I was asked to record the events of a few monumental days, but for a long time I had no idea where to start. I figure the beginning is a good place, so here it is:
Tuesday, March 20th of 2010 was our first official rest day. We were in Portland, ME and we were all waterlogged from the previous days’ weather. Christian and I had spent the previous night at the home of a woman named Beth Streener. She was an extraordinary woman, and we stayed up well into the evening talking with her. Tuesday we woke up in her home to the news that her Granddaughter, Cassidy, was coming over. An energetic 6 year old, she was hilarious once she got used to us.
After breakfast I got a call on my phone from Wells Stanley – Mays who was wondering if we were still interested in doing the Freedom Trail tour. We were. Beth took Cassidy, Christian and I to the North Star Cafe to start the tour inside with documents, away from the pouring rain. As we were sitting at the table, Christian picked up the Portland daily paper and said, “The President’s coming to Portland.” We read the article apparently, not only was Barack H. Obama coming to Portland but tickets were going to be given out Wednesday for free!
Obviously, we needed to get tickets. It was a sign! I spoke with everyone in the group, and it was decided that Wednesday at 4:30am, Christian and I would be outside the Expo Center, waiting for tickets. Well, the idea of 4:30am seemed crazy to people, so we left Beth’s house at about 5:15am. (Quick side note, we spent an amazing dinner eating at Hi Bombay; if you’re ever in Portland GO eat there and say I sent you 🙂 they’re excellent!) At 6am we arrived at the Expo Center. “Hah! And you guys said 4:30 was crazy!” I said. There were about 60 people already in line, not counting the press. I was determined Thursday not only to see the President, but that I was going to shake his hand, hug him, and give him a pamphlet and peace crane.
Thursday, April 1st 2010 came sunny and hopeful. Kayf – Mohammed Dini’s sister called me at 8am asking if I was in line yet. The doors opened at 1:30 pm! I said I would call her back, but immediately after hanging up I got a call from their brother Kadedar who was wondering what time he should get me. It was crazy. The three of us were trying to figure everything out, and I was still wondering how I was going to sneak in pamphlets past the Secret Service. The day before they had passed out a sign that made it explicitly clear that we were not to bring in signs, banners or printed materials of any kind. I folded up pamphlets into my socks, under the inserts of my shoes and up my shirt. The last pamphlet I wrote a note on and carefully folded into the plastic baggie with the crane. I was ready.
Kadedar came to get me and we drove to the Expo Center. There were about 100 people already outside. 100 is nothing when the crowd is going to be 3,000. We parked at the hospital and got ready to stand in line. It was about 9:00am. We were both incredibly aware that the Secret Service was probably everywhere. It made me a little bit paranoid. We got in line and waited for Kayf and her son, Jabir. That was probably the last rational moment of the day. People started lining up behind us, slowly at first but gradually we became aware that there were probably another hundred, than two people behind us. It was very warm. Volunteers were walking up and down the lines with signs and chanting, “Yes We Can”. After a few hours it turned to chaos. Thousands of people on our side were here to see Obama, but on the other side of the street Republicans, Health – care bill people and Tea baggers had started to gather. There were a few Obama supporters. One person had a huge sheet with a picture of the President. After a while I noticed a huge white sign that said, “Bring Our War $$ Home”. I knew it was Wells, so I ran over to say hello. I got back in line with Kayf and Jabir and I realized it had been a while since Kadedar had been with us. He ran over to me, quickly asking for his ticket. He wouldn’t tell me where he was going. I took out my phone and went to the edge of the street. The police had created a barrier between my side of the street and Wells’ side. The energy was getting higher. The women standing directly in front of us had some ridiculous notion that they could control people who tried to cut in line. As they were loudly voicing that they would not let anyone get in front of them at all no matter what, I looked again to the front of the line. There, not 5 people from the front were Dini and his brother. I said I would be right back and quickly got to the front on the outside of the green security barrier. Kadedar laughed when I asked him how he got there, and was quick to point out that I would never be able to make it to the front. I ran to Kayf and as soon as she saw me her eyes got huge. We couldn’t really discuss what we were about to attempt because these women were crazy! And probably would have called the cops. I whispered that her brothers were in the front and that we could get there if she stayed close. We were nervous, but she took her son’s hand and told the people around us to hold our spot. “Pardon me, excuse me, sorry, can I get by please?” We forced our way through until we were right up front. It was glorious we were right there. Some of the people around us had been there since 6am. One man named Joseph didn’t even have a ticket. He and his friend were calling people to bring them one. People were walking around with signs that said, “HOPE for Jne Ticket! and all sorts of other craziness. Apparently, one person said they would give up a Nintendo DS, and one said a Toyota Corolla for 2 tickets.
Finally it was 1:30. A huge Greyhound – like bus with the letters V.I.P. on it came towards us. Kaedar said it was the Secret Service and I laughed because I thought he was joking. I looked in the windows and the agents were the typical Men in Black. Black sunglasses, gray suits, pin on the left lapel and these little microphone ear thingies. We were ready to go in.
People gather at the gates to look at tickets, and they say, “Blue tickets first, please.”!! What is that madness? We were in line for four hours only to be behind some Senators and junk? It was extremely disheartening to see person after person after person pass you by. Finally they started letting white tickets in as well. We got passed the people, holding our tickets up high and walked towards the Expo center. It was such a great feeling. I went through the metal detector and it beeped. I was so sure that the crane bead had some sort of metal and I was done for. I remembered Christian’s number, written on my arm so that if I got arrested I would have someone to call. The security guy waved the wand over me. “All set” he said. We walked quickly into the next room. People were sitting on the bleachers. There was a small stage in front of us. Behind us was a stage full of photographers. Right in front of the stage was a 5 foot space and then a metal barrier. I was right behind that barrier, directly in front of the mic. Kayf went to sit with her son and brothers. I had to use the bathroom so I quickly ran and left my stuff with Kayf. I went to walk back in and the man said, “Where’s your ticket?” I said, “With my friend.” He said, “Okay, let’s go see your friend then” and took my arm. Needless to say I had one and it was fine, but it was close! I stood next to Joseph The only thing in my way was this barrier, and I couldn’t jump it because there were agents everywhere. Then they started filling up the space in front of the barrier, 4 or 5 people thick. One woman had gotten over the barrier.
It was sweltering. The woman to my right had 2 cameras, but was extremely short. I offered to help her take pictures. There was a bald guy next to/slightly in front of me. Joseph and his brother. We were all talking I told them of my intentions and they were extremely helpful and supportive.
A woman came onstage and put the Presidential seal on the podium. People started screaming. She said the alphabet to test the mic and left. Some guy got on to put up notes. Every second was painful. We were so excited! Finally they got out a woman from the Norway Episcopal Church to pray. Then a Veteran to say the pledge of allegiance, but before he did he said, “This is the proudest moment of my life!” Then some couple sang the National Anthem. Not that all of that wasn’t great, but seriously, where was he? Finally some woman got onstage and said some stuff. She left. People were clapping. Then standing. Then cheering and chanting, “Yes we can!” I asked Joseph if he was here and he smiled and nodded excitedly, “Yes, look!” I looked over and there he was. Smiling, waving, walking onstage.
It was like a dream. Somehow I found it hard to believe. My President, Obama – right there. That face and that voice are everywhere; we see images of him so often it’s as if he’s not real. But there he was. I started screaming and cheering with everyone else. He took off his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves. He started his speech and someone from behind him yelled “I love you, Obama!” And he turned around and smiled and said, “I love you back.” Agh, the whole thing was amazing. He was talking about how these reporters in Washington are saying that the health care reform bill isn’t working “Well yeah,” he said. “It’s been a week.” He smiled and chuckled, “I mean it’s a good thing these journalists aren’t farmers. They would go out and plant some seeds. The next day they would look around and say, ‘where’s the crop?’” People were loving every second of it. I was snapping away pictures. Finally I decided to try and pass the crane bag up; I knew we were getting close to the end. The woman who had gotten over the barrier didn’t want anything to do with it. I tapped another woman on the shoulder, “Well,” she began. “Do you want to come through and get it on stage?” I was looking for a way around the barrier when he said thank you and waved goodbye. She looked at me apologetically and shrugged. But he wasn’t gone! He got offstage and started shaking hands with people in the first row! I left my stuff with Joseph and jumped over. Two short girls were trying to run to the front and I tried to stay near them. It was so crazy. People were crying, laughing, turning to other people, “He shook my hand!” I tried to push my way to the front; A few people were mad but almost everyone said something along the lines of, “You go girl!” And patted me on the back or pushed me in front of them. I was there! He was there! Smiling, reaching back, shaking someone’s hand. There was a tall white SS guy right next to him and an extremely muscular black SS guy right next to him near the people whose hands he had already shaken. I reached over and was too slow. I ran to the left, desperately close. I reached up my hand and said, “President Obama!” he didn’t hear me. The white SS guy did. He said, “Ma’am you need to calm down.” I said sorry and ran all the way back towards the barrier, left, and up again. I tried again. It was getting harder. I was right by the end. I reached out and was so close when – I felt a hand grab my right arm tightly so that I couldn’t go further. It was the black SS guy. He was really jacked and had the most serious look on his face. “Miss you need to CALM down.” I said okay and wrenched my arm away and turned to see Obama go. The woman next to me said, “Give me your email address.” And I thought she was just joking, but she repeated with more intensity, “I wasn’t kidding you know.” So I wrote with a sharpie in a big blue notebook my name and email address and went back to find Joseph and my belongings.
It was an astounding day. Definitely one of the best in my life. I’m confident that I’m going to get Obama his peace crane, and my hug. Happy Easter (Sorry this was so long!) –Vanessa 2:43pm Sunday April 4th