are all the people in the stands cheering?

These two questions were popping up from those around me after a rolling, and seemingly unprovoked, cheer erupted from those in the stands. Stands-people, unlike us on the field, had an aerial view of the road just a few yards away. Stands-people also knew something field-people didn't, as they were now facing the back of the field, gazing intently toward that street. Not to be scooped, I, along with many other fieldsters, turned to look.

It's about 9:30pm and obviously dark. I can't see the street, but I can see the darkened scoreboard at the back end of the field -- its shiny surface brilliantly reflecting the static white lights around the stadium. With its proximity, lights near the street's pavement also bounce off its shiny surface.

In a Jurassic Park moment, much like when the rippling liquid ominously foreshadows the impending dinosaurs...flashing red lights, bouncing off the bottom of the scoreboard, indicated something buzz-worthy going on below. A motorcade was making its way to the front of the stadium. He was arriving.

I must say, that was very cool. The cheering crowd, feeling the unspoken permeating wave of his imminent arrival, obviously thought so, too.

The music's sudden silence cued a tremendous roar from a rapt and knowing audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Senator Claire McCaskill!"

Obama surrogate, Claire McCaskill, gave a rousing talk in advance of her big introduction of the second to last speaker, and perhaps next First Lady, Michelle Obama.

Mrs. Obama spoke for 15 minutes with charisma, intelligence, inspiration, and command of the audience's attention.

"We love you, Michelle!" squealed some fellow behind me.

After nearly 5 hours, it was time. "The next President of the United States," Michelle invoked..."Barack Obama!"

Arms, cameras, and media scissor-lifts raise as people crane on top of others' shoulders and on their own tip-toes to see Barack, his wife, and children, and maybe snap a picture or two or three. The identifiable sense of something larger filling the air, evident to me while in-line, drove an eruption for the man who was now striding vibrantly up the stairs, wearing a pale blue button-down shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow, waving graciously and flashing that Obama smile.

After hugging and kissing his family, Barack Obama, for the next hour, spoke in his familiar and commanding baritone voice, with a mixture of humor, inspiration, and impassioned urgency.

He spoke to the larger themes he's known for, and those to which many people hunger to hear and feel. The visceral feeling I had was of a thirsty and dry sponge of a crowd aching to soak every bit of what might flow from the oasis of a prophetic Obama spigot.

Setting aside policies and politics, in my opinion, there is valuable currency in one man's ability to inspire so many on such a deeply personal level. It obviously speaks to something special that people from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas would trade travel time, plus 3 hours in a mile-plus line, on a Saturday night, for the opportunity to hear a single man speak.

As an illustrator, I was also there to do a job -- shoot photos for my reference library. I did my best, but raised, one-armed, tip-toed, nighttime shots often do not equal sharp photos for me. I didn't break that streak, tonight.

Obviously, I'm not stating anything that hasn't already been said many times by many people, but to experience this rally, first-hand, was an experience to bookmark.

With this post, and my Sarah Palin post, I hope to accomplish several things.

First, I want to chronicle 2 experiences, at least for myself, that will be part of our country's larger history.

Second, I want to relay, from one creative person's perspective, two experiences that don't happen every day, to other creatives who might find that perspective valuable.

Thirdly, I think both are good stories.

In my view, this complex and very interesting political season has been captivating theater and tremendous performance art. Illustrators around the country have capitalized on its ample material. I feel fortunate to have been able to participate in this tiny way.

Finally, and most importantly, no matter what prism you choose to view this ending political season, please don't forget to vote!

1 comment:

Sweet Diane said...

Again, simply fantastic writing Allan. It always amazes me how one person, one man, can enthrall and become godly to so many people! He certainly will be of benefit to the entire world, not just the U.S., becoming a model for every race and every person if he is voted for president! But whatever does happen, this election has forever changed America.