I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Barack Obama rally in Pittsburgh on Monday. A local organizer connected me to Sally Matts, so we could commute together to Pittsburgh.
We took the 28X into town and got up to the Mellon Arena a little after 1. A long line had already formed:
Towards the end:
In the middle:
The line extended for several blocks (up past St. Benedict the Moor church for the folks familiar with the area).
We waited around while the staff got the volunteers organized. That took a while. They wanted most of us to encourage the attendees to sign up to help Get Out the Vote over the weekend…but ran out of clipboards before Sally and I got them.
I’ve worked all kinds of events, and one thing that was really clear from this one is that there was inadequate signage. I walked around a little, and suggested to Sally that we invent a job for ourselves. We decided to escort handicapped attendees up to the handicapped entrance, which was on the far side of the Mellon Arena from the main street entrance. We talked to a staffer who agreed that was a good idea.
So we stood about midway up the hill to the Arena, where the entrance road and the parking lot meet. When we saw someone who seemed to be having trouble, we brought them up to the handicapped entrance.
This was tricky (of course). The sidewalk was blocked off in places, so we’d direct people in wheelchairs to the adjacent road. There were surprisingly few cuts through the curb for wheelchairs. The one closest to the handicapped entrance had a car parked in front if it illegally. Luckily, there was still enough space around the car that people in mobies could get back up onto the sidewalk.
And then, someone who was either with the fire department or the TSA (not sure which) parked in front of the illegally parked car in such a way that we could no longer get handicapped attendees up the ramp and back onto the sidewalk. I went to him and said, “Um, excuse me, sir? Could you push ahead a little so we could get people back on the sidewalk?”
He growled at me a little, and went off in search of the person who was parking illegally. Luckily, he found the person pretty fast, the person drove away, and the cops stuck a sawhorse in front of the ramp so no one could park in the way.
Sally got cold and went inside. I begged her to save me a seat and she did.
I managed to stay outside until about 4:30, when I got too cold and had to go in. The speeches were due to start at 5, but I figured Obama would be running late. I found another volunteer and got him to help bring handicapped attendees up to the special entrance.
I hit the bathroom, bought some “dinner” (hot dog and popcorn) and found Sally. She’d saved great seats not too far from the podium and off the floor in the staff area. The Arena seats 17,000 for hockey games. While there was a floor over the ice, there floor wasn’t completely filled up by people (the press area was spacious and not filled). Not every fixed seat in the arena was filled either. I’d estimate there were between 14,000 and 15,000 in the arena, a good crowd given it was a weekday, the weather was cold, and we’d only heard about this on Friday.
The TV camera area was towards our right:
The floor and the podium were towards our left, just to the left of all those supporters who were standing:
The rally was due to start at 5. The weird thing was that the rally started at about 4:45. Rallies almost never start early. Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Bob Casey and local Congressional Representative Mike Doyle gave short speeches. Then there was nearly a half hour of recorded music (and I don’t think the writers/performers have asked Obama not to use it, unlike some other campaigns I could mention).
Just before 5:30, Steeler president Dan Rooney came out to introduce Barack Obama. When Obama came onstage, the cheers were deafening. Rooney handed him a Steelers’ jersey:
Sally Matts foreground, Barack Obama background
I’ve heard Obama speak on TV a number of times. While he’s often a little stiff, he speaks very intelligently, unlike your average politician. He sounds like he’s thinking about what he’s saying and not just repeating sound bites or blurting out something wildly inappropriate. It was definitely worthwhile to hear him speak in person. Yeah, there were bits and pieces of his standard stump speech and his Democratic National Convention speech, but he seems to adapt it slightly for his audience.
Obama’s speech, which lasted about a half hour, hit all the right notes. People were still coming in, half-way through his speech. The audience was enthusiastic. There were only one or two hecklers. Everyone was welcome to this rally (no tickets, no vetting by local Democrats). The fact there were so few Republican intrusions was indicative of the fact that McCain/Palin don’t have as much support in Pittsburgh as they’d like to pretend (when they were in Western Pennsylvania last week, McCain drew about 4,400 people and Palin about 2,000). The Democratic vote in and near the main cities usually exceeds the Republican vote in the rural parts of the state, and I hope this will be true this year.
It was a great rally!
My favorite sign:
After his speech, Obama went down on the floor to shake hands. Sally and I decided we’d just as soon find the bus and get home, which we did.
I took a test this morning which I saw in adelheid-p‘s Live Journal.
You Should Be Allowed to Vote
You got 15/15 questions correct.
Generally speaking, you’re very well informed.
If you vote this election, you’ll know exactly who (and what) you’ll be voting for.
You’re likely to have strong opinions, and you have the facts to back them up.
There’s only one more thing to say: VOTE!!!!!!