For most of my 27 years, Democratic rallies in Dallas have been -- how should I put this? -- rather intimate affairs, with maybe a few hundred people even at big events, the vast majority of them familiar faces. For instance, I vaguely recall a 1992 victory party for Bill Clinton at the Plaza of the Americas. And I met Rosie O’ Donnell once when she warmed up a crowd of 200 or so for Ann Richards in ’94. Perhaps most telling was the Gary Mauro rally I caught back in ’98, where the openers were me playing Buddy Holly songs and two sisters in Western garb singing karaoke.
Obviously, none of these experiences adequately prepared me for the shock of waking up at 6:40 a.m. this morning, when my girlfriend decided to inform me that several hundred people were already in line at Reunion Arena to see Senator Barack Obama speak. “You’re shittin’ me right?”
After all, this is Dallas.
I finally made it to Reunion around 8:45, where I found a place in line next to a budding blogger named Art Hooker, part of the sizable African American turnout. Like everyone around us we were in awe of the large and diverse crowd, with Hooker exclaiming, “This is better than church!” as chants of “Yes We Can!” and “Obama!” filled the air. In many ways, it was a lot like a Cowboys playoff game -- vendors selling bootleg Obama T-shirts on the sidewalk, excitement in the air, etc., etc. Which isn’t to say the crowd was all church-going football fans -- plenty of college students were out in force, lettin’ their freak flags fly. Two young hippie-types even roamed the line with signs offering free hugs.
We finally made it through the doors at 11:15, and after two and half hours in line I was fired up and ready to pee. The concession stands were also open for business for those of us who find a message of hope more palatable with a belly full of nachos. Curiously, the security seemed somewhat lax for a presidential rally -- outside volunteers requested we turn our cameras and cell phones on so’s the Secret Service would know they were real gadgets and not John Malkovich-style weapons, but upon entering no one checked mine out.
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The Reverend Frederick Haynes III hit the stage soon after we hit the floor, thanking God for Barack’s policy ideas and asking the great omnipotent for faith with which to fight all the “haters.” Three campaign organizers followed, running through the crowds through the ins and outs of early voting and caucuses, with one repeating everything in Spanish despite the noticeably low Latino turnout.
After their short speeches, I hoped in vain for a musical act -- after all, rallies up north have featured everyone from Wilco to M. Ward -- but all we got was a fake Rick James singing the national anthem.
Former Mayor Ron Kirk did an admirable job of setting the stage (best quote: “If we’da been this loud, maybe the Mavericks would have beaten the Warriors”) before introducing Emmitt Smith, who fired up the crowd with predictable stories of his football achievements. I really hoped he would say something about Obama being a “diamond in the doo-doo of Washington,” but alas, it was not to be. Then, just when it seemed the hour was at hand, Smith left the stage so a skinny Latino kid named Manuel could introduce the Senator, who took the stage to a chorus of cheers more befitting a Stones concert than a political rally.
The speech itself is kind of a blur -- we'll have some video excerpts shortly, along with a slideshow -- but it went something like this: Texas (yay!), George W. Bush (boo!), health care (yay!), global warming (boo!), Iraq (boo!), troops (yay!), teachers (yay!), hope (yay!). Then the cold-stricken senator from Illinois blew his nose -- some yahoo kid next to me even asked loudly for the tissue -- and exited the building. --Noah W. Bailey