A Democrat in Arizona

Fellow Democrats and golfers Jane and Dianne invited me to drive with them to Michelle Obama’s rally for Hillary at the Phoenix Convention Center. Organizers had warned the faithful to be early or risk not getting in, so we left at 10 a.m. for a 2 pm rally. We talked enroute of our anger at the way Donald Trump has twisted this campaign into the most dangerous to our democracy that we can recall.

Once parked, we had a few blocks to walk to the end of the line, by then two blocks from the entrance.

The line moved quickly. Vendors sold buttons, t-shirts and hats. At the first checkpoint, food and water, even empty bottles, had to be abandoned. I assumed we would be able to purchase food inside, considering we would be there for hours.

Inside, a security guard directed us to an elevator, which shortened the walk for Jane, who was using a golf putter upside down as a cane. Scores of security personnel and police with dogs herded us into lines in the cavernous lower foyer. It took more than half an hour to get from the door to the front of a security line.

The crowd was as diverse as those on any downtown New York street.

At the final checkpoint, we went through metal detectors, scanners, and bag searches. No-one was taking any chances with the First Lady’s safety. Or ours.

Puzzled guards asked Jane what the putter was for. They tried to twist off the grip and asked if it came apart. The uncertainty on their faces was funny to watch, for those of us who know Jane, an excellent golfer. In the end, they let her keep it, with instructions not to swing it.

We expected stadium seating, but instead found ourselves in a huge concrete cube that had two small sections of bleachers already filled with raucous fans holding signs like “POTUS,” “Bill: 1st Dude,” and “Vote Hillary.” I looked around. There were half a dozen water coolers with plastic cups. It dawned on me that a full water bottle could be a dangerous missile, hence the bottle ban. There were restrooms, but there was no place to purchase any food. There was no choice but to find a spot, and stand there. The room was about one quarter occupied already.

Dianne located the handicapped seating section, which was full, so I asked two women standing by the rail if they could make room for Jane, who needed something to lean on. They assented, and we were set for our long wait.

Strangely, the time went quickly, although nothing happened onstage for hours. Music played on the PA system. Volunteers handed out Hillary signs and stickers. Behind us, three young African-American women swapped names with us. One had brought her two young boys, who could see nothing and were bored already. Jane and I lent the boys our phones so they could play Angry Birds, but we had to be careful lest they drain the batteries before the crucial photo op moment. People who could, sat on the floor, but we just stood, and stood, and stood.

The crowd started chanting, “We want Michelle! We want Michelle!” but the chant died down quickly, as if no-one wanted to endanger the festive atmosphere. We made sure the little boys could see, and assured their mother that we were watching out for them. We joked about paying people outrageous sums for bits of food they had smuggled in. As we watched the Secret Service checking the crowd before Michelle’s entrance, I said to the woman at my side, “Can you imagine what this crowd would do to anyone who tried to hurt her?” She opened her eyes wide and growled, implying that dismemberment would be too slight a punishment for such an offense.

My feet were numb by 2:30 and my knees were sore, so I could only imagine how much pain Jane was in. Dianne had an arthritic toe which complained loudly. And still we waited and the room filled.

Front speakers included Ann Kirkpatrick, Senatorial candidate; a young man who is a “dreamer,” longing for US citizenship; and the granddaughter of Barry Goldwater, who is voting for Hillary and told us why. “There are two names on the ballot” she said, “but there is only one choice!” The crowd went wild.

Finally, the First Lady walked onstage, and we all went nuts, cheering ourselves hoarse.

One person yelled, “I love you, Michelle!” and she replied, “I love you too!” to even greater cheers.

The three young women behind me were chanting, “Michelle, don’t leave us. Michelle, don’t leave us.”

I said to them, “She’s not going to leave. She’s too good. Don’t you think she might be a great choice for a Cabinet position with Hillary?” They looked at me as though I had said something brilliant. The most outstanding First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt will not go quietly into obscurity, of that I am positive.

While Michelle was speaking, her usual articulate, impassioned, intelligent self, one elderly woman in the disabled section was lifted to her feet by relatives on either side of her, so she could see. I got misty-eyed.

When Michelle said the now- famous line, “When they go low,” we roared back, “We go high!” We lapped up every word. I was hoarse by the time she concluded, exhorting us not only to vote, but to volunteer for the campaign. Then, she was into the crowd, shaking a few hands before her secret service detail whisked her away.

I felt buoyed by her presence as much as by what she said. We left lifted by love and hope.

Today, I mailed my ballot.

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