Thursday, October 19, 2017

That's How We Rise

Sometimes all you have to do is wish out loud to make it so.

One minute Mac and I are walking down 5th Street toward the river, when I casually mention that I wish I had a ticket for the Northam rally tonight so I could hear Obama speak mere blocks from my house.

The next moment, she's calling a friend who'd offered her an extra ticket (Mac already had plans) and, just like that, I'm in like Flint. Not to mention in Mac's debt for the foreseeable future the rest of my life.

When I got to the convention center after a six block walk, the line of attendees snaked from the entrance on Fifth Street back along Marshall Street, down Third Street two blocks and back up it again, across the north side of Marshall and continued on the south side of Marshall.

I joined it there when it was barely a quarter of the way down the two block stretch and within 10 or so minutes it began to slowly inch forward. To be clear, I had no issue with having to wait for an hour - although I was gobsmacked at the number of people who brought toddlers - to make my way into the rally, except for the trio behind me.

Standing in front of three entitled University of Richmond students and having to listen to their inane conversation is really more than should be expected of any self-respecting Democrat.

"I don't know why I didn't realize it would be this crowded," one of the guys said, setting himself up to be belittled by the female friend, who mainly wanted to discuss other girls ("She's cute, but she's not a very good dancer"), her sorority parties and why she thought they should have their graduation party in another country.

When she went to call a friend, she said, "Remember when we used to remember our friends' phone numbers?" as if she hadn't been born in 1998. Give me a break, you never knew your friends' phone numbers. Ever.

When one of the guys' power got low on his phone, she assured him he could let her know if he needed any emergency texts to go out and she'd take care of it for him. Emergency texts? In line to see the coolest President in history, what could possibly need texting so urgently?

Once I finally made it inside and escaped from their mindless prattling, I overheard a woman tell her friend that she'd peed in an alley, unsure if there'd be bathrooms in the convention center. Are you serious?

All I can say is, Democrats were not all showing their strongest suits tonight.

I'm not a tall woman, so in order to see, I was constantly standing on tip toe or craning my neck to see over and around someone in front of me, but at least I could see the podium most of the time.

After Northam signs were passed out, the Reverend Mike Jones entreated us to hold hands with the person next to us and the woman beside me grabbed mine for the prayer.

After the pledge, a choir sang the anthem, raising goosebumps for me with some of their harmonies, and causing fists to be raised by others. The mood was electric.

Next came Mayor Stoney, who asked, "Can you believe it was only a year ago that we had a man in the White House who knew how to be President?" A roar went up from the crowd. "And he's in the house tonight!" Louder roar.

Donald McEachin was next, mocking Lieutenant Governor candidate Jill Vogel's intellect (for the trans-vaginal ultrasound unpleasantness) and asking, "Do we want someone from Donald Trump's party to be our next governor?" Hell, no. "The eyes of the country are on Virginia this election!"

True that.

Representative Bobby Scott reminded us that last year we'd done the right thing and voted for Hillary. "I bet Michigan and Pennsylvania wish now they'd done the same thing!" If they don't, they're even bigger idiots than we realized.

Since it was my first political rally, I was new to all the cheering, noise-making and sign waving that follows every well-spoken sentence, but it didn't take long to get into it. Harder to get used to, or at least more unsettling, were the cops moving through the crowd.

The first candidate to take the stage was Lt. Governor nominee Justin Fairfax, who told us that his wife had gone to VCU's dentistry school, causing a woman near me to muse aloud, "Wonder if she's taking new patients?" Not the point, lady.

Mark Herring got lots of applause and cheers promising to be an Attorney General who'd fight for the rights of everyone regardless of skin color, sexual orientation or birthplace, with an emphasis on a woman's right to choose and accessible contraception.

The lesbians to my right cheered as loudly as I did about the latter. On my left was a Muslim couple and two Indian women stood in front of me. The crowd was noticeably diverse, young and old, with a lot of black parents and children. One guy used his crutch to signal his support of what was being said.

I have to say, it felt like a better representation of Richmond than I see in most places.

Governor McAuliffe came out to Springsteen's "Born to Run," reminding us that he'd promised the women of Virginia that he'd be a brick wall to protect our rights and had been. He even bragged about holding the record for the most vetoes by a governor of the commonwealth.

Then it was the governor-elect's turn and Northam's first question to the crowd was, "Are you ready to keep Virginia blue?" He made the point that in 18 days, it was time for Democrats to get back on the offensive and top playing defense.

His biggest cheers came when, in his distinctive Eastern Shore drawl (cain't and ideer), he said, "There is no reason a group of legislators - mostly men - should be telling women what they can do with their bodies!" Amen, Dr. Northam.

The moment he began to talk about the man he was going to introduce, screens were raised over heads and all of a sudden, cameras and tablets obliterated my view of the stage. My only satisfaction was in knowing that whatever photographs were taken would also contain hundreds of phones held high in front of the man.

Near the front, a series of small white signs with hearts drawn on them were raised in anticipation of Obama coming out. When he did, looking decidedly gray, a roar went up that surely was heard down by the river.

It was nothing short of thrilling to hear his distinctive voice and cadences as he talked about Northam being elected president of VMI's honor court. "I was kind of a goof-off in college, but not Ralph," Obama said, praising Northam's honesty and integrity. Goof-off? As if.

He hailed Northam's intellect. "You know you have to be smart to do pediatric neurology. It's not even easy to pronounce," he joked self-deprecatingly.

Saying that in a time when politics seem so nasty and divided, Northam was one of the people who was in this race for the right reasons. "Can we support a candidate who wants to bring people together?" and the crowd barely let him finish his question before screaming, "Yes we can!" and began chanting it spontaneously.

To Obama's credit, he kept trying to turn the focus back to the Democratic ticket, but the crowd just wanted to eat him up with a spoon. We're talking mass adoration. The woman in front of me began dabbing at her eyes as he spoke and after a while, tears of joy just streamed down her face listening to him.

But honestly, you have to admit it's momentous to hear a President speaking in full, coherent sentences again.

When he talked about Northam wanting to end gerrymandering, a woman yelled, "Preach!" and Northam signs were raised high in the air in support.

"I've seen the possibilities of our democratic country, including what we did over 8 years," he said before turning to the subject of mid-term elections. "And don't just vote for him, vote for the whole ticket so you can get a state house that looks like you! Y'all tend to sleep through mid-terms, but the stakes don't allow us to sleep."

Granted, he was preaching to the choir, but it was still a good reminder. Then he set his sights on millennials. "You young people, it's great that you have your hashtags and your memes, but I need you to vote!"

Being in Richmond, naturally he had to tackle the race issue and he did so by explaining that we needed to talk about history in a way that heals, not divides.

And because he's always been able to make us laugh, he invoked his own ancestry, saying that on his mother's side, he was 9 or 10 times removed from Jefferson Davis. "Think about that! I bet he's spinning in his grave!"

He went on to explain that we needed to reconcile the legacy of Virginia son Thomas Jefferson, who could be remembered as a slaveholder and also as the writer of the Declaration of Independence. And then, in a moment I will likely never forget, that segued seamlessly into the Declaration of Independence preamble in Barack Obama's distinctive style.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It was such an indescribably perfect moment that I didn't even try to look at him, I just closed my eyes and listened, holding my breath until he finished. I'd been standing on a cold, concrete floor for close to three hours by then and my feet were getting sore, but it was totally worth it for that magical moment.

"Progress is not always a straight line, but our democracy is at stake," he concluded. "Elections matter. Voting matters. We can't take anything for granted!"

No, we certainly can't. We apparently did last year and now we're living with a madman in the White House.

"Elect Ralph and send a message of what Virginia stands for!" he said before wishing us good night and posing onstage with the candidates while Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" played overhead.

Walking out, I saw several women walking barefoot and carrying their high heels after hours of standing. When I ran into a friend on Second Street, she said she was headed home to ice down her sore knees.

After all-day anticipation followed by complete evening satisfaction, some women might be reaching for a cigarette. Not me.

What I will do - besides vote on November 7 - is never hesitate to wish out loud again. Who knew it worked?


  1. Wish I could have been there but I ate up every word you wrote! Thanks for the wonderful description :-)

  2. So glad I could share it with you! It was an amazing experience and nothing but dumb luck that landed me there...

  3. Sounds like it was a good event & after all it doesn't happen everyday. However -- (not wanting to be a killjoy here), Good politicians usually say exactly what the crowd wants to hear & usually say whatever it takes to get them elected. What happens after the election is something else. Who knows, Northam has better ads, better marketing. Still I'm sure President Obama was the show & rightfully so & the crowd to I suspect. Truth be told, the democrats & republicans seem weak to behold. Sadly not impressed with either Party....


    P.S. Glad you enjoyed it though...

  4. You're absolutely right, cw, and every one of them was playing to his base. I just wanted to hear Obama live and he was a delightful and humorous speaker, so that made it worth it! Might not get another chance...