Joy Agard - Mighty at Obama's rally in Nevada, 25 October, 2008

[website admin note : We welcome contributions from any old student who would have been at any of the Republican rallies as well]

Subject: I saw Our Great Change Agent last Saturday

My dear friends:

I've been meaning to write to share my excitement at attending a Barack Obama rally last Saturday, but I've been so swamped, not to mention so exhilarated by my experience, that I am only just getting around to it.

I was in Reno Nevada, attending the annual conference of the Professional Organizational Development (POD) Network, the US sister organization to the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). As President of the latter organization, I honour our standing agreement with POD by attending its conference every year (or sending a representative). I arrived on Tuesday October 21 and was scheduled to leave on Sunday October 26. At lunch on Friday, October 24, some folks at my table said that Obama would be in Nevada the next day, the first day after his return from Hawaii where he had gone to visit his ailing grandmother. They told me that he was going to Las Vegas and I immediately began making enquiries as to how I could get to Las Vegas from Reno. I learnt that it would take me an hour by plane and would cost me about $100. But I was determined that as long as I was in the same state I would see this man who has inspired millions. Then I heard that he would be in Reno where I was. I could hardly believe my good fortune. I decided there and then to play hookey from the conference on Saturday morning to attend the rally. And so did about half the conference attendees. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

The gates were scheduled to open at 7:30 a.m. and the Obama website advised attendees not to take bags etc for security reasons. Some of my colleagues wanted to leave the hotel at 6:00 a.m. but I figured that since the University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) was only 10 minutes away by taxi and since Reno is a small city relative to Las Vegas and other cities where we've seen enormous crowds, it was safe to leave at 7:00 a.m. It was a very cold morning as we set off in various taxis. When we got to the UNR's baseball park where the rally was being held, we joined the long line. Some people had been in line since 5:30 a.m. I was very proud of my rally comrades. The line was orderly and when the gate opened at 7:30 as promised, people moved orderly if excitedly into the park.

The organization was absolutely amazing - superlative in every way. There were droves of campaign volunteers EVERYWHERE. Some were signing up more volunteers; others were registering people in the line by getting them to write their names and contact information and giving them a sticker which everyone needed to enter the park. Great strategy! The stickers served as a count of numbers in attendance and the contact info allowed the campaigners to follow up with calls or visits afterwards. There were five of us from Canada who were told "OK! you don't have to write your address, email ID and telephone number because we won't be visiting, writing or calling you, but put down that you're from Canada." So we did.

When we finally made it to the gate, we found a row of about a dozen security posts similar to those at the airports. We had to turn on our cell phones and cameras, empty our pockets, walk through the scanners and, those people who had purses had them searched. Volunteers were distributing bottles of water. And FBI agents were EVERYWHERE. There were even security dogs on the other side of the security screens. Once through security, most people were directed to the field where there were no seats. Others who had yellow or green tickets were directed to the stands. We later worked out that these were people, probably registered Democrats, who were attending as groups, for example - the United International Painters, and other unions. These are the people you usually see sitting behind Obama on TV. They were actually further away from Obama than we were because he was on a stage located in the centre of the field.

The atmosphere was electric as we waited for Obama's arrival. Music was playing; people were dancing; those in the stands were doing the wave; and complete strangers were laughing and talking with each other like long lost friends who have another good friend in common. And as we waited, the crowds kept coming. We stood there for several hours before the proceedings began at around 9:15. I was actually surprised that the first item on the agenda was "opening prayers" led by a local priest. He prayed for peace, for wisdom, for the nation's leaders, for safe and fair elections, and for Obama's ailing grandmother. Then a local woman sang
the national anthem. By this time, I was in tears. I am always overcome with emotion at the American national anthem, but when I thought of what I was witnessing and how historic all of this is, I lost it. My colleagues teased me afterwards about the fact that I was actually sobbing quite loudly, not just wiping a few tears away quietly. Then a group of about 5 campaign workers/volunteers took the stage and pleaded for volunteers to sign up to help canvas, get the vote out, knock on doors etc. They did an informative and humorous dramatization of their role, demonstrating a range of responses to their knocks on doors and commenting on each. They ended by focusing on the early vote. They asked how many people had already voted. Tons had and everyone cheered. (Nevada has made early voting really easy by putting polling stations in supermarkets and just about everywhere). The campaign workers then announced that immediately after the rally those who hadn't voted as yet could go directly to the student council building and cast their vote. I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of this strategy. Imagine being moved by one of Obama's speeches and then going straight to the polls. Brilliant! These people had pumped up the crowd and we were more than ready for The Great One. When he arrived (around 10:15 a.m.), I swear I cheered the loudest. I kept pinching myself because I could hardly believe this was real.

My friends, he is everything we see on TV and more. The atmosphere was electric and the excitement was palpable. You could actually feel this man's influence. By now we are all familiar with his stump speeches, but I/we could have heard it 100 times that day. He was brilliant. He was rational, witty, eloquent, intelligent, and totally inspiring. I felt that I was living Dr Martin Luther King's dream and I felt proud and especially optimistic. At one point, about 10 minutes into his speech the power went out and so there was no sound. The crowd began to chant "yes we can!" to fill the gap and Obama wandered around the edges of the stage shaking hands. I didn't get to shake his hand because I wasn't close enough. I was about 30 feet away. But I admired the ease with which he moved and spoke with people and when the power was restored he quipped: "I told you some people are having a hard time paying their electricity bill. Either that or the Republicans are trying to sabotage our rally. That's a joke, people!" He had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. If everyone who was in that crowd votes for our guy, it's a done deal. But that's the thing. Will they vote for him? Can we trust them? Are they real supporters or are they just curious? That's why we've got to encourage every single American we know to vote. We've got less than 72 hours to go.

I left that rally feeling totally satisfied and even more excited about the prospects of an Obama presidency, if that's possible. I don't usually wear T-shirts with writing on them, but I simply had to buy a T--shirt with Obama on the Time magazine cover. It's beautiful, but more importantly, it's my memento of Saturday October 25 when I saw Barack Obama just about a week before his election as President. I also have two buttons which my cousin had given me several months ago. These and the T-shirt will be my historic artefacts.

Right now I am sleepy, anxious, and nervous. I can't wait for Tuesday night to come for us to get this thing over with. It's too nerve-wrecking.

Don't forget to join the rest of the world from noon to 1:00 p.m. on Monday in praying and fasting for Obama.