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Sunday, May 18, 2008


Obama in Waterfront Park

In 2004 I was so disgusted by the Democratic party and America in general that I wrote in "Pepe the Dancing Mule" for president on my 2004 ballot. Four years later, I was standing in a 20-block long line with, according to one estimate, over 72,000 people to listen to the inevitable 2008 Dem candidate for president on a 90-degree day.

This should serve as yet another testament to the charisma and pull of Barack Obama; that a cynic like me was willing to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning to see him live. Would I have shown up if the Decemberists hadn't opened for him? Sure.

I rolled downtown around 10:30. With two hours to go until the gates opened, the line was already so long I was convinced I didn't stand a chance at getting in. For the next two hours, I tried to bury my face in a book to ward off volunteers, campaigners and t-shirt vendors snaking their way through the crowd, all of them eager to slap a sticker or their wares on anything that moved. I had the good fortune to find myself standing behind a model UN club from a local high school, who happily warded them away by repeating "sorry, we're too young to vote and we have no money." Despite this line, a PETA volunteer managed to get a few pamphlets with photos of tortured piglets into their hands, which they immediately passed off to people desperately trying to find the end of the line.

The Decemberists were rolling through "July, July" as I passed through security and somehow landed myself a spot 75 yards back from the stage. Given the size of this crowd, that wasn't half bad. If I had headed right instead of left at the gate, I would have been led to a spot towards the back. The crowd was mostly indifferent to the band's set and Colin Meloy did his best to get everyone to sing along to "Sixteen Military Wives." Crowd participation was limited to some hand waving during "The Perfect Crime."

They closed with "Sons and Daughters." I'm sad to say the crowd's reception was far more tepid than the one that actually brought a tear to my eye during a Decemberists' set last January at the Crystal Ballroom. During that show, a group of kids jumped on stage to sing "here all the bombs fade away" with the band in a moment reminiscent of those old "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ads.

Did I mention how hot it was out there? It was damn hot. Real hot. It was so hot that a mother sitting in front of me built a psuedo-tent out of Obama signs to shield her kids from the sun. It was so hot that two large golden retrievers on a small boat in the Willamette jumped into the polluted river and later shook themselves off on their owner, who was wearing a bikini at the time, and the owner didn't seem to care (see above). It was so hot that an elderly man who came to the rally wearing an American flag as a cape had to turned it into a hood. It was so hot I now have a sunburn on my chest because I made the mistake of unbuttoning the top of my polo shirt and it hurts, dammit.

Obama went on stage as a song from Springsteen's The Rising album blasted. He spoke for around 45-minutes and covered his stances on the Iraq war, energy, college tuition and the economy. I'd like to say that seeing him live while surrounded by tens of thousands of people in what will go down as one of Oregon's most significant political moments melted my heart and I spent the rest of the afternoon volunteering at a campaign office but it didn't.

The man is a master orator and this was history being made right before my eyes but the cynic inside me tells me not to get my hopes up. Could anyone really be this good and pure at this level in the American political sphere? Let's hope so. For what it's worth, I won't be writing in the names of any fictional donkeys on my ballot come November.

After the rally, I walked with part of the crowd through Waterfront Park on my way to Stumptown Coffee. Two metalhead-types on mini-bikes buzzed past us on the lawn. "Look at these Obama people," one spat. "They're actin' like they've just seen Jesus." Maybe not Jesus but, with any luck, someone equally capable of pulling off a few miracles. This country could use a few of them.

For infinitely better photos of the today's rally, here's a link to a Flickr gallery The Oregonian put together.

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