Campus was abuzz last week in preparation for Friday’s “Moving America Forward” rally, one of the Democratic National Committee’s latest in a slew of college visits aimed at protecting Democrat incumbents by rallying the youth vote.
The headliner was a man who had rewritten history, conjured up a collective youth political passion, agreed with us that Kanye West is a jackass and caught a fly with his bare hand.
The anticipation was at fever pitch.
But with the onslaught of visitors, rampant confusion among organizers and the partisan tilt to the proceedings, it was a bittersweet day for the brave students who made it to Alumni Park to hear President Barack Obama tell us to Fight On.
Not since Willy Wonka had there been such commotion about the color of tickets. At 9:30 a.m., volunteers for the event came around to pass out green tickets, which we were told would secure us a spot in the front near the president.
Five minutes later, other volunteers made the rounds again, this time passing out blue tickets. A general uproar ensued: What did the blue tickets do? Were they better? Scrums began forming around volunteers, people madly grabbing at the pieces of paper, shaking their tickets like little red books. Everyone wanted one of each — a rainbow bouquet of miscommunication — just to be safe.
By 10 a.m., a variety of technicolor tickets had forced their way into existence via the gossip mill. Rumors made their way up and down the line about scores of new tickets, each granting better seating than the last. One woman a few feet from me in line was under the impression there was a special pink ticket somewhere out there that would grant the carrier practically unfettered access to the president.
Disorganization at the entrance to the rally owed to the sheer volume of people on campus. Volunteers were earnest but entirely unequipped to deal with the chaos, and organizers resorted to telling crowd members to ignore them altogether.
“If a volunteer tries to take your ticket,” one shouted at the crowd near the metal detectors, “do not let them.”
We were camels trying to pass through the eyes of needles, but that was to be expected with a turnout of 37,500 people. Admission was open to the public, and though it was exciting to see the community come together, it quickly became clear throughout the rally that the purpose had shifted, perhaps to accommodate a group of listeners that were not all young.
Though the purported intent of the rally was to drum up the youth vote, (and, should the youth vote Democrat, that would not be the worst thing), the message was quickly diluted by the overly partisan speeches and glut of warm-up acts.
Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown — not the best orator in good circumstances — received one of the loudest applauses of the day when he began his address by announcing he wouldn’t be speaking long.
Finally, Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced the main attraction, and the president took the stage. His 20-minute speech captivated the audience, but surprisingly, given his usual diplomatic reserve, rehashed the general theme of the rally: Republicans are sending us to hell in a handbasket.
Obama spent a good four minutes elaborating on the metaphor of Republicans driving the country into the ditch, with Democrats pushing the stalled car out while Republicans simply throw dirt around.
It was not the most eloquent the president has ever been, and when it turned out the whole spiel was a set-up for a punchline about the initials of “reverse” and “drive,” it was hard not to be dispirited.
Obama hasn’t been faring as well with the youth vote in the polls recently, something he only addressed peripherally by asking the crowd to summon up the fervor of the 2008 election. A recent AP/mtvU poll shows that the president’s approval rating among college students has dropped from 60 to 44 percent.
If he was hoping to raise his stock at USC, he might have slightly missed the mark. Getting students to appreciate such a complicated beast as politics is difficult, and partisanship is a major deterrent.
Had Obama’s rally truly been a rock the vote event, a series of speeches aimed specifically at the youth demographic with one unifying theme — get to the polls on Nov. 2 — the occasion would have been less muddied.
Anyone who attended Friday would attest that it was a memorable event. Snafus in planning are bound to happen when a crowd of more than twice the size of the undergraduate population is squeezed into less than a mile radius.
But the youth — the very votes the Democrats are trying to snare — were not placed at the forefront of the rally, in admission and in content. Because of this, the day was ultimately underwhelming.
It was an historic event, and an unmissable one. But it was far from inspiring.
Lucy Mueller is a senior majoring in cinema-television production and a managing editor for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Everything is Copy, “ runs Mondays.