Friday, July 27

when the president came to town...

Two weeks ago, I was listening to the radio on the way home from the chiropractor's office when I heard, "President Obama is going to be in Roanoke on Friday.  For information on how to get tickets, stay tuned to this station."  I stayed tuned.  When I didn't hear anything on that station, I tried a few others.  It seemed like the President's visit was coming out of the blue - Virginia is a "battleground state" and Mitt Romney visited Salem recently, though, so it made sense.  President Obama would be the first sitting president to visit our city in thirty years, and I felt like it was important that I go- as an educator, as a woman, as an American citizen.  The evening news had the information:  tickets would be available at the historic firehouse downtown on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 5 p.m. the next day.  I had a teacher conference downtown that day, so it seemed perfect.  I'll explain what attending a grassroots political event was like in this post, and my personal political opinions will be under the cut for those of you who wish to avoid them :)

I went to check out the scene at the firehouse as soon as I was dismissed from my conference.  At 3:30, the line already wrapped around the block!  I stood in line with some other young people and we were able to pass the time without getting too freaked out about not knowing how many tickets were available.  One of the young men in line with me (an undecided voter who was hoping the event would be town hall style and have a Q&A) works in the emergency room at the hospital and told us that an entourage had visited and requested that a trauma bay and a cardiac O.R. be kept open on Friday.  We had our photos taken by a Washington Post photographer, but I'm not sure if they ever appeared in the newspaper.  At 5:00 the line began to move fairly quickly, and people passed us grinning and holding up green tickets.  The volunteers handing out the ticket were college-aged and collected our names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails.  The slip of paper we got with our tickets said that we would have to pass through security, that cameras and cell phones would be allowed, to limit personal belongings, and NOT to bring bags, liquids, umbrellas, or sharp objects.

Friday I arrived downtown a little later than I'd planned- around 2:00- and the line already crossed the street!  I got a little worried because my ticket said "Tickets are required but do not guarantee admission."  And because the man in front of me let SIX people cut in front of him.  One of the volunteers who was registering voters in line told us that the Secret Service could cut the line off when the President arrived whether the people waiting had tickets or not, and that people had been at the firehouse at 7 A.M. that morning to start lining up.  I'd decided not to carry a purse at all because of the "no bags" rule; instead, I opted to just carry my wallet with my I.D., debit card, insurance card, and some money, and my cell phone.  When the line finally started to move, we had to go through airport-style security.  Liquids including hand sanitizers were confiscated, wallets and keys had to be placed in a bin, any electronics had to be turned ON, and we had to walk through a metal detector.  One of the first things I noticed when I got to the street in front of the firehouse were the men in black clothing with binoculars on top of the firehouse and surrounding buildings.

The areas in front of the podium were filled in, and I could choose between a seat on the bleachers or near a barrier beside the podium.  I decided to get as close as I could even if it meant standing for hours.  There was music playing - when I arrived it was Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" - and that made it feel a bit like waiting for a concert to begin rather than waiting to see an elected official!  As I waited, I talked to the other people in the crowd and texted Mr. Q and my sister-in-law- both of them had wanted to come but had to work when tickets were distributed, so I was the Q family reporter.  I gave Mr. Q updates on the playlist, which included James Taylor, Darius Rucler, ELO, Zac Brown Band, Dierks Bentley, Sugarland, Florence and the Machine, and our wedding song, "You Are the Best Thing" by Ray La Montagne.  Yes, I did squeal a little bit when that one started playing, and yes, I had to explain to the people around me why I was so excited.

This photo from Roanoke Times intern Erica Yoon shows my section of the crowd.

A local bluegrass band performed and my SIL texted me that the president had arrived at the airport.  Then a woman who is a neighborhood organizer from Blacksburg spoke about why she supports President Obama, followed by Senator Mark Warner and former Governor Tim Kaine, who is currently running for the Senate.  Several people in the crowd fainted from heat exhaustion - there was water available, but it was in cups and going to get a cup meant having to push through the crowd and get back to your "spot."  When my back and feet started to ache I compared myself to the people in the crowd who were much older than me and felt like a big wimp.  Finally, Governor Kaine introduced the President.  

Most of President Obama's speech was about economics and serving the middle class.  He talked a lot about small businesses, manufacturing, construction and bringing jobs in areas like transportation back to smaller cities like Roanoke. 

Ending tax cuts for the rich was a major point.  Education was only mentioned a few times.  Healthcare was mentioned mainly to make the point that much of our legislative branch is still trying to shut down the Affordable Health Care Act when there is legislation coming up in January that would lead to middle class families seeing a tax increase.  Chants of "four more years" erupted a few times.  Several people shouted "I love you" during lulls in the President's speech, and every time, he answered, "I love you back."

When I got home, I posted one of my Instagram photos to my Facebook and joked to Mr. Q that I was waiting for the haterade to start flowing.  Instead, I got sensible discussion!  One of my high school lunch table mates commented that she doesn't like Romney's plan for education, she does like Obama's plan for keeping teachers in the schools, but was thinking about voting independent.  Here's my reply with a little elaboration for you, my blog friends.  This is why I support Barack Obama for a second term as President:
  • President Obama's stimulus package, although a lot of people will tell you it "failed," is the reason I have a job, and I am sure that the same is true for a lot of teachers. The money the country where I teach got from the stimulus funds was what kept me, and other new teachers, around until we earned continuing contract status. I think No Child Left Behind needs to be completely overhauled, but until we get a new governor that won't do much good in Virginia anyway.

    I am a supporter of Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act because I appreciate that if I ever change employers and switch insurance they can't deny me coverage for my current medical conditions (scoliosis, anxiety/depression and PMDD), and they can't drop me if I develop one of the numerous other illnesses that seem to run in my family- diabetes, high blood pressure, or cancer.  If a Romney administration made abortion illegal and decided that medications classified as birth control are equivalent to abortion, the medication I take to function like a normal human being might become illegal.

    President Obama is the best choice for a healthy environment.  When Mitt Romney talks about regulations as a bad thing for businesses, I picture deregulated toxic waste being dumped into rivers, smog filling the air from deregulated cars and factories, and BPA and other hazardous chemicals leeching into my body from deregulated household products and cosmetics.

Here's C-SPAN's video of President Obama's speech at the Grassroots Event in Roanoke:


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