It was almost 8:00am, and I did not have a ticket to enter the expansive, barricaded area of Elm Street and other roads surrounding Veterans Park. Bulldozers and other large construction machines formed a fortification of the streets to vehicles, and metal barricades monitored by suits and badges kept out pedestrians. The gates were slated to begin receiving unarmed civilians on foot at 9:00am. I was unsure if I had missed my opportunity to get a ticket when I received a text message. “Bailing”, it said, “Obama wont be there til noon”.
After a brief telephone conversation, I had learned that a group of occupiers, who had planned to mic check the president, would be ditching their plans to slave for the empire. Almost all willing participants had a taxpaying job that they could not afford to miss at some point later in the day. Many had woken at 5:30 to get tickets from the Radisson at 6:00am, tickets which they would not be able to use with the president not scheduled to speak until after noon. The actual timeframe of events was not revealed until that morning. “The occupy movement has been destroyed by jobs”, one activist joked.
The campaign staff and security officials expected an unusual endurance from the event’s attendees. Masses were already lined up around the barricades as I drove to retrieve a ticket on the north end, having to travel far east of Elm Street to avoid the chaos. As I travelled on the right side of a two lane one way street, a bulldozer followed along my left side, forming a rolling barrier between myself and the direction of the militarized zone.
After sharing breakfast with and getting tickets from Manchester activists, I begun the walk south to the north entrance of the event. It was about 9:30am. Like the south entrance, the north entrance also featured a line of civilians around the block awaiting entry. One peace activist marched along the line with a sign reading, “Terror War Eternal War”. Around 10:00am, I joined in the back of the line as it moved toward the security checkpoint. As we approached the gate, another individual marched displaying a sign that read, “Support the Troops, Bring Them Home”.
As the civilians stood in line, they were solicited with a variety of campaign pins which idolized Barack Obama. Some event staffers walked up the lines collecting stubs from the tickets. The majority of ticketholders’ papers had a yellow trim, though there must have been a second variety, as two lines converged at the gate, one reading “Yellow Tickets” and the other “Blue Tickets”. There were so few people in the blue line that USSS screeners would call yellows into the blue queue. Before getting on line, I had filmed the security screeners and although I had a creepy dude in business attire peering over my shoulder the entire time, (who inched away whenever I panned in his direction) nobody tried to prevent me from recording.
Within the last few hundred meters of the security checkpoint, the road was blocked by parked construction vehicles, opening the middle of the street to pedestrians. Along the line here stood plainclothes security staffers who were giving verbal directions for the security screening.
Any buttons need to be taken off of your jackets. Take all pin buttons off, hold them in your hand. Cell phones, out of your pockets. We ask you of course, turn them off. While, when you get inside, when he’s speaking, we ask that we only have vibration going on, or off is good. No liquids can go in, no food. Purses must be open, any bag that’s zipped must be open, they’re gonna be going through everything.
While just meters away from the metal detector, I snapped some still photos and nobody batted an eye. The screening was basic, with a TSA-junior style USSS agent waving a wand over myself and asking me to show that my two cameras were operational. Once inside, I noticed a second line to enter Veterans Park itself, where bleachers had been erected. I then read to myself the proposed rhyme that occupiers may have gone through with, had they not been gainfully and slavishly employed.
Drug war, Drone war
Politicians bought and sold
by Corporate Plutocracy
Evict us from our homes
Bar us from debate
You can’t evict an idea
Before going to wait in another line, I wandered over to film near the other checkpoint. When approaching a spot to film the south entrance, a suit walked toward me and stated, “You can’t video our security operation”. I responded, “They didn’t have any problem with it on the other side when I passed through”. Conceiving no original thought, the sunglassed suit only repeated, “Sir, you can’t video the security operation”. At this point he raises his hand as though to block the view of the camera, though much more respectful than some Keene bureaucrats, he does not try to touch myself or the camera.
“Are you asking me to go that way if I’m going to videotape?”
“I’m asking you, you can film the event, but you can’t film the security operation.”
I would have loved to have tried the limits of what you can film prior to the president’s appearance, but without on the ground assistance, essentially behind opponent lines, I didn’t also want to be an NDAA test case.
After getting in line, I began chatting it up with the people around me off camera. A temperature check of the mood I would classify as general enthusiasm. This was my second experience at a speaking event by a sitting president on the campaign trail. In August 2004, I attended a campaign stop by George W. Bush. In much the same way, the hierarchy of regional politicians were there and wearing smiles to their ears. Then-governors Craig Bensen and Mitt Romney were the opening acts at the Nashua High School. The extent of felt security at the time was a brief pass through a metal detector and wand-down, and the presence of serious looking people in suits. Manchester had a much more militarized aura, with visible layers of metal barricades segregating different streets and alleys, and police positioned along strategic spots.
When the line began proceeding into the temporary amphitheater, I was reminded of Muntadhar al-Zaidi‘s historic shoe-throwing as we were distributed small plastic water bottles with no caps. It is not uncommon for sporting events to distribute beverages with no caps, but this was the first I’d seen of it at a political pep rally.
As we filled into the standing room, I got as close as I felt comfortable squeezing through (which wasn’t that far). It was shortly after 10:00am, and some people were repeating that they had heard that Mr. Obama would speak at 11:30. He would arrive shortly after 12:00, with some down time between Jeanne Shaheen’s opener and John Lynch’s introduction. The event was structured so that everyone would be inside the secured area well in advance of the president’s arrival. I only saw children sitting while waiting for the show to begin, and from the looks of some faces, I could tell adults were feeling the strain as well. There was minimal movement of people through the crowd once we were situated, as there were few exceptions to nobody wanting to be ‘that guy’.
There were four units perched on rooftops around the park for the duration of the event. On the Manchester police department stood what appeared to be two Manchester police officers. On the Hillsborough county superior court building, there were at least three black-clad agents with a rifle. Also toting a rifle were two agents on the Elm Street business just to the north of Veterans Park. The weapon was visible momentarily as it was being assembled, and lifted over the lip of the rooftop. Also perched much higher than the others was a unit of two on the top of the Radisson. They would spend their time flipping through paperwork, looking through binoculars, and speaking via radio or mostly amongst themselves.
Strategically placed cheerleaders revved the audience up to the happy music in the moments before the military leader arrived. The audience’s fatigue softened their excitement. Eventually, John Lynch’s introduction drew to a close, and the man who all had arrived to see took to the podium.
The ‘commander in chief’ spoke for under a half an hour, ridiculing his republican opponent and claiming premature success in some of the goals of his 2008 campaign. He spent about eight minutes shaking hands in the front row before giving his parting waves, and thereafter the masses began streaming slowly out.
Complete video from the event has been added to a playlist at fr33mantvraw.