As many of you are probably aware, President Barack Obama spoke at my school today in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. As that’s an idea that I think any reasonable college student can get behind, I was not about to miss it. Just as I hoped, it was an experience that my potential future grandchildren will hear all about.
My journey to seeing Mr. Obama started on Monday night before the tickets became available at the student union. I had heard talk of people camping out all night to ensure that they could get one before they ran out. At 9:00 that night, twelve hours before they would begin to give out the tickets, I joined a group of my College Democrats friends in a tent. The overall atmosphere was one of celebration and excitement, though it was rainy and I doubt anyone in line was comfortable. We had eight people in our four-person tent so we got really close. At one point someone suggested that we watch Les Mis on their laptop and, if you know me at all, you know that I could never refuse that. We sang along loudly the entire time as I, as usual, spewed out relevant “in the book they actually”s whenever I felt it appropriate. If any of my friends are reading this, I apologize for that. Our tent neighbors must have hated us but I didn’t care. I got very little actual sleep because it was cold, the tent was set up on concrete, and the lack of space forced my 5’9/5’10ish body into some positions that it really didn’t want to be in. Between when we packed up our stuff at 7:00 the next morning when the line started forming for real and when I got coffee I was in a bit of a sleep deprived fog. This included when a reporter asked to hold our tent bag and wrap my friend’s blanket around her while pretending to talk to us before turning around to tell the camera that hundreds of U of M students had camped out that night to get tickets to hear President Obama speak on campus and the whole story was coming next. The segment did not make the cut, but most of us agreed that it was better that way as we weren’t exactly camera-ready after the previous night. When we finally got our tickets, I had a moment of intense euphoria followed by crashing for a power nap by the time I returned to my dorm room.
The meat of the adventure began when the group of us ventured to the IM building at 7:00 that morning to make sure we could get good spots. The doors would open at 12:30 if that gives you an idea of how serious we were about this. After all, those twelve hours of camping out the previous night would be worthless if we hadn’t. Highlights of the next five and a half hours included finding a heating vent to huddle around, a group of girls dancing to Beyoncé, collecting signatures for petitions to get Mark Shauer and Gary Peters on the ballot, taking note of the security getting tighter and tighter as the morning wore on, and getting interviewed by a TV reporter. Our excitement trumped our sleep-deprivation and feeling cold, so it was a great time.
My expectations had not prepared me for the surreal feeling that is being just feet away from the president. I knew that he was a great speaker and seemed like a cool person as world leaders go, but this speech was different from his speeches I had seen on TV. More tailored to the audience. He spoke to us on our level. He seemed simultaneously more powerful and more down-to-Earth in person. It’s weird, I can’t really explain it. When we booed after a comment about Republicans not supporting the cause he said, “Don’t boo, organize!” He stated that raising the minimum wage would especially benefit women and added that he doesn’t want his daughters to make less money than someone else’s sons for doing the same work. He even made a joke about his basketball bracket and called the GOP budget a “stinkburger” or a “meanwich,” which served as a reminder that even the president can make dad jokes. As a whole it was incredibly enjoyable. Afterwards the chair and vice chair of College Democrats got to shake his hand, then proceeded to touch all of us so we could get some “Obama germs.” Though I can’t speak for everyone who attended the speech, I found it completely worth the 19 hours I spent waiting to experience it. And the fact that I so enjoyed all those hours proves that I’ve done a pretty good job picking my friends.