Just Another Face in the Crowd.
My weekend was highlighted by serpentine lines, filled with sweaty folks, enjoying their right to assemble during this hot political season.
Portland Wows Obama is the headline in the Oregonian this morning, the image of Barack Obama standing in front of 60,000 people grace the cover. Another 15,000 stood outside the park, winding their way in a line that snaked through downtown, or on the Hawthorne Bridge, hearing nothing but the cheers of the crowd. That’s where we were yesterday afternoon. While we wanted to see Obama, the idea of standing in line for hours before the 12:30 opening (Obama came on around 2:45 pm) seemed a waste of a beautiful morning perfect for gardening, but we did think we could show up at 2:00 and hang on the outskirts—maybe catch the speech from the street or something. No such luck.
Andy’s folks (Mike and Phyllis) are in town and they were excited just to see the crowds and hear the cheering that greeted Obama. I commented to Phyllis that the last time I had seen so many bikes was at the main train station in Amsterdam, where they were stacked in a multi-level bike parking structure.
Friday night Viggo Mortensen was in town reading from Voices of A People’s History of the United States. I didn’t think there could be anything hotter on that steamy Portland evening than Viggo (Aragon, the King of Men) reading from Howard Zinn’s (Professor emeritus at Boston University, who is best known for putting the story of the common man/woman in the pages of history) companion piece. I was wrong. It’s Viggo singing a cappella, Bob Dylan’s Master of War. Big sigh….
Although Viggo’s appearance drew me to this—along with my adoration for Zinn’s material, he was not what I’ll remember most. Michael Ealy (star of Sleeper Cell, and also in Barbershop and Barbershop 2) positively channeled the energies of Malcolm X when he read from “A Message to the Grass Roots.” Shontina Vernon sang Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, a song I never got the full implications of until hearing Vernon sing it that night. And performance poet Staceyann Chin brought the house to it’s feet with her amazing performance of Cindy Sheehan’s “It’s Time the Antiwar Choir Started Singing.” Eddie Vedder, (of Pearl Jam fame) was a surprise guest (I thought it might have been Barack or Hillary who would surprise us) and he sang The Long Road, dedicated to Zinn’s wife who died earlier this week.
It’s great to live in a place where the people come out for something as unsexy as a primary race, or a speech first given in 1811. But that’s Portland and we are—as the Chinese curse goes—living in interesting times.