I saw John Edwards and Barack Obama at the DNC Fall Meeting: an adventure

On Friday, I went to the DNC Fall Meeting with a friend of mine to see John Edwards. It was an adventurous, though not altogether pleasant, kind of day. Here's my story of a trip to a political event that was unexpectedly eventful. I'll also discuss John Edwards' and Barack Obama's very different approaches to change.

The event on Friday was supposed to be in Baltimore, which would have been convenient for me, but the workers at the original hotel location were on strike, so the DNC moved the location three weeks ago. I say kudos to the DNC for respecting the picket line, and I hope last minute planning helps explain some of the chaos at the event.

My friend Scott and I got up super early to drive to Tysons' Corner, VA, outside DC for the event. Neither of us are morning people. Such dedication!

When we arrived, there were already quite a few people waiting outside, but we were immediately greeted by friendly Edwards staffers. Unfortunately, we had to wait in line for hours; about half of that time was spent standing outside in the cold.

We were told the ballroom access would be first come first serve, and there was only room for maybe 150 supporters (in addition to the DNC members who had a guaranteed seat). There were a whole lot more than 150 guests of the various campaigns there. I kind of think each of the major campaigns had that many of their own supporters there, actually.

The event seemed disorganized. All the major campaigns had a lot of supporters there, including a lot of people from the mine workers union for Edwards. It seemed like the campaigns must have been told they could bring a lot more guests than would actually fit in the room. This could have been because of the change of venue, I guess.

I had heard that they were going to let in about 150 people, but unless they were getting them from somewhere else other than the line we knew about, I don't think they did. I think we would have been in there if they had. Most of the Edwards supporters that were there early, as well as certainly any that came at all late, like some other friends of mine did, were not let into the event. They pretty much cut off the number of people they were letting into the ballroom when they got to the mine workers for Edwards, who were standing a few feet in front of me and my friend.

They let the next couple hundred people into an overflow room, where there was a TV. Some of the Edwards supporters ahead of us, many of them mine workers, had been taken out of the line by one of the Edwards staffers to go and shake hands with John when he arrived. We didn't really know that was what was happening until later, or I would have tried to follow them. So they were no longer with us, and we ended up in a room with mostly Obama supporters and a few Edwards supporters.

There were a lot of Edwards supporters in total at the event, but a few were let into the ballroom, judging by what I saw later on C-Span, a big group got out of line to go shake hands with John (but they were told they could not get into the overflow room if they got out of line), and then another fairly big group were let into the overflow room, so we were all split up. Anyway, our numbers were a lot bigger than they looked on TV.

There was a big TV in the overflow room, so we were not happy that we had driven all that way and stood in line all that time to watch something on TV that we could have seen on C-SPAN.

Then it gets worse.

Howard Dean spoke at the beginning, briefly. Then someone came up to introduce Richardson, and then the sound for the video system cut out. Richardson was talking, but we weren't hearing a thing! There was nearly a riot in the overflow room. I am not kidding you. It was ugly. People were chanting "fix the sound! Fix the sound!" Any of the hotel staff that came in the room to try to do that were getting yelled at by some people. We missed all of Richardson's speech.

When John's speech started and the sound was still not fixed, what was already verging on a riot kicked into a higher gear. Keep in mind everyone had been made to wait for hours, much of it outside in the cold, for something we could have watched at home on C-Span already, and now we couldn't even hear it. Some people walked out, but we stayed, hoping they'd get the sound fixed.

I kept thinking that if John Edwards knew what was going on in there, he would definitely come in after his speech and say hello to people. I had no way of knowing if he knew that, though.

Eventually, one of the Obama supporters sitting near me stood up and told people that she had just asked one of the DNC people very nicely to please try to send the candidates in after their speeches, because a lot of people had come to see them and waited a long time. That was when it dawned on me that I knew some of the Edwards staffers and there was no harm in at least asking a favor.

I went out in search of a friend on the Edwards staff and found him by the Edwards table. (To clarify, I do not work for Edwards. I'm just an enthusiastic volunteer.) I took my friend's hand and said something like "there are a lot of people in the overflow room, some of whom came just to see John, and now we can't hear his speech, and everyone in there is pretty upset right now. Is there any way that John can come in and at least say hi to people after his speech?" My friend sent a text message to someone, and he and the other man at the table told me that if it could happen, it would. I thanked them and went back in the room.

By then, they had fixed the sound at least enough to hear what John was saying, though the quality wasn't great. We heard maybe about the second half of John's speech, which was excellent, although I had to wait until I got home to watch the whole thing, in the video below.

Here's just a short excerpt from his speech that gives a small taste of his passion for this fight for change:

This is bigger than politics. Bigger than any candidate or political party. Because the truth is that it's not just Republicans who built this wall. Democrats helped too. Too many politicians from both parties are choosing self-preservation over principle, compromise over convictions.

"You have a choice in this election. You have to decide what kind of person you want as your next president. Do you want someone who is going to pretend that wall around Washington isn't there, or defend the people who helped build it? Or do you want someone who is going to lead with conviction and tell you the truth, and have a little backbone? Do you want someone who is going to hope that the people who spent millions of dollars and decades building that wall, and have billions more invested in keeping it up, are going to be willing to compromise, to take it down voluntarily? Or do you want someone who is going to stand up to those people and fight for your interests, when the chips are down, when your backs are against the wall, every single day?

"We have a choice in this election. We can keep trying to shout over that wall. We can keep trying to knock out a chink here and there, to punch little holes in it and hope our voices get through. We can settle for baby steps, half-measures and incremental change, and try to inch our way over that wall and toward a better future. Or we can be bold and knock it down.

The speech was all about tearing down the wall around Washington, and it seemed like we were at that moment experiencing another facet of that metaphor, by being kept out in a separate room where we couldn't even hear what was going on at first. His speech was met with enthusiastic cheers by most everyone, including the Obama supporters.

We only had to wait for a very few minutes after John's speech, and sure enough, he came in and shook hands with as many people as he could reach. Everyone cheered a lot when he came in and while he was there. I think it helped make everything a bit better for all the people in the room. I got a beautiful big smile, a handshake, and a "hi darlin'," which was nice.

He stood up on the platform and waved and thanked people for coming. He didn't stay too long, but Obama's speech was starting soon and I suspect he didn't want to be rude and talk over it. I was having problems with my camera, so my photos all turned out bad, but here's one I downloaded from the Edwards Flickr site (from that day, but not the overflow room).

Then Obama spoke, and by then he had gotten the message that people in the overflow room were pretty frustrated, so he gave a shout out to the overflow room. That was very well received, especially since most of the people in the room were Obama supporters. I was ready to leave after seeing John, but the Obama supporters there had been very nice during John's speech and when he came in the room, so Scott and I felt an obligation to be nice to their candidate.

Obama gave a good speech, but digging below the surface of sweet rhetoric, I didn't like some of the things Obama said in his speech. Honestly, he is far too conciliatory for me. (I could not find a transcript of his speech, but I always think he talks far too much about "bringing the country together" and bipartisanship.)

After the past 7 years, I want someone who will take the Republicans and the corporate interests on and fight them. I don't want someone who will try to make nice with them. Negotiations are a necessary part of politics, but you have to start from a position of strength, not a position of compromise.

You can't settle for less before you even get started negotiating because you think you won't get what you really want. Obama's health care plan, which is not universal and would leave up to 15 million people uncovered, is a great example of how NOT to achieve change.

I think this is the essential difference between the approaches to change that John Edwards and Barack Obama are taking. John is a fighter who will take them on. Obama seeks compromise, negotiation, and reconciliation, as evidenced both by his speech yesterday and by the "Carry" ad he's been running in New Hampshire and Iowa, which touts his bipartisanship.

Contrast that with this Edwards ad from Iowa:

Obama spoke in his speech about attracting Republicans and independents. I want to draw a distinction here between a candidate who entices Republicans and independents because he seeks compromise with them (Obama) and a candidate who appeals to Republicans and independents because he takes a strong stand and offers a bold vision and leadership on problems that affect them too (Edwards). After the recent Republican debate, one of the undecided Republicans in CNN's focus group said she would support Edwards (the most progressive major Democratic candidate) because at least Edwards has ideas.

I know which one I want in the oval office and which one I think will work, and that is John Edwards's more confrontational approach. It's called backbone, and we Democrats have been looking for it for a long time.

I think Obama may very well be a nice guy with good intentions. That isn't the point. What we need now is a fighter. We need someone who has taken on corporate interests and won consistently, and that's John Edwards.

The Obama supporters in the room, however, were really enthused by the end of his speech. One woman, obviously thinking I was far more impressed than I actually was, because of my polite cheering, I guess, asked me if I was thinking about switching. I told her absolutely not.

Obama made his supporters wait quite a long time, but when he did come in, he got mobbed. Scott managed to reach over a lot of people and shake Obama's hand, but I was keeping a bit of distance between myself and the thick of the crowd. I have been in one or two intense crowd situations and crowds can freak me out a bit if I feel it will become difficult to move.

Obama gave a short pep talk and then left, and I think most of his supporters followed him, because the room cleared out quickly.

Scott and I stayed and chatted for a long time with a very nice woman next to him, who I had assumed was an Obama supporter, but it turned out she was undecided. She was concerned about electability, so I talked to her about the fact that John seems to be the most electable Democrat based on head to head matchup polls, and also about some of the reasons why I like Edwards more than Obama.

Since all the Obama supporters had followed their candidate, I didn't have anyone trying to argue with me while I pointed out the flaws in Obama's health care plan (the major one is it's not universal) and pointed out why John would be so much more aggressive in pursuing a progressive agenda (because, as I said above, you can't start from a position of compromise). I also told her about his 80 page booklet on policy and where she could download it. She was definitely listening, so that was a good score! I don't know for sure that she will end up supporting him, but she was very receptive.

After we were ushered out of the room by hotel staff trying to clean during the break between sessions, we saw Kate Michelman near the Edwards table, and I blurted out "Kate Michelman! Hi!" She looked like she recognized me, which she probably did since I've been in a small group where she spoke before, and she greeted me like she knew me, but it occurred to me later that she probably had no real idea who I was. Anyway, she was very nice.

After that, Scott and I were both just about weak with hunger, so we found the nearest tolerable restaurant, which turned out to be Panera Bread. Guess who we ran into there? My friend from the campaign staff! He came right up to me and gave me a hug, and we chatted for a little bit. Really nice guy. He was really very appreciative of the fact that he always sees me at Edwards events.

Anyway, so then we drove home through a lot of traffic, only finding out about the Hillary campaign hostage situation when we got to Scott's house. Like I said, strange day.

It was nice of Edwards and Obama to both come in and greet the people in the overflow room, though, so that made up for the other weirdness of the day quite a bit. Both men seem like nice people. I just prefer John's strong confrontational approach. We need someone to stand up for us. We need someone to help us tear down the wall. We need a fighter.

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really help to give a good sense of what is "really happening."

I like them so much more than the canned campaign chafe.

Thank you again -- and for tracking down the photos and the links.