Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Sarah Palin Experience

Is Sarah Palin going rogue? Has she ever not been rogue? Isn't that the nature of mavericks?

This illustration was inspired by her latest rogue-like headlines combined with her tendency to, at least in weeks prior, perhaps be following a script, in both words and deeds -- like a puppet. I have also added a "wink" to the power of the story of her expensive wardrobe, with the glimmer in her earring.

While the face is composited from additional sources, her body comes from my own personal photographic reference. You see, I had the opportunity to attend a Sarah Palin rally. One week later, I had the opportunity to attend a Barack Obama rally.

What follows below is the recounting of my experiences at both.

Thursday October 23, 2008.

Clutching my Sarah Palin reference, I walk toward my studio to begin what I know will be one heckuva portrait of 1984's Miss Wasilla crown-holder and 2008's Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States. However, the phone, and its robo-call on the other end, interrupts my train of thought.


"Come and see Sarah Palin at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri, tomorrow. Gates open at 9am."

How fortuitous and coincidental that I just happen to be in a Sarah frame-of-mind. Even though I'm a Barack Obama supporter, what good reason would I have to miss an opportunity to experience the spectacle that is a Sarah Palin rally? As a person who has found himself mainlining the political news for the past 2 years with an increasingly ravenous appetite, I would be doing a disservice to myself to miss out on such a tasty treat. My mind was made up.

At 6am, Friday morning, I wake to the radio station DJ telling me people have been camping in line to see Ms. Palin since 3:30am.

I'm out the door at 7am. The Ozark Mountains are especially picturesque this morning. Fog fills the valleys, the air is crisp, and the early-autumn sky is crystal clear and blue.

Shortly before 8am, my car is in park, and perfectly positioned between two yellow lines at the Bass Pro Shops parking lot, flanked on all sides by cars, vans, and trucks, many with bumper stickers screaming "McCain/Palin '08", with an occasional "Drill, Baby, Drill!" I could sense the heavy affection for Ms. Palin in the air.

The sunny, crisp day quickly turns to overcast. The brisk wind becomes a bone-chiller, as I come to the realization my light jacket over a t-shirt is not going to keep me comfortable.

I come upon 2 lines. One for ticket holders, and one for non-ticket holders. The rally was originally an invitation-only event. Supposedly, 4,000 tickets were sold out in short order, so the decision was made to move the rally to this larger public venue.

My line, for non-ticket holders, was already about 150 yards long, one hour before the gates were scheduled to open. The line eventually strung out several blocks.

The volunteers, wearing white t-shirts (over layers of clothing), screen-printed in red with "McCain/Palin," directed the steady stream of arriving people toward their proper line. Occasionally, a volunteer would walk by, informing us about the no signs policy -- some would be provided for us. Cameras were okay -- shoot as many photos as you'd like. And, they made sure we were all fired up to see Sarah!...Sarah!...Sarah! There was also a volunteer to see if line-standers would like to volunteer for the campaign -- work the phone banks, knock on doors, and so forth.

Then, there were the buttons. The first guy was selling for $5 per button.

"No, thanks," I said.

Luckily, I refused that guy, who was obviously trolling for suckers, since the next guy was selling for $3 each, and a discount for multiple buttons. Union-made, to-boot. What a deal!

"No, thanks," I said.

The buttons were printed with all sorts of slogans. Some were straight McCain/Palin, blue and white typeset badges, while others were more brash and all about Sarah -- usually with pink hearts, girl-power anthems, barracudas, pit bulls, lipstick, high heels, and even the stylishly-framed, glasses-wearing Vice Presidential hopeful.

Good Lord, it was cold. The wind would blow and erase all doubt, if someone had any. The lack of sun was the problem. 43 chilly, windy degrees fahrenheit, for what turned out to be five hours on my feet, with insufficient bundling, is bound to border on at least feeling cool-ish to even the heartiest of fellows. I asked myself, more than once, was it really worth it to see someone for whom I had no intention of voting? That's when my weight training experience kicked in and my somewhat-trained mind remembered how to endure beyond this minor discomfort. I would kick myself later, in warmer environs, for not sticking it out.

Aside from the air being thick with affection for Ms. Palin, it was also thick with neoconservativism, or at least some form of it. Subscribing to a "progressive" political agenda, I was apparently outnumbered. The people in front, behind, and just about everywhere I cared to look, reminded me, with enthusiastic conversations riddled with variations of the words, "socialism," or polite and not-so-polite ridicule of the smattering of sign-weilding protesters, this was McCain/Palin Country, or, at least, the McCain/Palin parking lot. I didn't want to get into a debate with anyone, and luckily I didn't. However, a reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, Missouri's third largest newspaper, just happened to approach the 65-year old, rain coat-clad woman in front of me, asking, "What brings you here?"

Looking out from under her hood, she launched into the popular talking points of the day. The family of multi-generational women behind me also had some thoughts on why they were here. Theirs were much more reasoned -- not against anyone, but rather for particular policies and how each thought the policies would best benefit their lives. Also, as women, Sarah provided many levels of inspiration to them, and their children.

While it would have made an interesting sidebar, I didn't offer my reasons for being there. I'm kind of kicking myself for not doing so.

Glacially, sometime between 9am and 10am, my line started moving. With my plastic American flag attached to a dowel rod that had been handed to me at some point, I inch forward, toward the gates, with the rest of my fellow non-ticket holders. Out come the contents of my pockets, as I step through the metal detector.

I'm clean.

Big and Rich is pumping through the huge concert speakers perched by the stage. The VIP section had bleacher seats directly next to the stage, which was set up "in-the-round."

"I'm Joe, too!" and "Sarah Barracuda" and "I (heart) Sarah," were three of the signs I spotted from the VIPs. Each was quaintly painted in red, blue, and pink on white cardboard -- certainly homemade by those holding them. However, my sources tell me even those signs were provided by the rally organizers. There were plenty of blue McCain/Palin signs. The crowd became a sea of blue during the applause moments as those signs rose and shook. Perhaps the most curious sign I saw was a white, handmade pig drawing, attached to a popsicle stick. The pig was wearing red lipstick and the wording read, "Can you hear me, now?"

I'm not the smartest guy, so I'm probably overlooking the obvious, but I still can't quite add that one up. Surely it's a reference to an unfortunate statement made by Mr. Obama during the early weeks of Ms. Palin's tenure as V.P. candidate. But, is that the best symbol of her candidacy? Is it a defiant symbol? Is it an ironic statement? I'll probably take those questions to my grave.

At this point, my focus turns to my job, which is shooting photographic reference. I park myself among the crowd -- about 35 yards from the podium with a face-on view of the speaker when she takes the stage. To my right is the press stand with photographers and news media personnel. To my left is a tent with organizers. Behind me is a growing crowd. By my estimate, it was maybe around 5,000 people. News reports estimated up to 20,000, but I would question that figure.

Pierce Arrow, a local band, sings a few songs to fire-up the crowd. Missouri's Republican candidate for Governor, Kenny Hulshof, acts as emcee, bringing down-ticket Republican candidates on-stage. Each gives a 5-minute spiel. Back comes the band to do a couple more songs. Then a couple more. It seems as if Sarah is hung up at the airport, so how about a couple more? "No," squeal a few of the impatient red-staters around me.

"Mama Judd is mad," Naomi Judd, one-half of the Judds, and introducer of Sarah, begins. Ms. Judd goes on to defend Sarah from the demonization she has perceived as taking place via the media. One thing was for sure. Mama Judd meant Sarah was only minutes from replacing her on the mic. The people around me were ready to get to the main attraction.

"There she is," remarked a father, on my immediate left, to the 4-year old sitting on his shoulders. After witnessing the angry mob-scenes on TV, I was expecting an eviscerating attack on the Democratic nominee. However, in my opinion, it was a fairly tame speech. There was no mention of "palling around with terrorists."

"Experimenting with socialism," and "spreading the wealth" were the buzz words of the day. It seemed like a well-orchestrated ceremonial event -- not meant to be substantive, but a forum to say some things, give the crowd a chance to cheer and boo at precise moments, and let people feel as if they might be leaving with more than they brought. She spoke well, was very charismatic, and came across as quite likable. She brought a rock star quality that people wanted to experience. I'll leave fact-checking to the non-illustration blogs.

Afterward, she descended the platform to the sounds of Shania Twain's, "She's Not Just a Pretty Face." Shaking hands and signing autographs with the crowd nearest her, she snaked her way around the stage, eventually exiting from where she came. The atmosphere was that of a celebrity walking the red carpet, with cameras hoisted above the crowd, following her every move. Also following her every move were the sharpshooters poised atop the nearby building. Faces all focused in her direction, craning their necks just hoping for a glimpse of her. I moved closer to the stage, investigating the area in hopes of maybe getting some more photos. James Brown belted out "Living in America," as I passed the speaker, which became the new home for my plastic American flag. I looked for a crowd opening in which to sneak.

No luck.

With low temperature-stiffened joints, I returned to my car around 2pm. I brought with me a first-hand experience of what is being analyzed by the best and brightest journalists, every day, in print, on TV, and in photographs and illustrations. My perspective is clearer, as, at least for this day, a piece of the political process was filtered through my mostly fair and often balanced eyes.


Sweet Diane said...

Awsome writing Allan!
I feel as though I was there myself!
Love to see some of those pics, I bet you took tons, but a few choice would be a treat!

Padraic said...

Thanx, Al, that was a bone-chilling adventure reading about you infiltrating the enemy camp. Whadda story! We'll be tellin' that one to our grandbabies...the day the McCain/Palin rally was adulterated by a non-believer. And tell the truth, is she as purdy as everbody says? Was she wearin' lipstick???