On Saturday October 23rd my friends and I had the privilege of standing for President Obama. We had spent many months, hours, and days volunteering since the primaries of 2008, and now we had been rewarded with VIP tickets to the Oct 23rd rally in Minneapolis. We had all seen Senator Barack Obama when he was campaigning and when he was the Democratic Presidential Nominee. But today was different. We were going to see THE PRESIDENT. To say we were filled with anticipation and excitement is an understatement. Only elation can carry folks through 5 hours standing on their feet without food or drink.
When we arrived on the U of MN campus at 9:30 a.m. the metal detectors were already erected and the line was a mile long with people waiting to see the 44th. Our tickets said that the doors would open at 12:30 so we presumed we were a reasonable 3 hours early. There was a man selling Obama buttons, and we all purchased them pooling our money since they were $5.00 apiece or 3 for $10.00. We selected the ones portraying the First Family and one stunning picture of FLOTUS.
We proceeded to find the VIP line. The folks at the very front of the line had camped out the night before. We, however, could not figure out where the line was for those with blue VIP tickets, so we asked questions and received lots of wrong instructions. Following those wrong instructions meant that by 10:30 we had walked at least 2 miles around the campus as we were sent back and forth.
At one point, I saw what appeared to be a uniformed police/security officer and since he was a person of color I felt he might help us, so out of frustration, I called out “Sir! Sir! as he was walking briskly away from us and he finally reluctantly stopped and turned. He did not smile, as I hurried up to him, his face remained stern, and I asked him “can you tell us where the line is for blue VIP tickets” while I was trying to read his badge he tersely said “no” and as I still tried to make out his badge I asked “could you please call and find out?” he snapped NO! At which point I finally could make out his badge, much to my surprise it said Uniformed Secret Service (SS).
He was not just a local rent a cop. As he quickly turned and walked away with purpose I swore I heard his heels click. I inhaled deeply and my friends said well he was not very friendly, and that is when I told them he was the SS and they all said, “Ahhhhh” in unison. Then they began to laugh and joke that we were going to be detained if I was that persistent again. We were a happy group. Nothing was going to steal our joy on this day.
What was evident as we walked around that campus and up and down that line that was snaking at least 2 miles in length now was that we were obviously a standout group. We were four African American women. Two of my friends were from Uganda and one from Kenya. Florence was tall and statuesque, Faulata was regal with her hair adorned in braids. Sylvia was bubbly and spirited and I was courageously garbed in bold animal print. We were a distinct group and represented the hues and color spectrum of the African American race. Heads turned and curiosity was clear on many faces. After all, we had dressed to see the President and we were on a campus with mostly students dressed in jeans and t-shirts while we were brightly attired. Our colors were like the plumes on spring birds. We were a fusion of peach, orange, fuchsia, black and honeyed gold, nothing understated about us. When folks saw our group, they knew we were black women of style and substance. Yes, indeed. We had come to support the 44th and represent!
As we continued our quest to determine where the VIP blue ticket line was I felt like I was back in Washington DC at the Presidential Inauguration where it was just as chaotic and disorganized on the morning 44th was sworn in. Just as in DC, local officers had been brought in and were trying to work together while most had no idea who was in charge nor who to call and could only say they were instructed to simply stand in a spot and re-direct people.
Finally, around 10:45 a.m. volunteers from Dayton’s campaign arrived and they were holding signs that said Blue Ticket Line….whoopee!! We knew where to go now!! We were at the very front of the line. At 12:15, I asked another SS guy had Air Force One arrived in Minnesota. Florence, Sylvie and Faulata all scowled at me (LOL) but this SS guy, had on a suit not a uniform and he was friendly, he said “no” and I asked when would the doors open, and he said in ten minutes. Sure enough, in ten minutes the doors open and we proceeded through the metal detectors.
As we went in the doors of the Field house I began looking for the VIP section and went directly to the bleachers that were behind the President at every rally. I was certain this was the VIP section because we would be able to sit down. As I mentioned, we had dressed to see POTUS and I had worn 3inch heels so I was glad to see those bleachers. I approached the bleachers only to learn that they were for U of MN students.
The woman told me she was looking to put young folks in the bleachers, I responded, “Well, I’m youthful.” But she was not persuaded. So, I walked on aching feet to the front of the standing crowd and Florence, Sylvia, Faulata and I were standing less than 10 feet to the left of the podium from where our President would address the group. As, I wondered how long it would be before POTUS spoke, I recalled that TPM posted POTUS’ itinerary daily. So, I pulled out my phone and informed everyone next to me that AF One was scheduled to land at 2:50 in St Paul and that POTUS was scheduled to speak at 3:35.
We now knew that meant another three hours of standing. The crowd was 10 thousand strong behind and around us and there would be three more hours of standing for people who had not ate or drank since at least 9 a.m. Several people started to collapse and we made space as we fanned them with our Mark Dayton signs. The SS man that was in front of us wondered out loud what is wrong with this corner, how come so many are collapsing? He even said he was in the wrong place!
My friends and I informed him of how long it had been for those folks standing where we were without food or drink. He then understood. When the third person adjacent to us collapsed I began fanning myself. My good friend, Faulata, who sports an Obama bumper sticker that says, He Won Get Over IT, turned to me and said we were strong black women full of stamina and strength and we would NOT be collapsing. I nodded in agreement and fanned that Dayton sign harder.
After listening to the collegiate VP of OFA, the speeches from the MN DFL ticket began around 2:15 and we heard from Rebecca Otto, Lori Swanson, Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, and Mark Dayton. Dayton introduced the POTUS. At which point, as POTUS walked onto that stage, I became so excited my heart pounded as my eyes beheld the most significant PRESIDENT of my lifetime. President Obama looked as handsome in person as he does on TV. His hair was peppered with more gray, the smile lines are etched more deeply but his smile is just as beautiful. I enjoy his dry wit and get a kick out of how he laughs at his own jokes.
We had stood since 9 a.m., and now we were pensive and listened in earnest as he told us what was at stake in this election. At which point, I yelled out, “We love you Mr. President” he turned and smiled at our corner. He said a few more words and Sylvia, draped over the rail her “YES WE CAN” T-shirt from the primaries and Faulata shouted, “We will fight for you, Mr. President.” He turned again, and looked over at our corner. Then he smiled, more broadly and said, “Looks like you are already fired up in here!” We shouted in unison. YES WE CAN!
The PRESIDENT of the United States of America knew he HAD an AMEN CORNER, boisterous, brightly colored, enthusiastic and willing to cheer him on. Sylvia’s shirt fired up POTUS and so did our responses.
We pointed at our buttons of FLOTUS and FIRST FAMILY whenever he looked left. We could tell this fired him up some more as we watched him switch his speech in midstream to a YES WE CAN rally. We fired up President Obama and he was pleased. He had not anticipated such exuberance and color in the state of Minnesota. We gave him support to match his swagga. We let him know we understood his power and influence and would be out there making sure to VOTE. But the best was yet to come.
As POTUS finished up his speech, he stood with Dayton and waved. We held our breath wondering was he going to descend the steps on our side of the podium. And YES. HE. DID.! As he came down those steps, I think I blacked out for a moment with the realization that I was going to shake his hand! I couldn’t snap my camera fast enough. My legs started trembling and then I was shaking his hand. I SHOOK HIS HAND!!!!. I asked for a picture. He said the crowd was too large, just as the SS barked out “Move Back!” as the crowd was surging and pressing us forward into the rails. I SHOOK HIS OTHER HAND!! And snapped a close up shot. He told Faulata and me that he liked our buttons. Hers was of the First Family; mine of FLOTUS, and Faulata patted him on his shoulder and told him THANK YOU, Mr. President, for all your hard work.
We will forever recall how we supported the 44th and beheld the swagga. Proudly. Oh, the joy in our hearts as he shook our hands.
Thank You Mr. President, for all you do. We love you.