I just got back from the Welcome Home Sarah Palin rally. I am not a Palin supporter, but as a long-time Anchorage resident, I was curious to see what the other side was doing, so I became an infiltrator.
The first noticeable change in downtown Anchorage was the police cars on every corner. I parked a distance away and walked to the convention center. There was a small but discernible flow of people wending their way in the same direction. I figured they were all on the way to the rally. They were.
I approached the Den'aina Center and saw the t-shirt vendors out on the sidewalk. I readied my camera and headed in to the building. A man in a suit stepped in front of me and said, "This is just like the airport." I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I saw the line and realized they'd be checking my bags when I entered. I remembered I had an Obama button on my camera strap, and I quickly took it off and stuffed it in my wallet. I passed through the screening process and realized how many secret service guys were around. They weren't hard to spot. Suits, glasses and wires sticking out of their ears. It almost made me chuckle. If they really wanted to be 'secret' that wasn't the way to do it. There aren't normally many guys in suits, glasses, and ear wires hanging out in Alaska.
I walked in to the large "Eklutna Room" where the rally was to be held. More TV cameras than I have ever seen in my life were set up on risers all around the room. The room itself, when filled to capacity, holds 5000 people. I tried to eyeball it, and I'd guess there were 1000 or so there. Everyone was pushed into the center of the room where the lights and podium was set up. Most of the room was empty.
Arriving about 45 minutes before it started, I hoped I'd get a decent spot. Bad plan. I ended up getting stuck next to a guy on my left who kept spontaneously bellowing "WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" at the top of his lungs about 18 inches away from my ear. On my right, the current Mrs. Alaska 2008. How do I know? She was wearing her sash. Next to her was an espresso-fueled couple who kept initiating chants of U-S-A! U-S-A!, and "Gimme an S! Gimme an A! Gimme an R!"...you get the idea.
There were little girls with signs that said 'I [heart] Sarah', and people wearing t-shirts with disturbing images of pit bulls in lipstick, and "Hottest Governor in the Coolest State." Hockey jerseys were also popular. Part of me wanted to ask everyone if they knew what the McCain-Palin platform actually WAS, but I kept quiet. Being there by myself was odd. I desperately wanted someone to commiserate with. I was just starting to feel really really alone, when they began the spirited motivational music to get everyone in the 'rally mood'. And you'll never guess. Bruce Springsteen! It was like a voice of sanity filling the room, and it made me smile. I'm sure he wouldn't be thrilled that his music was being used in this context, and would probably be as bewildered as I was at the choice of "Born to Run", but at that moment I didn't care. It was a little gift from the universe. I will be forever grateful to 'the Boss' for being my little piece of musical driftwood, in a big churning sea of right wing rhetoric. Bruce, I owe you one.
Then came the pledge of allegiance. A teenage boy in front of me said, "What're you a communist?" and smacked his brother's arm so he'd put his hand over his heart. A small group behind me yelled "UNDER GOD" louder than the rest of the pledge. More chants of U-S-A.
After the invocation, came Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, and Sarah Palin herself. And of course the crowd went wild. Her speech was Alaska focused, and she was definitely talking to the 'home crowd.' She even made me laugh once, talking about how the secret service motorcade wanted lattes and she told them there was a coffee stand on every corner (which there is), and they parked the cars and got out to place their order at the little window. If you're in Alaska, you get why this is funny. For those of you 'outside', the little window is a drive up.
After the Alaska references, came oil talk, and chants of Drill Baby Drill (initiated by the group on my right), followed by WOOOOOOOOing (by the guy on my left). She didn't talk long, but the crowd seemed to think it was "worth the wait". After the speech, she worked her way through the crowd shaking hands. I was pretty close, and could have shaken her hand if I had wanted to. Then I was overcome with the irresistible urge to flee. So I did.
Outside, in the crisp autumn morning, I took a big deep cleansing breath. Across the street were two guys holding up a sheet, criticizing Palin's stance on the Iraq war. One of them was talking to someone with a microphone. I crossed the street, looked at the other guy and gave him a big 'thumbs up'. He looked completely surprised, as he probably saw me coming from the rally, but quickly flashed a big grateful smile.
My afternoon will be spent at the "Alaska Women Reject Palin" rally. I hope my brain doesn't get whiplash.
(See the Palin rally photo gallery at Mudflats)