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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Keep hope alive?
How quickly Americans have forgotten the Bush-era. The rampant corruption. The foolish wars. The fact that the insolence and incompetence of that administration led to New Orleans nearly being wiped off the map. Tonight I walked down NE MLK past a group of protesters holding signs that said things like "I Was Hating Obama Before It Was Cool!" One of them was screaming at passing traffic. A lady driving by him in a Volkswagen Bug jumped in her seat and nearly swerved into the other lane when he spat at her through an open window.
Sigh..."Teabaggers." Let's pray that the president doesn't do something REALLY bad and worthy of impeachment like getting a BJ in the Oval Office.
Is it really that easy to overlook the fact that the Democrats have actually accomplished things over the past few years? Supposedly, this Congressional Session was the most productive in half of a century, according to the Associated Press.
Let's go down the list, shall we? US troops are finally leaving Iraq, strides have been made towards healthcare reform and the Dems kinda, sorta saved this country from plunging headlong into a Depression that would have made our ongoing economic woes look like a night at the Playboy Mansion. Obama's biggest mistake was that he promised more than he could reasonably deliver during the 2008 election cycle. So many people painted him as a Christ figure that would magically wash away the despair of eight years of merciless Republican rule with a wave of his hand. The bar was set a million-miles too high for good ol' Barry.
I volunteered to work as a greeter at the Kithaber rally at the Convention Center earlier today. I'm not a huge fan of the Democratic candidate for governor and, I must confess, I didn't vote for him. I wasn't about to fill-in an oval for Chris Dudley though, for all of the obvious reasons. I decided to vote for my family's cat, Harry, instead. I think he would make a better leader than either Dudley or Johnny "This State is Ungovernable" K. At least our feline is adept at catching spiders. I went down there for Obama and "the liberal cause" or whatever you want to call it.
The afternoon began well, at least. There was a warm/happy vibe in the air as I headed down to the Convention Center. The crowd was buzzing, the sun was shining and, overall, it was reminiscent of Obama's stunning speech down on the Waterfront Park back in May of 2008. Would there be enough room inside for everyone? Would we have to usher spectators into a side-hall to watch the rally on a closed-circuit screen? Everybody was just so dang optimistic and upbeat.
At 4 PM the doors opened and the crowd trickled in past security. I stood off to the side and my duty was to answer questions and help the crowd. I must have said, "Yup, head on down the stairs to the convention hall" no less than 5,000 times. When I headed downstairs to see if there was seating available in the bleachers for a disabled woman, that's when I noticed something foul afoot. People were shoving their way in. The crowd was impatient and irritable, a far cry from the happy masses a few years back. Who can blame them? After having their "Pie in the Sky" hopes for Obama dashed over the course of the last two years, on top of the fact that they were being ushered into a gloomy, concrete hall that looked like a warehouse?
An hour later it was obvious that Obama, once a shining beacon of hope and change that drew 80,000 or so people to the waterfront, no longer had enough magic left to fill a 15,000 capacity hall on the eastbank of the Willamette. My fellow volunteers were bored and chatting among themselves as the line died down. A flustered woman was trying to get the attention of an indifferent usher, not a volunteer, who was on the clock. "I really need to get out of here," she sputtered. Without a word, he waved her off and kept walking.
So I decided to intervene as she began to panic. She was a teacher at a local school who had volunteered to escort four of her students to the rally. She had lost them after a bathroom break. I did my best to calm her down. Her hopes of finding them in the crowd downstairs was nonexistent and the eldest student wasn't picking up his cell phone. Her plan was to go outside where she could hear over the crowd in case they called. Members of PPD working the front doors weren't willing to let her leave for reasons involving "national security." Because no one else seemed to care about her dilemma, I grabbed another volunteer and headed downstairs to attempt to get her where she needed to be.
It was obvious that this wasn't going to happen with only a vague idea of where they were located. Long story short, one student finally called her and they worked out a rendezvous point.
On my way towards the escalator, an elderly woman pulled me aside. She had a thick envelope of prayers that she wanted to personally deliver to the president. "No one will even listen to me about this," she said with a sigh. I explained that I was just a lowly volunteer and, as nicely as I could, I told her, in all likelihood, there was no chance that the Secret Service was going to let her hand the Leader of the Free World a strange envelope. Undaunted, she wandered off in search of someone else to ask.
Once back upstairs, I found the cops breaking down the security scanners and most of my fellow volunteers gone. "Yeah, everybody just trickled away," one of them told me. "They didn't thank us for coming or anything."
Indifference and apathy, two things that are definitely plaguing the Democratic party these days, or at least their supporters. The cold shoulders of the staff, the treatment of the teacher and the envelope of prayers left me feeling sour. I took a seat on the carpeted steps outside of the 2/3s-full convention hall and gloomily checked my email. "What's wrong," another volunteer asked. "I'm thinking of leaving," I said. "This is just sad." "I know," he acknowledged. "I gave up my entire day for this in the middle of midterms. I'm thinking of bagging it too."
I looked up towards the skylight and the fading sun outside- what's sure to be one of the last warm days of the year. "Should I stay in here, in this concrete bunker filled with lethargic Democrats," I wondered. "All of them half-heartedly cheering for a candidate for governor they don't believe in?" I wandered back inside and spotted two girl picking through a stack of neglected, "homemade" signs made by organizers. They said things like "I'M FROM JEFFERSON COUNTY AND I'M VOTING FOR KITZHABER!" The girls opted to leave them behind and wandered back into the crowd.
Faux. Homemade. Signs.
Is this par for the course at political rallies? I have no idea but that was enough for me. I walked back to my car down SE Grand past the Teabaggers screaming at rush hour traffic and a streetcar expansion project that no one seems to want. Past the Migrant Labor compound and past the tired faces at a food shelter. One homeless guy nodded at me as I passed, with a look that seemed to say, "Shit, son. You look even more depressed than I am." Down on I-84, traffic was backed up for a mile.
So, yeah, the experience left me feeling pretty downhearted and disenfranchised, as if the storm clouds were gathering and the bad ol' days of Bush and Cheney were about to return again. "Great, a Congress packed with obstructionist Republicans and another two years of jack squat getting done," I muttered. A famous passage from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came to mind and I was feeling biter enough to tweak it for 2010.
""We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled the late 2000s. That was the fatal flaw in Barack Obama's trip. He crashed around America selling "hope" and "change" without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously. All those pathetically eager Americans who thought they could buy back the American Dream for a vote. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Obama took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style... a generation of permanent cripples forever stuck on unemployment in a land with no more careers or union wages, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of liberalism in the 21st century: that modern American society is fair and that, with a little help from the government, everyone has a real shot at being successful in this country."
I felt better after grabbing a cheap taco at Por Que No! on Hawthorne, where my fellow diners were completely oblivious to the outside world and talking about things that had absolutely nothing to do with politics. The restaurant's sound-system was tuned into a sappy soft rock station. A "Mexi-Coke" and Elton John's "Your Song" left me feeling a bit better. I jumped in the car and heard the last few lines of Obama's speech on KPOJ. I'll paraphrase it here:
"You give up now and we lose. Knock on doors. Make phone calls. Talk to your friends. Get them to vote. We're come far in two years and we can't let our efforts die. America can be great again...."
Well, here's hoping, especially if we finally get around to legalizing pot in this flippin' country. Hope? Pfffft! Keep dope alive!