A Different Reality
A Made-for-TV Rally
August 21, 2000

Everybody who reads the paper or watches the nightly news has probably heard about Gore’s campaign launch from La Crosse. We went to get signatures on petitions for open debates, and we ended up with a few more adventures than we bargained for.

In retrospect, the entire spectacle of a high-profile presidential campaign stop felt a lot like an NFL football game, in that the entire event is more for the benefit of the TV cameras than it is for the crowd on hand.

Consider this: within 100 yards of the stage that Gore stood on, there is a magnificent band shell. It has a full-sized stage known to accommodate everything from Shakespeare to the local symphony to Riverfest concerts. There is bench seating in place for hundreds, and behind that is a lawn where they could fit 100,000 people if they had to. Water, green rooms, and power are all in place. You would think that this is the obvious spot for the rally.

But NO-O-O-O-O-O!!!

Next to the mooring area, there is an access road running along the river about five feet below the level of the rest of the park. Most people board the riverboats from this road. The Gore people built a network of platforms and bridges between the boat and the stage. There was the stage itself, facing away from the river into an area suitable for a few thousand. Behind the stage, a forty-foot walkway went over the sunken road, to a high platform next to the boat. Looking at the stage, another higher platform to the right accommodated TV and print photographers.

All of this was built to make sure that Al had the boat, the river, and the bluffs beyond as a backdrop for his video byte on the nightly news. This rally wasn’t for the people, it was an elaborately constructed TV studio, and we were all extras.

The “campaign sign incident” graphically illustrates this point. To make a long story short, they get kinda testy when a tall guy with a Nader sign works his way to the middle of the front row, right as the boat is about to pull away from the dock, and that all-important two seconds of video are being shot for the nightly news.

I raised my sign, they tried to hold theirs in front of it. They couldn't reach so they got on chairs. I got on a chair. Then a big shot campaign operative invited the holders of Gore signs to step over the barrier in front of me. Then they started handing chairs over the barrier for these people. But they had kids, women, and short bald guys (this in no way is meant to insult kids, women, or short bald guys, many of whom are my best friends) who just couldn’t reach as high as I could. And from the vantage point of the TV cameras on the boat, the “crowd shot” was starting to look downright silly.

Finally, some snotty kid with an attitude (the kind you’d expect to find at a Bush or Buchanan rally) came up from behind me and told me to take down my sign or leave. Seeking to avoid an ugly incident at best, and jail time at worst, I opted to leave, but not quietly. I made sure the crowd knew that the Democratic Party was suppressing free expression in a public park before I slowly started walking to the exits with my Nader sign held high.

Back at the boat, they musta sighed, “ah, we can roll the cameras now.” Just as I got out of sight, the boat whistle blew, Proud Mary started up on the sound system, and the boat pulled away from the moorings. Back on land, two radio reporters were descending upon me, which REALLY pissed off the kid who was trying to escort me out of the park.

I talked to the guy from the local news radio station, the local WPR affiliate, and a lady from the State Journal. RoZ got to talk to Minn. PR and the State Journal. Jeff and Amy, as well as the rest of the local people (Omar, Ray, and Ken), all were named and quoted in the Tribune. I talked on some of the points raised in my recent letter (corporate sponsorship of campaigns, it’s all a media event, Republicans & Democrats no different than Coke & Pepsi, etc.), but have not seen nor heard any sign that these conversations were used.

The attitude of the crowd was interesting and often encouraging. The people engaged in the sign battle with me were pretty good natured about it, as if they were saying, “nothing personal, but this is just a game we hafta play with each other, so let’s not let it dampen our mutual enjoyment of the day.” After it was all over, we were hanging out by the exit gate as the crowd filed out. Mixed in with the “you’re throwing the election to Bush” comments were an equal number of “I’m not voting with you, but I’m glad you’re here,” and “thanks for coming out.”

All in all, it was obvious that the Gore people hate Bush more than they like Gore. Most people we talked to at any length are unhappy with Gore for something and like Nader better, but are backing Gore out of fear of Bush. And I don’t remember meeting anyone who argued with the idea of including Nader in the debates.

So was anything accomplished? Several pages of debate petition signatures were gathered. The morning people kept up a presence as people were going in, and the night people were there as people were leaving. I thought the least we could do was to be obvious. I’m pretty sure we were obvious to everyone that was there, if not to the people that were watching on the nightly news. The reporters may not have reported on us, but I know they saw us, and I think they need to keep seeing us.

Let’s just hope we can find more tall people to carry the Nader signs.

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