Rallying the Promised Land, Part II

We continue here with my off-topic (and slightly edited) chronicle of the day The Mrs. and I volunteered at a gigantic Kerry-for-president rally here in Madison. It appeared on The Daily Aneurysm on October 28, 2004.

9:50AM: We were told last night at the volunteer meeting that there are no bad jobs, but I’m not so sure after I notice there is a volunteer whose job it is to staff the portable toilets. There seems to be some distinction between the two toilets on the left and the three on the right, and he is directing people into one or the other, but I can’t figure out what the distinction is.

10:00AM: I notice one of the other sign distributors eating an apple. “How’d you get that projectile in here?” I ask. “The Secret Service said it was OK,” he says. I decide that the agent who screened The Mrs. [and confiscated her apples] must not have had time for breakfast.

10:15AM: We are told to begin unboxing the signs—Firefighters for Kerry/Edwards, Teachers for Kerry/Edwards, Environmentalists for Kerry/Edwards (which look homemade), Women for Kerry/Edwards, and so on. At the bottom of one box, we find a stack of Women for Kerry T-shirts, which some of the women in the group begin to put on. A campaign staffer we haven’t seen before comes blazing over and, in a tone that skates the ragged edge between brisk and rude, orders the women to remove the T-shirts. We never see the staffer again.

10:30AM: I notice the national advance man in charge of the entire event, who spoke to us at the volunteer meeting last night, as he walks through the crowd talking on a headset phone. From the half-smile on his face, I can tell that one of two things is true: he is either extremely happy about the way things are going, or he’s so sleepy he can’t remember which city he’s in.

10:35AM: All tickets to the event say “no signs,” but I notice that an exception has been made for a guy carrying a sign that says “I Have 2 Sons in Iraq—Please Help.” He looks a little like a guy I went to high school with, but I can’t tell for sure. He soon attracts a horde of reporters.

10:45AM: The blues band onstage wraps up, and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz takes the stage. He speaks briefly, then introduces a woman just back from Iraq to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Cieslewicz is the first in a parade of dignitaries of ever-increasing importance. He introduces Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who introduces three female statewide officeholders and our representative in Congress, Tammy Baldwin. Tammy introduces Senator Herb Kohl, who introduces Senator Russ Feingold.

11:00AM: While Kohl is speaking, we get the go-ahead to begin distributing our signs. One sign is very light. A whole stack of them is pretty heavy, and my stack of outsized Firefighters for Kerry signs is the heaviest of all. People are reluctant to take my signs, and they keep telling me, “I’m not a firefighter.” I think to myself, “I know, just take the damn thing, these are heavy.” I drop the stack at least twice.

11:15AM: Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters comes on. He’s decorously acoustic, but I don’t see much of him, as I am continuing to schlep signs through the throng. Everybody in the front section who wants a sign has one by this point, but the Secret Service won’t let us cross the barricade to reach the signless people behind it. I walk the perimeter, trying to find people without signs, and drop my stack at least two more times.

11:30AM: Grohl concludes his between-song remarks about Kerry by saying, “That’s my stump speech. I can’t run for office because I did inhale.”

11:55AM: I return to a spot at the end of the press risers, figuring that I have handed out enough signs.

12:05PM: Grohl finishes. For over an hour, the program has moved along swiftly, but now it stops dead. After a while, a roadie comes out and begins setting up a new microphone. What follows is 20 minutes of classically excruciating pre-concert “check, one-two, check, one-two.”

12:15PM: The woman standing next to me notices sharpshooters atop the high-rise condo building halfway back up West Wash.

12:20PM: John Nichols, editorial page editor of the Capital Times and columnist for The Nation, squeezes by me on his way to a spot on the risers. I am tempted to ask him how come he never responds to my story pitches, but I desist.

12:30PM: A Wisconsin Public Radio reporter squeezes by me on her way to the portable toilets. I can tell who she is by her name tag, and her identity comes as a minor surprise to me. Although she sounds on the air like she should be a large black woman, she is in fact a petite white woman.

12:45PM: West Washington Avenue is lined with old houses, once home to Madison’s elite, now divided and subdivided into student apartments. The balconies are crowded, all except for one that is curiously empty. “Maybe the people who live there are Bush supporters,” the woman next to me has said. Sure enough, a Bush/Cheney sign appears on the empty balcony. A guy climbs up from the balcony below and removes it to general cheers.

12:50PM: The throng is restless, as nothing has been happening for a very long time. Then suddenly . . .

That’s what you call a tease right there. Part three next Tuesday.

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