Friday evening I arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, just one day after Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine accepted the Democratic nomination for President and Vice President of the United States. This is the first rally of the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in the U.S. Every move from now forward will become history.
Pennsylvania is a swing state and was the first grounds of attack for both Trump and Clinton since their nominations. Hillary chose a three way intersection in Midtown Harrisburg, flanked by a cafe, used book store, LGBT resource center and Army Navy supply shop for her rally. The city had to remove traffic lights and close streets and businesses to accommodate her visit. Residents told me that nothing this big has ever happened in Midtown. Accounts vary but I’d guess that around 3000 people were accepted into the rally while close to a thousand more were denied entrance due to over-crowding. I have read that only 2,000 were expected.
As I waited in line around 6pm, a bookish but sociable young girl asked me to fill out a small sheet of paper and confirmed that I’m registered to vote at my current residence. Unlike the Ted Cruz rally I attended in April, party affiliation was not a requirement for entry. A small Trump contingent hung outside the entrance with signs but were not a disturbance. Attendants were funneled through a security check point of metal detectors run by numerous TSA agents and Police officers clad in tactical vests.
I placed my camera bag on a nearby table for search. One officer picked up my Leica M6. He looked the camera over and then asked me to “turn it on.” I considered the effort it would take to explain that the camera doesn’t “turn on” per se because it’s mechanical. “It’s a film camera” I replied simply. He looked slightly confused and continued to look the M6 over as a TSA agent, who was a bit older, flung open my small Domke bag revealing my Nikon F2. “They’re old film cameras, it’s fine” said the older agent as he slid everything to the other side of the metal detector.
The sticky July air smelled of incense with a temperature hovering around 90°F and the humidity felt thick enough to swim in. Yet by 6:45pm, the empty podium emblazoned with the slogan “Stronger Together” was encircled by an excited, albeit sweaty crowd. Things were not supposed to get underway until 8:30pm but we stood and waited, some sipping on free bottled water while engaged in lively but peaceful political discussions.
The chiseled faces of Hollywood-like Secret Service agents overlooked a white majority and quite a number of African Americans and other minorities. Walks of life seemed to vary greatly. Women in colorful abayas, young Bernie defectors sporting horn rimmed glasses, people with disabilities and bearded men in their 40’s and 50’s dotted the audience. Beside me were two African American women clamoring for Clinton Kaine signs from campaign reps who were passing them out among us. They then took proud selfies after a school age Caucasian girl offered her sign to them and thanked her graciously. It was shoulder to shoulder but everyone was polite. People were very friendly and eager to help others with logistical questions that clearly indicated that they were not regular political rally-goers. I overheard a few others in my vicinity who also made the trek from Maryland because they knew Hillary and Tim were unlikely to speak there in the strongly Democratic state.
Around 8pm, the first of the presenters approached the stage to a charged audience who were supportive but clearly here for just one person. By the time a local reverend lead the Pledge of Allegiance, hundreds had piled up at the entrance, were turned away then splayed out around the caution tape and metal gates to see and hear what they could from afar.
During governor Tom Wolf’s speech, a section of the crowd called out to him for a doctor. He responded by starting a commentary about health care before it became apparent that someone in the crowd actually needed a doctor. A man had passed out and was promptly escorted from the sweltering mass by medics. I later read that some 30 people were treated for heat exhaustion. I heard no complaints from my quarters though, it was Hillary or bust.
Enthusiasm from the audience reached beyond political interest and well into celebrity adoration. After chanting “where is she?” during Wolf’s speech, one attendant was placated by another, “Let the man speak, Hillary will be here!”
And then the Stronger Together tour bus rolled up…
When the Clintons stepped out their tour bus, I looked down and noticed that we had all somehow moved forward by nearly a full foot! The excitement was palpable.
Former US President Bill Clinton greeted the crowd and introduced VP Presidential hopeful, Tim Kaine.
Kaine did his now famous Donald impression “Believe me” but didn’t hold the stage long before introducing Hillary to a euphoric crowd as Ain’t No Mountain High Enough played over the public address system.
Clinton wrapped her speech around 9pm, which was a condensed version of what she said at the DNC. The crowd went wild. They moved in closer as she descended the risers with Bill and the duo greeted the crowd personally with warm smiles and handshakes. The photogs snapped away.
I made my way against the crowd back to my car, passing a few groups of Trump supporters who chanted to passersby without much consequence. Apparently the only arrest made that night was of an animal rights advocate who’d hopped a gate without passing through security. I was surprised how easily and quickly I was able to get out of the densely packed rally. Even on the streets, drivers were careful to let rally-going pedestrians go first or let another car out of a tight parking spot ahead of them. The entire event was very smooth sailing. We’ll see how the coming months go! Thanks for having a look at my account!
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For those of you who were curious about the sketches that noted children’s book author Jonathan Bean was creating in the opening photo of my article, I have reached out to Jonathan and he has provided his work for me to share with my readers. I love how raw and almost unfinished his images are. The really capture the personalities of the folks standing in line hoping to get in to see Tim Kaine and the Clintons on Friday night.