I should have known better than this, but I didn't. I saw a notice in today's newspaper that Hillary Clinton was having a rally in Oakland this afternoon, at 14th and Clay. Gee, I thought, she'll be here, I could go down and take a look at her, and see what I think. The rally was at 4:30, and I could spend a couple of hours at the College Avenue Stroll (the annual street fair), and then hop on BART and go downtown.
There are reasons I don't normally attend political rallies, and today I was forcibly reminded what they are.
I got there about 4:20, or 10 minutes before the rally was advertised to begin. I found my way out of Oakland City Center (which is under construction) on to 14th Street, to see a line of people stretching in both directions. (It was actually two lines, but more on that later.) I asked, and found that yes, this was the line for the Clinton rally; so I started looking for the end. Half a block away, the line turned right at the corner of Broadway and kept going ... and going ... and going, all the way to the corner of 12th Street, at which point it actually ended. So I stood in it. By now it was pretty close to 4:30, but it was obvious that they weren't going to start on time with all these people out in the street. It took 45 minutes for me to work my way up to the rally entrance, with the line lengthening behind me all the time. I politely ignored at least 5 sellers of political buttons and 3 T-shirt vendors, not counting the Obama crowd on the corner. In the last 20 minutes or so we listened to a children's chorus singing "America," not very well.
The line didn't make much sense to me. It began at the rally entrance, of course, and backed up on the north side of 14th Street to Broadway, one long block; then it turned left and crossed 14th (blocked off), and snaked back down 14th halfway to the entrance again, where it made a U-turn and went back up toward Broadway, where it turned south and went another 2 blocks to 12th Street before turning again, west on 12th. I never did figure out a good reason for that U-turn on the south side of 14th.
I eventually collected the little half sheet of paper that everyone had to fill out in order to get in. We were told it was "for security reasons", but I can't think of a single security reason why they would need my name, address, email, and cell phone and home phone numbers. This is a marketing ploy to fill out the mailing list, but since I'm already on that mailing list, I played along. I will say the campaign had it organized - they had stringers going up and down the line making sure everyone had their "ticket" filled out.
Once we all got into the rally, and past the bleachers where people who actually paid money for this were sitting, we all crowded up around the stage. I never actually saw the stage, or any of the people on it. I could hear clearly enough, their sound system was more than adequate; but I was at least half a block back in the crowd, and I'm only 5 foot 5, and at least half of the crowd was taller than I am. So, for another half hour, I counted the checks in the plaid shirt in front of me, and listened to speeches from unnamed people (must have been introduced before I got there). The only speaker whose name I actually caught was Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco. I never did get the name of the man with the "black" accent who was acting as emcee (looking at the photos on SFGate, it may have been Rev. Cecil Williams), or the woman with the slight eastern clip in her voice (I actually thought, foolish me, that this might be Hillary, until she referred to Hillary as "she".) who followed the first local musician.
As the evening drew in and my feet began to hurt, the announcer introduced a second local musician who began a set of songs intended to inspire the faithful; and I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:30, and I still couldn't see the stage, and Hillary Clinton was still nowhere in evidence, and the people running things appeared to be vamping. "I came here to hear Hillary Clinton, not these people," I said to a woman standing next to me; and she replied, "Oh, that's how these rallies are; I understand she's due around 6 o'clock." (The article on sfgate.com doesn't say when she actually arrived.) Well, I was probably foolish, but I decided my desire to see the elephant (sorry, I suppose I should say "donkey") was not strong enough to stand around until 6 o'clock, or whenever Madam Candidate chose to make her entrance. So I said the hell with it and began to make my way out of the crowd toward the BART station.
I've had trouble with crowds ever since the Free Speech Movement and People's Park Riots of the '60s; large groups of people make me nervous, especially if they're all there about a Cause. For some reason I didn't have that reaction today. In fact, I didn't really feel that I was in a cohesive "crowd" at all. I was standing in a large group of people paying polite but not passionate attention to the speakers, who continually urged them to show their enthusiasm more loudly. Maybe if I'd stayed to see Hillary, the spark would have happened and the agglomeration of humans would have coalesced into an organism. Then again, maybe not; I've never heard that charisma is Mrs. Clinton's thing.
She seems to be the front runner, she has the machine behind her, she's probably unstoppable, and I do think it would be a good thing symbolically for the U.S. to have a woman president, especially now; but something in the back of my mind says that Barack Obama would make a better president.