I had a rather interesting experience covering the 2011 American Legion Convention, where Obama spoke on August 30. For the most part I don’t often cover “big” events like that, where there are tons of reporters and national TV cameras everywhere, so it intimidates me, but I was very excited to have the chance to see the president. I’m still a strong supporter of Obama, because although I don’t agree with all his policies, I’m terrified of what the alternative would be if he did not win re-election.
I had to apply the week before, although, as my editor pointed out, the application process was actually less stringent than when I covered Jimmy Carter visiting Minneapolis.
The media directions said that if you had camera equipment, you were supposed to get there from 6:30-7:30 a.m., although Obama didn’t speak until 11 a.m. I had grand plans about waking up early, taking a shower and dressing up like a “real” journalist, but I accidentally slept in until about 7:15 and showed up at the convention center at about 7:40, in shorts and a t-shirt, looking slightly disheveled.
When I arrived, I was confused by the make-up of the crowds outside the convention center. There were mostly older men, as well as some younger men and women dressed in military uniforms, and then there were thousands of people dressed in Islamic traditional robes. Later, I found out that in addition to the American Legion Convention, there was also a Ramadan prayer service at the convention center, which the Star Tribune reported was actually drawing a bigger crowd.
I wondered if Obama would make mention of the other group. After all, the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 is approaching, marking the start of our generation’s discrimination and prejudice against Muslim and Arab Americans in the last decade. Surely some comment could have been made on this last day of the holy month of Ramadan, that the next decade will see an end to the attack on civil liberties of Muslim and Arab Americans. Unfortunately, he didn’t really talk about that at all.
It took me a while to find the media check-in table. Two fresh-faced young Legionnaires were checking people in. I told them my name, and they asked me for my I.D. I gave them my drivers’ license, and they asked for my press credentials.
Ugh. I always forget about that. I told them that unfortunately I don’t have a business card, as if that would somehow make me more valid. “I have my phone on me — do you want to just google me?” I asked. They decided to give me the benefit of the doubt, giving me a name tag with my name handwritten on it, which suddenly made me official.
I found a spot at the reporter tables. The reason that camera people were supposed to get there early was to get a seat on the risers, but as I would be taking notes, that didn’t really work for me. So there I was, more than three hours before Obama was to speak, with nothing to do. I was starving, and needed coffee, so I decided I had better go some breakfast, even though I’d have to go through the whole check-in rigmarole again.
I asked the person at my table to save my place for me, and left. A volunteer told me I could exit through the kitchen, instead of the main door, and whispered to me that I could probably sneak back in that way.
I got my coffee and a croissant, and went outside to an area with benches where, despite the “no-smoking sign,” a dozen Legionnaires were puffing away. I was aware of two men staring at me for several minutes before one of them approached me and asked me about my camera, and then began making conversation, telling me about himself and that he was in town for the weekend. He asked if I was a reporter. I told him I was and that I write for TC Daily Planet.
“The Star Tribune?”
“No, TC Daily Planet. It’s online only.”
For some reason that was hilarious to him, and he started laughing. It occurred to me that I could interview him, but I was a little wary and I was tired, so I decided to go back in.
I tried to go back through the secret kitchen entrance but was stopped and told I had to go around the building again. I was back at my table for only a couple of minutes before a big shot national news guy, who shall remain nameless, came and said I was in his place, so I moved back several tables and started taking notes on the award ceremony followed by speeches.
I did like what Obama had to say, especially about how the process is set for removing troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the need to support veterans once they are home. I remember one of the first things I liked about Obama was that he said, way back in 2007, that Iraq was a tragic mistake.
In the end, I’m really glad I got a chance to hear him speak in person, not really as a journalist so much as a person. I actually don’t like these big events where I feel like I’m competing with dozens of other fancy-shmancy reporters with their big cameras and pressed suits. I feel out of place and I don’t know what the point is of us all writing the same story. So this is just a little backstory of what it was like.