Monday, September 22, 2008

politics, not as usual

I read last night that Michelle Obama would be visiting Madison. Curious, I clicked on the official website. Indeed. Monday morning at Camp Randall Park. Not too far. Oh, there’ll be a press box. Bloggers aren’t press, are they? Are they? I fill out an application, listing my most unpolitical blog and wait for a response. (The campaign responds only if it doesn’t accept your application.) None came.

Still, on this foggy Monday morning, I forget all about Michelle. I’m settling in to do some work and then it came back – Obama’s wife should be coming through.

But why go? I admit that I support Obama. Not because of any speech that anyone made anytime in the last two years, but because his platform most closely corresponds to what I think is good for the majority of Americans. I used to like to listen to discussions and read blogs on both sides of the spectrum, just because a healthy debate is always stimulating, but since the level of speeches and correspondent blog discussion has degenerated into something verging on bizarre, I’ve cut back. I certainly wont change my mind and I don’t intend to use Ocean to blast away about anything except that we should all have a good day while the weather lasts.

So why go?

Two reasons: I actually really like Michelle and I enjoy hearing her talk in support of her husband. Her face is supremely expressive and the whole performance is really rather cool. So there’s the fun factor. And also – it’s an event. Insofar as I photograph people and events around where I live, what could be more appropriate for Ocean than an outdoor rally? Of a very Madison sort?

Minutes later, I park my bike and head for the press entrance. Sure enough, I’m listed: Nina Camic, blog.

I’m early. Naturally. I assume you’re supposed to come early if you’re press. I sit down and look around.

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Hmmm, it would be good to take notes. What kind of press person am I? I forgot to take writing materials. I “borrow” a Bic from the Obama campaign. No one at the press table has paper. I leave and buy a notebook at Union South.

For a person who likes to take photos of people, a rally is a photographic fairy tale. Everyone expects to be photographed and most everyone wishes to be in rather than out of camera (and mike) range.

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And so the people came. Not a huge crowd – just under 2000 – but a nice one, full of enthusiasm and good cheer.

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(from Obama volunteer): That baby just told me he loved Barack Obama!

(from someone in the crowd, just below me): hey, nice Doug Moe article in the paper on you! (my face turns Polish beet red)

(from random person interviewed for channel 3 news): I decided to come because this hasn’t happened since Kennedy… (I did not hear what the “this” was, but I assume it was something good)

(from me, directed to the cameraman next to me): Is the guy next to me from CNN? Doubt it. How can you tell? You can always tell by the cameras whether they’re big time press. This guy’s camera is bad. What’s a good press camera? 99% will be Cannons, a few Nikons, all with good reach. (I look at a Nikon dude, then, down at my Sony and give it a sympathetic pat so that its feelings wont be hurt.)

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The WKOW TV guy takes out his pad and writes: “it is a partisan crowd.” To give him credit, some of my notes are even less interesting.

And now the speeches begin: the provost, the mayor, the county executive, our congresswoman, a student. The press corps is actually behind a chunk of the crowd, but we have platforms from which to take photos. And so I dutifully take photos of all the above. But as the rally is not about them, I’ll spare you the Daves, the Tammys, the Kathleens. Even though I especially like the one I took where our county executive looks like a spy, dark glasses and all. Another time.

Do press people applaud? Only one on our podium does. She looks to be a fake anyway. Sort of like me, except way too enthusiastic to even pretend at journalism.

And finally, out comes Michelle.

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And as if to carry the theme of dawn, awakening, parting of clouds, change, the skies force the foggy clouds to recede and wisps of sunlight fill the stage.

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Michelle’s voice starts low, quiet even. And then she says “Barack gets it!” and you can tell she speaks from her gut. “Barack gets it!”

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“There’s only one candidate…” – her voice builds now, her passion is rising…

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And because this rally is to kick off Women in Action Week in Wisconsin and there are many women in the audience, she tells them – “men help, but women get it done… this race can be decided on our shoulders!” and the crowd roars.

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As it settles, a voice shouts from the audience – “how do we bridge the racial divide??” Michelle looks up, finds the face in the crowd and tells her with a smile: “ we are bridging it every day!” – and the crowd responds again.

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As the crowd settles, a little guy, this one, in the front row…

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…shouts out “no!” A parental figure is attempting to control him and he's feeling assertive. Michelle looks at him and grins: “you, too, can bridge the divide, Mr. three year old! Talk to your grandparents!” Everyone laughs.

The speech isn’t too long and it includes references to policy positions that women care about: equal pay, reproductive rights, sick leave, affordable health care, college tuition breaks for those who engage in service. (“Barack and I just recently paid off the last of our educational loans!”)

The crowd is enthusiastic and as she leaves...

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...they linger to shake her hand.

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Many are reaching out for a hug. A number engage her in stories and the secret service dudes nudge her to move on.

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At one point, someone reaches their baby over to her. Michelle stretches and you can tell that she is tempted to take the baby, hold it…

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…I can only imagine what her body guards and campaign people are saying to her. Her hands linger, then retreat.

And I retreat as well. I run into friends and colleagues…

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…and I chat to the security guard who is busy clearing gates and such. My buddies are on lunch break at the bar across the street and I’m left cleaning up, he says. They’re laughing at me.

By now, it looks like just another Monday at noon. Except it feels a lot warmer. The sun is out and, well, there’s this warm fuzzy glow that comes from attending a positive rally. I find myself smiling. Humming almost. No slander, no put down, just a vision, Michelle Obama’s, representing Barack Obama’s, of where we should be heading.

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I bike back to my work. I take off my jacket and begin to undo the press badge and then I let it go. Just for a few more minutes.

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