President Obama came to my campus on Tuesday to give a talk. At first I did not think I was going to get tickets to attend the affair, not being important enough to be singled out by the administration for a ticket, I did not want to stand in line for hours to get one. I mean I love Obama and everything, but it was raining! Anyway, a colleague emailed me on Sunday and asked me if I wanted a ticket. I, of course, replied “yes.” Turns out it was not just a ticket, it was a VIP ticket! I was going to be standing ( did not know that part) on the floor right in front of the podium, literally feet from the president.
So, the day of we walk down to the area around the arena to get in line. We got in line around 8:30, kind of far down the already long line. On our way walking to the end of the line we had passed several friends further up in the line. I suggested we might not have to keep walking but might be able to “join” a friend who was closer to the front. I was with mainly younger people and they whipped out their phones and began texting some of the friends we had passed. Within minutes we had a plan.
Not wanting to draw attention we would drift up to our friend, start talking and stay there. We would go one at a time. It worked like a charm. The first person from the five person group, left and texted back in about two minutes he was in line and to send the next one. I was the fourth to go, and texted back that the “Eagle has landed,” ( actually I had the student with us text it back to the last person, the youngsters are much quicker texters!). Finally, our last person drifted up and we were at least 2/3rds closer to the door.
We saw another colleague/friend kind of floating down the line and called him over, he joined us too. The doors to the facility opened at 10:00, by 10:20 we had gone through security and were in the building, having no idea what to do. There had been a brief scare when the rumor started that they were not permitting purses to be carried in, but that turned out to be untrue, you just could not carry other bags or any liquids in, much like airport security. Because I had on lots of jewelry as usual, I bleeped going through the metal detector, but the young security officer gave me a cursory wanding, evidently deciding I was harmless.
This was the second time I have been insulted by security. Years ago I took some students to see President Bush ( the first, decent one). It was raining and I had on a voluminous Misty Harbor raincoat. I also had a bag with the stuff the students brought but did not want to carry. The Secret Service was much in evidence. One of the agents, earpiece in and everything came over to where I was standing. I presumed he would ask me to open my coat ( I could have concealed anything smaller than a bazooka in there) and to look in my bag. He smiled pleasantly, asked me my name and why I was there, made small talk and left! I was offended. I was standing less than 10 feet from the President! How could he decide I was not a threat??? Fancying myself channeling Angela Davis I was crushed that he considered me a harmless academic.
Anyway, we finally joined a stream of people and having looked at our tickets we were shuttled down to the floor of the arena, finding ourselves behind a low barrier mere feet from the podium. Since Obama was not expected until about 1, we now had about three hours to kill. Everyone was in a good mood. We threw our coats down on the ground and took turns sitting on the pile. To my right were about ten students, half of them from Duke. We struck up a conversation about politics,and because it was me, about race. They began to pepper me with questions, until I finally asked them if they didn’t have any black people at Duke to question. I told them why blacks don’t vote GOP in large numbers, about the intransigence of racism, knocking down their assertion that young people are beyond all that with several examples, from recent racist tweets about The Hunger Games and hockey, to the continuing racist incidents on college campuses, including theirs, to the racism directed at the man we were waiting to see and how so many whites seem to feel if they say it is not racism that makes them dislike and disrespect him then that makes their racist acts okay. We had a great time.
At about 12:10 the jumbotron overhead came on and we saw a tape of the President landing at RDU. The crowd went wild. An hour later we had the color guard, a chubby black woman sang the nation anthem beautifully, a slender black senior introduced the President, the band struck up a “Hail to the Chief” and Barak Obama strode onto the stage. He is charismatic, charming and cool. If people spent time with him he would not have to worry about campaigning. He spoke eloquently and made his points with facts and figures to back up his assertions. He had us all eating out of the palm of his hand.
There were no hecklers, no one yelled anything negative. The only disruption came from an older black woman who either has difficulty controlling herself, wanted to get his attention or wanted to be on camera. She had to should out “Amen” or “Yes” or some other exclamation every few minutes. She should have been told to shut up or get up and leave. But, perhaps she leads an obscure life and thought this was her chance for her 15 minutest of fame.
After about 45 minutes President Obama concluded his remarks, the band began to play again and he came down off of the platform to shake hands. Yes, he shook my hand. We all had to wait until he left the building and then we were allowed to file out. I had stood up for about five hours. If you had asked me if I could do that I would have said no, but when you have a chance to do something historic you can surprise yourself.
I do hope I will have another chance to spend some time with President Obama, say sometime in the next four years??