Tuesday, May 20, 2008


This past Sunday, my sweetie and I were standing in line for coffees when I smacked my forehead (this isn’t just a literary conceit—I really do smack my forehead when I’ve forgotten something) and said, “The Obama rally!” A co-worker had told me about it the day before, and it had clean slipped my mind. We looked at our watches. I thought it started at noon; it was already ten A.M. “No way we’ll get in,” we said.

When we got home, I checked online. Turned out the gates opened at 12:30; the rally didn’t start until 2:30. Sweet! We hopped on our bikes and pedaled downtown.

Portland on a sunny spring day is like Cinderella at the ball: once the overcast gray gloom is banished, the city sparkles. We rode along the Willamette River, then joined the crowd pouring over one of the ten bridges linking east Portland with the westside. Once across, we started looking for a place to lock our bikes…and looked…and looked. The railing along the entire riverfront spanning downtown was packed with thousands of bicycles. In fifteen years in this town, we'd never seen anything like it.

(I should note at this point the regrettable lack of our own photographs. I forgot my camera. My sweetie—ever prepared—brought his, but the fresh battery he took out of the charger was inexplicably dead. I will skip over the bitter gnashing of teeth.)

Bikes finally secured, we walked to Waterfront Park, the site of the rally. You know how you read in novels: the mood was electric—well, this actually was. The air practically crackled with an optimistic, buzzing energy. We came across an event organizer; she waved at a queue of folks and said, “Go to the end of the line.” So we walked, past hundreds and hundreds of people, past folks selling bottled water, ice cream, Obama T-shirts, looking for the end. And looking…and looking…

Six blocks later, we looked at each other. “No way we’re getting in,” one of us said.

“Lunch,” we both said.

When it comes to crowds, I admit it—we’re weenies.

After lunch, we headed back to the Hawthorne Bridge, thinking we’d watch the rally from there. No such luck—the west end of the bridge rose just above the rally point, and not surprisingly, the police weren’t allowing anyone on the near side, within sight of the grandstand. But we were allowed to queue up on the far side. No visuals, but we could hear. A heavy, steady tide of people was still pouring over the bridge into downtown. In the river, dozens and dozens of boats arrayed themselves in a rough half-moon close to shore. The electric mood heightened.

And then, from the park: “Please welcome…the next First Family of the United States!” A roar boomed from the crowd inside; on the bridge, cheers and applause. Then everyone quieted.

Wow,” we heard Obama say. “Wow. Wow.” And then, “This is the most spectacular crowd, in the most spectacular setting, that we’ve seen in all the months of this campaign.” Another roar. Yay, Portland! Then he began his stump speech. No one talked on their cell phones; nobody chatted with each other. We all stood listening, quiet, for the forty minutes Obama spoke. We couldn’t catch everything—wind snatched away some of the words, buses drowned out others. Then another roar from the crowd inside the park, and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” jazzed through the air.

Later, we found out that the official crowd estimate was seventy-two to seventy-five thousand. The queue of people waiting to get into the rally was estimated to be over two miles long. Sixty thousand made it into Waterfront Park; the rest, like us, gathered outside. It was Obama’s largest rally by far, and, we heard, one of the largest for any primary election event in American history. (Blogger, that silly creature, isn't letting me post any pictures at all--go here for some eye-popping ones, and here and here for great videos.)

It was amazing to be part of, and something I will never forget. Not just the crowds, but that optimism, that incredible energy crackling through the air.

Today, Oregon votes. Usually, by this time in the primary season, everything is wrapped up and tied with a bow, and our poor state is like the smallest kid in the class jumping up and down with her hand in the air, squeaking, “Me, too! Me, too!” But this year, for the first time in decades, Oregon’s vote actually matters.

So if you’re an Oregonian—no matter what party, no matter whom you support—get that ballot delivered! *

*Oregon is the only state which votes exclusively by mail. At first, I was unsure about it. Now, I think it’s the most civilized way to cast a ballot. There’s simply no lovelier way to vote than at one’s own kitchen table, with a cup of coffee, music of one’s choice, our state’s wonderful Voter’s Pamphlet (which furnishes information on all the candidates and ballot measures—in plain English) a black pen, and a ballot. No standing in line, no trying to cram it in before or after work, no having to remember which candidate is who and which ballot measures I’m for or against. I’m telling you—vote-by-mail is voter heaven, complete with a paper trail. Y’all should try it sometime. And maybe some year we'll take a cue from you other states, and do away with not allowing ourselves to pump our own gas.


Anonymous said...

Well, Oregonians DELIVERED, signed and sealed...which was a perfect song given the fact you all vote by mail. I'm gonna challenge you on the voting by mail thing, though. Civilized, yes, but there's something wonderful about walking to the nearby elementary school, talking to neighbors gathered out front, going into the gym checking in with the poll workers and voting on our punch card machines. Feels very civic. Ya know?

Melissa Marsh said...

Wow - what an event! And you were part of it! That makes it even more exciting.

I went to Bill Clinton's rally in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before he was elected president. I could feel the energy in the air there, too, and got lots of pictures. Although I didn't get to meet him, I *did* get smashed against a secret service agent. ;-)

Christine Fletcher said...

Sally, you're right--those are the things about in-person voting that I miss. Being a confirmed introvert, they're not the things that jump to mind first for me :)

Melissa--smashed against a secret service agent--there's a story! And BC seems like he could sure get good energy going at an event. Sounds like a great one to have been at.