The Man, The Myth, The Legend

I’ve pretty much been obsessed with Bill Clinton since the day I wrote a letter to the White House in second grade. So to say I was starstruck during his rally with Jerry and Gavin Newsom at UCLA last Friday would be the understatement of the century.

My coworker Dan and I were tasked with assisting the event organizers for the day, smoothing out last-minute kinks and making sure all the logistics played out as planned. We arrived to the Dickson Court at 11am to little more than a few sound engineers milling around the grass, not sure what to expect.

Within an hour the courtyard had transformed into a bona fide entertainment venue, with stacks of lights and amplifiers and a massive California flag hanging beside an equally-large American one. By 3pm, a group of more than fifty volunteers had gathered for a phone-banking and get-out-the-vote push sponsored by Organizing for America.

As I weaved through the ever-expanding crowd, introducing myself to attendees and listening to their gamut of reasons for supporting Jerry, I was struck by the genuine enthusiasm I encountered from each and every person I spoke to. From homemade Jerry shirts decorated in puff-paint to proud UCLA Bruin Democrats, from volunteer firefighters manning our memorabilia table to students wielding Jerry signs and chanting in unison, the bubbling excitement for the ensuing event felt infectious.

By the time doors officially opened to the public, a line of thousands twisted through campus, all eager to join the party. Local elected officials peppered the VIP area; to their left sat the largest ADA contingent our organizer had ever seen at a political event. Two sign-language interpreters chronicled the action for a gathering of deaf community members.

Despite the colossal onslaught of attendees, preparation ran smoothly and the audience was comfortably situated for the opening acts. Performances by local singer-songwriter Chelsea Williams and UCLA’s all-male a cappella group Bruin Harmony were both met with thunderous applause.

Then the motorcade started snaking towards the rally site, and the crowd went nuts. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced what my mom pegged “the Democratic Dream Team,” and Jerry, Gavin, and Bill filed onstage to a cacophony of cheers.

Newsom spoke first, chronicling his record in San Francisco and heaping praise upon Jerry’s work as governor, attorney general, and mayor of Oakland. Jerry’s talk followed, ending with an inspiring discussion of how California’s breakdown has paved the way for a breakthrough.

Then our forty-second president took the podium and delivered an uplifting address about the importance of environmental reform and access to top-quality education. He urged UCLA students to turn out to the polls, saying, “Any student who doesn’t vote is committing malpractice on their future.” He mentioned he and Jerry are of similar age, joking that he is grateful that Jerry still cares enough about our future to assume the role of governor once more.

It was exhilarating to see a leader I’ve admired for almost my entire life so heartily endorse the candidate I’ve been working hard for all campaign season. “It’s as simple as where are we, where do we need to go, and who can get us there best,” Clinton said to roaring applause as he explained Jerry is the best person for the job.

When his speech ended, WJC surprised everyone – especially his security guards – by leaping right into the audience and shaking hands with nearly every single one of the more than 6,000 fans in the crowd. When he returned backstage, I giddily got my photo-op as well. And the man liked my earrings.

I can’t think of anything that makes quitting my job for this crazy adventure more worth it than Friday’s rally. Except maybe a victory on Election Day.

Backstage with Bill

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