I can't remember the last time I participated in a large-scale political rally. My husband has major cred; among other actions, he marched on Washington with Martin Luther King ("I have a dream") in 1963. All I can come up with is cutting junior high bowling club in Philly, hopping on my bike and peddling furiously so I could wave to JFK's motorcade during what must have been the 1960 presidential campaign. That, and miscellaneous Telegraph Avenue/Peoples' Park actions in Berkeley between '69 and '72, and three or four San Francisco Gay Pride parades, as watcher, marcher, or -- my fave -- parade security, which translates to making friends with the crowd along your stretch of the route, so they'll listen and obey later on, when you tell them to move back out of the street.
But Barack Obama was in Portland today for a rally in Waterfront Park, the weather was perfect, and we just had to do it. Unlike some of our past involvements, the cause was a given and the controversy (sorry Hillary) essentially nonexistent. We parked on the east side, near the Hawthorne Bridge, and walked over the river. Bonus: A close-up perspective on a bridge opening, just as we got to the middle of the span. I've seen the Burnside open before, but not the Hawthorne. Cool.
Downtown, once we got there, was a maze of volunteer-wrangled line segments, all intended, I assume, to manage the crowd and feed it gradually into the venue. The queues moved quickly, once they got going. Despite the unexpectedly Byzantine approach to the venue, folks were in good spirits. As we shuffled along, we were a captive audience for electioneering on behalf of several local candidates, and of course for myriad button, bumper sticker, hat and t-shirt vendors.
Eventually the lines funneled down into a surprisingly thorough security checkpoint featuring airport-esque walk-through beepy gates (keys, coins and clunky jewelry on the table, please) and manual inspection of bags and electronics. I hadn't even thought about leaving our sharps behind as we're programmed to do when flying, so they nabbed our Swiss Army knives, aargh, and plunked them in a box. No guarantees but, amazingly, we were able to retrieve them later, from an array of several dozen potentially lethal weapons spread out at the checkpoint. The security guy even asked if I'd like to upgrade my model. Jer'd brought a low-rise lawn chair, which was also disallowed. We leaned it against a fence and hoped for the best. That, too, was still there when we went back for it after the event. Ah, Portland. But really, media guys: next time there's an event of this magnitude, how about a line in the paper saying "leave this stuff at home..."?
Obama's people estimated the crowd at 70,000, the largest they'd seen on the campaign. The Willamette, south of the Hawthorne Bridge, was bumper-to-bumper boats. Overall, it was a predominantly young crowd, which I think bodes well for the future. The vast majority of our co-rally-ers, I'd say, were born well after 1968, the year of MLK's (and Bobby Kennedy's, damn it) assassination.
The Decemberists, of whom we literally couldn't catch a glimpse from our place in the mob, played a mellow, if invisible, hour-long set. Then a couple of politicians did their yada-da. Finally, The Man. Michelle and the girls performed a charming wave-by, and then Barak launched into pretty much his standard stump speech, studded with Oregon references. He spoke without notes for 40 minutes or so. He's done it before, of course, and we've heard it before, but hearing it in person was impressive. If Obama can accomplish a fraction of what he says he wants to do, this sorry nation will be transformed. He's smart, charismatic, straightforward and, in the opinion of this political pundit, much cuter in person.
Our primary is Tuesday, officially, but Oregon is a mail ballot state, and I've already voted. It's so late in the process that, normally, our results are irrelevant on the national scene. But I don't think anyone in that crowd by the river felt irrelevant today.