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Hayden Bixby

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The President and the Privileged

Posted: 05/14/2012 11:22 am

You might have heard already that President Obama visited my town last week. I confess that I didn't know much in advance that he was coming... I was just lucky. Lucky that I was trolling the Seattle Theater Group's website for 2012-2013 season tickets just in time, and privileged that the cost to attend Obama's event was a price I could comfortably pay.

Not that the $250 campaign contribution was mere pocket change, mind you. I'm a community college teacher whose benefits have been slashed and who hasn't received a real pay increase in nearly a decade.

But I couldn't pass up the chance to be at the Paramount Theater for this particular moment in history.

Coincidentally, I had been at that same venue just the night before to see Kristin Chenoweth with my daughter. Once in our seats, I launched, on cue, into my usual reflection about how fortunate we are to live in a place where people spend their money and time on cultural events, marveling at the full house of eager theater-goers. Also true to form, my daughter responded with: "Yeah, but there are a lot more people who aren't here because they can't afford to come."

Thanks a lot, Debbie Downer.

Our mood was actually quite upbeat, and the Seattle audience was obviously energized by the president's recent public announcement of support for marriage equality. Case in point: The crowd applauded heartily when two cowboy cast members waltzed off together during "I'm Going to the Dance with You." The standing ovations and three encores kept us there late, and no doubt the staff -- not to mention those in charge of the president's security -- pulled an all-nighter transforming the venue from Broadway theater to political rally-readiness.

Having never been to a real political rally, and certainly having never seen a president in real life before, I was giddy as I waited in line the next morning with my fellow campaign contributors. There were security measures and bureaucracies to endure, but spirits were high as we waited in pockets of sunshine and ducked our heads out of the bracing wind. Strangers ran off to Starbucks and brought back lattes to share, and I once again reflected about our good fortune.

Our privilege.

Yet this was not (contrary to accusations from conservative bloggers who were, very likely, not in attendance) a gathering of 1%-ers. Sure, the woman behind me in line had a blindingly large diamond ring on, but she and her husband of 35 years had maxed out their entire charitable donation budget for the year with the $2000 contribution they had made for the day. Even more tellingly, the people ahead of me in line had worked a graveyard shift in order to pay the $200 it cost them to attend. And they hadn't slept, because they drove up to Seattle from Tacoma right after work to get in line.

And it was a long wait! The line snaked around the downtown streets in an attempt to contain the event, and it seemed incredible that that many people would have the wherewithal to devote a full day for the chance to hear one man speak -- and, to be fair, to hear one man play a guitar and sing.

Dave Matthews had to have been at least part of the draw, and he peppered his short acoustic set with political reflections of his own. He declared himself "ridiculously overcompensated" and challenged someone, anyone!, to "tax the hell out of me." He spoke about his fatherhood and his desire to live responsibly and his interest in helping create a world in which a freeway off-ramp isn't a plausible place to advertise one's salary expectations. Perhaps most compellingly, he noted that his support for Obama was qualified: "I disagree with the president, but I disagree with the other guy more."

The parade of local politicians marched around Dave's performance, also cautioning us against the regressive philosophies of "the other guy." We were admonished -- by Christine Gregoire, by Jay Inslee, by Patty Murray -- to vote and to volunteer. We were reminded, by a teacher from my daughter's high school, of the concrete and life-saving policies the Obama administration has implemented, and we were told, in no uncertain terms by Ron Sims, to "get up on our feet!"

Which we did.

Obama spoke to a vocal crowd that roared in support of civil rights and veterans and education and health care -- celebrating successes, while also naming work still to be done. It was a Democratic love-fest and call-to-action, based in principles that the 2000 of us in attendance boisterously shared.

As numerous as we were, though, there were many more who couldn't attend. At least that's what my daughter would have said.

The task today, if this campaign really is going to move "forward," is to bring it to those who aren't already on the team -- to those whose immediate circumstances don't give them the luxury of basking in the glow of a charismatic president in the middle of a work-week.

 
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