Friday, October 13, 2006

YES on 87

I got one of those funky automated phone calls yesterday, saying that Bill Clinton was going to speak today at UCLA in favor of Proposition 87, the Alternative Energy Amendment. Now I’m a big fan of alternative energy, but I’m an even bigger fan of Bill Clinton, so I listened up. The rally was scheduled for 9:15AM. Attendees would be admitted by ticket, which were available through the “Yes on 87” website. The deal was sealed for me when a student emailed, saying that the rally was being held in UCLA’s Sculpture Garden, just east of the building where I teach.

I had already seen Bill Clinton twice: (1) two years ago when Karen and I bought balcony tickets to see him speak at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and (2) a year before that, when I waited on line for twelve hours to have him sign his autobiography. He shook everyone’s hand at the book-signing, even though he’d been standing there himself for four hours. It’s a moment I will never, ever forget, and so it didn’t take me long to decide to attend the Prop. 87 rally. I registered online (some sort of security check?) and printed out my ticket. I was ready to go.

In the spirit of Prop. 87, I decided to take the bus and so got up extra early to get there on time. By some miracle, the bus arrived just as I crossed the street, a sign that good things were to come. The ride, which would have taken 30 minutes by car, took 50 minutes by bus. I got to UCLA at 9AM and hightailed it up to the Sculpture Garden, located on the other side of campus. En route, I started to notice all these students heading my way and so speeded up my pace. Sure enough, they were all going to see president Clinton, which became apparent as soon as I reached the Garden. There, among the sculptures, were “Yes on 87” signs and a clutch of cameras pointed at a small dais and microphone. On the walkway above were hundreds of students jockeying to get a good view. No one was taking tickets, though I heard several people say that there was a queue forming on the east side of the Garden.

I tried to see the dais from several places along the walkway and finally settled on a spot next to a big tree. There was a large man standing in front of me, but when everyone in front of him stopped moving, I had a clear shot of the microphone. It was now 9:15AM. I took out a book and started to read.

The crowd, which someone estimated at roughly three thousand people, was made up primarily of young (probably undergraduate) students. I saw no more than four or five professor-types. I was definitely one of the oldest people there. At 9:30AM, someone started playing music—soul and rhythm & blues—over the loud speakers, much to the dismay of most of the kids standing nearby. “This music is soooo inappropriate,” one of them complained as I silently chuckled to myself.

At 9:45AM, people started to wander into the closed-off area in front of the dais. Apparently these were the ticketholders who had waited on line. Clinton later mentioned that some had queued up overnight.

I started getting grumpy at 10AM. I’ve never been to a political rally that started on time, but this was getting ridiculous. Then I overheard someone talking on a cellphone, saying that Clinton wasn’t speaking until 10:30AM. Obviously, I hadn’t gotten that memo. Ten minutes later, a man in a “Yes on 87” t-shirt announced that the president was only three minutes away (the crowd: “Hooray!”) and that he would be speaking in another fifteen minutes (the crowd: “Boooo!”). A group of young engineers to my right started to cheer: “U-C-L-A!! UCLA!!! Fight, fight, fight!” Followed by: “BILL!! CLINTON!!! BILL!! CLINTON!!! [clap, clap, clap],” which successfully lifted the mood. I stopped reading. Five minutes later, we heard cheers and applause from our left. Clinton’s motorcade had arrived.

Two short women moved in behind me, happy to be there even though they couldn’t see a thing. One of them was confused over why the guy at the microphone kept calling Clinton “president” instead of “former president.” “Well, I wish he still was president,” her friend said, renewing my faith in young voters. Then suddenly, city council president Eric Garcetti was being introduced and the real rally began. Garcetti addressed the crowd in English and in Spanish (!) and then introduced the next speaker. “She’s not the president, but she did play one on TV. Miss Geena Davis!” (applause, applause, applause). The two young women didn’t know who she was, so I had to explain. Davis then introduced Bill Clinton, who got a rousing ovation. “I can see him!” one of the women shouted. “Me, too!” her friend said. When I asked if I could poke my head over, they said yes and so I did very quickly. They laughed when I blew Bill a kiss and then we all settled down to listen as people quietly snapped pictures with their cellphones. (Clinton is the tiny figure standing between the flags in the photo above).

I don’t remember now what he said, but I agreed with all of it. He got huge cheers when he talked about saving the environment and when he mentioned Hillary and “Al Gore’s movie.” Although he never talked about Bush directly, he did chide those who waste money on war instead of fighting against global warming. The students listened attentively, even though it seemed to me like Clinton was more interested in addressing the media than he was the kids. He ended by urging us all to spread the good word about Proposition 87 and then waved good-bye.

It was 11AM. Most of the students headed off to class, while I rushed to catch the bus. Less than a month to go until the election...


No comments: