This morning Matt and I parked downtown and took the Tacoma Link light rail so we could join the throngs of supporters gathering to see and hear John Kerry speak in front of the Tacoma Dome. At first the line moved swiftly and only a few extremist crazies shouted at us with bullhorns. Numerous groups and local candidates handed out fliers and buttons and shook hands as we approached the dome. Vendors sold all sorts of trinkets bashing bush for this, that, and the other. There was even a hand full of 10-20 people with large pro-Bush signs that were walking up and down and across the street. My favorite sign of theirs read "Asians for Bush" and was carried by grade-A, choice white folks. Oh well. Even when they try to be culturally inclusive they fail.
Once near the Tacoma Dome Matt, myself and others were hearded to an area for people with white-colored or internet tickets to the event while folks with blue and other colors went a different direction. Now, we didn't quite know what was going on at first since the folks handing out blue tickets were giving them to veterans but we quickly discovered this wasn't the case since we saw numerous youngsters in the blue ticket line who were certainly not veterans themselves. One of the students I work with at PLU was there with some folks and we soon saw them in the blue ticket line waiting to go through the metal detectors. We hollered at them to find out how they got their blue tickets but couldn't quite figure it out. I'm not sure why supporters with white tickets were supposed to stay far back across the parking lot from the main stage but Matt and I were having none of this. We decided to leave and see if we could score some of the blue tickets and we did. A young volunteer asked us if we'd signed up to volunteer and, although I'm not planning on doing so until October, we told her we did and were back in line.
After we went through the metal detectors we realized there were even more colors of tickets that got folks right up to the stage. Without a red or yellow ticket we knew we'd likely stay where we were which was far closer in than the white zone. We chatted it up with folks around us and enjoyed the rather short playlist of music thumping over the loud speakers. The Fabulous Wailers were on-hand and jammed a bit before playing the Northwest rock 'n roll staple "Louie Louie." For a bit I thought they actually had lyrics to that song but it soon turned out not to be true. Finally the event's emcee Garrison Keillor led the crowd in the Star Spangled Banner and handed the stage over to a host of local and state Democrats. After they were done warming up the crowd Mr. Keillor again took the stage and led everyone in five verses of America the Beautiful. Sadly, once down to the forth and fifth verses most folks were simply mumbling until it got to the chorus.
As the stage was finally being set for Kerry's arrival the event organizers removed the barrier just a few people in front of us allowing the crowd to move forward toward the stage. We ended up in a great spot about 20' from where the action was to happen. Despite a potential photographic wall of campaign signs handed out we realized how spectacular our view was once Wesley Clark, Jim Rassmann and John Kerry took the stage. After some inspiring words from Clark and Rassmann, Kerry took the mic. In person the man seemed relaxed and at comfort with the thousands of people gathered to hear him. He handled various cheers and questions slung at him from the audience with grace and didn't hesitate to elaborate on what they were saying. He even called for EMT's four times to help some people in the crowd having difficulty in the tight quarters and hot weather. Even with this the man didn't skip a beat. The time stamps on my photos confirm that Kerry didn't simply swoop in, shake some hands, and belt out a few campaign slogans but he instead gave the crowd nearly and hour (50 minutes) of his time. He talked not just about slanderous ads attacking his honorable service record but he spoke on everything from the environment to education and was specific enough to detail how his administration would pay for their proposed health care and education plans. My particular favorite is a promise to pay a youngster's complete four-year degree at an in-state school if that individual would first spend two years in their community helping the elderly and less priviledged.
Thanks to Kerry and the Democrats for coming to Tacoma. As I saw McCain on the PLU campus and Bush at a Lakewood high school four years ago I will make an effort to see any candidate willing to come to the area. It fascinating to see how someone really speaks, acts, and responds in real life rather than in edited bites on the radio or TV. I'll be enjoying the Republican National Convention later this week (likely via NPR audio streams online) to keep my vow that if anyone wants to speak their mind or state their case I'll give them my ear. As long as they're willing to do the same in return. In political debate it shouldn't be about changing minds but knowing your own and letting the candidates and issues speak for themselves, not yell through a bull horn.