It’s my second term at Roanoke College and believe it or not, it’s not all fun, frat parties and indulging in writing poetry here. Occasionally I do partake in exams, do very important and interesting reading and if I’m lucky, see the odd world leader. Yup. As a socially aware young lefty passionate student, I have died and gone to politics heaven. Last semester I was lucky enough to go and see Bill Clinton speak, go to the Whitehouse, have Michelle Obama wave to us and be within ten foot of the one and only President Obama.
Now Obama is not my favourite politician, but I recognise he’s a damn good one and wish more people in this country would too. I remember the excitement when he was first voted in. I was at my final year in sixth form and my politics and government teacher had a way of getting us excited about the subject at the best of times. Lucky for him, we probably witnessed one of the most significant moments in history as we all stayed up till 4am to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, and much more importantly, the all famous Beyonce song at the inauguration a few months later. For my generation, this may well be an exaggeration but it felt like our Fall of the Berlin Wall moment. Everything seemed so hopeful. After the tar of the Florida recount, the growing food crisis in Africa, global warming, 9-11, the Iraq war, the London bombings, the David Kelly affair, rising tuition fees, unemployment and the recession in general, we needed a win. For the first time in a long time, it seemed something positive was happening in the world. It topped my favourite moments in life anyway, especially when I saw John Cusack in the audience.
Did I ever think I’d be lucky enough to get anywhere near this president or any other? Not a chance. But then again I never dreamed I’d be coming here at all. When I heard Bill Clinton was coming to Roanoke, I near fainted many a times before composing myself and making rapid plans to go and see him. Second only to Jimmy Carter, he’s one of my favourite President’s and I confess to him making me a blush a little when he talks with that Arkansas twang of his. The guy bought himself out of poverty from a tin shack in a town called Hope and bought the entire country of debt when he became President while he was at it. He recognised the importance of politics on a global scale, not just national, whilst refraining from any kind of aggressive foreign policy. He bought climate change to the attention of the Whitehouse for the first time since Carter. He implemented amazing welfare programs despite pressure to make cuts and still balanced the books and he improved literary rates and reduced unemployment. The man was a freaking superhero. A superhero who’s kryptonite happened to be sex scandals… and no I have no justification for that. Do I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion and doesn’t make all his other achievements redundant though? Yes I do. Do I believe the attempted impeachment was a blatant portrayal of the kind of Partisan politics we can do without, especially in times of prosperity? Of course. But was it wrong? Yes. Rant over.
Anyway, he was coming to Roanoke to help on the campaign trail to reelect Obama. We queued for hours to get into to see him and I even had to squat behind a school building for a tinkle but it was completely worth it. We were maybe two metres from the front. I cried when I first saw him, no joke. It was incredible. His speech was so inspiring, and to see him get so much behind our Barry after everything that happened between him and Hilary in the primaries is a real credit. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as amazing as his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008 but then again, that was the moment when I realise how incredibly the man was and fell slightly in love and was probably one of the best speeches of his career.
Great experience. You should all try and see politicians talk in your towns, even local ones. I cant emphasize how important participation is to democracy. He even came down into the crowd and we reached out and shook his hand, in amongst a pile of other eager hands that is. But then a wonderful thing happened. Perhaps I was screaming so hard he couldn’t help but see me, perhaps my red cheeks served as a beacon or perhaps he just knew a politically engaged girl when he saw one because our eyes locked and then he reached back to personally shake my hand. Twice I therefore got to touch him and I could have died from happiness. The dress I wore that day is forever known jokingly as “The Bill Clinton Dress”. No, it’s not blue.
So that’s my Bill story. Now for my Barry.
It was my second trip to D.C. I’d already been with my parents (which was fun, even if my mum did refer to the Washington monument as “The Big Stick”) and done all the touristy things like the monuments and the Smithsonians. Favourite monument, by far the Martin Luther King one, a reasonably new build but absolutely stunning, and rightly so. Favourite Smithsonian, American History museum, if not only for Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s typewriter and Judy Garland’s famous ruby red slippers. So this time I was looking forward to chilling in Georgetown and oh yeah, going to the freaking Whitehouse.
Yes, my awesome college had arranged a Whitehouse tour for us. Naturally, I was excited and convinced myself I would see the president, or at the very least, Bo the Whitehouse dog. No such luck though. The security was intense, you had to provide all this information before hand and go through various checkpoints to get anywhere near the entrance, but everyone was friendly enough. I couldn’t help but draw comparison between the Whitehouse and Downing Street. At No.10, the door can only be opened from the inside so there is a man who’s only job it is, to open the door. Someone has to be there all the time or no one can get it. Apart from the gate on the street and the two police officers outside, I think that’s the only security we have…
Anyway, two interrogations and a metal detector later we’re in and while I didn’t see Bo or any of the Obama’s, it was awe inspiring just being in the building at all. Seeing the rooms and corridors I’m so used to seeing on the news was trippy to say the least and all the portraits and history on display was incredible. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed any picture inside but we took some cheeky shots just outside.
On Lafayette square, we met Concepcion Picciotto, a Spanish protester who has been there for the better half of 30 years protesting against nuclear arms and the state of Israel. Luckily I was with a few Spanish speakers and so we had quite an engaging conversation It started off interesting but soon, after her clear insanity (which we debated afterward whether it was a product of her dedication or the cause) began to show in the form of accusing us of being working for government if we disagreed with her slightly, we quickly left. She had some interesting points and I’m certainly not a fan of Zionists but I’m not certainly not anti-semitic either (whereas she clearly was). As for her nuclear protests, she claimed the reason she had no teeth or hair was because the government had radiated her water. Stranger things have happened and it is inspiring to see someone so dedicated to their cause… but the effects of her plight had obviously started to wear on her arguments and I would have loved to discussed things further with her perhaps twenty five years ago instead.
I spent the rest of the day vintage shopping in Georgetown. I adore Georgetown. So much so I’ve looked at doing a Masters at the university I could spend hours there and frequently do. I wandered the streets a while before going to famous bar named Serendipity, drinking Gin martinis and befriending a conservative couple Bill and Ellen whilst I people watched and wrote. I thought what I was writing was profound at first and then stunning after but upon reviewing the steady decline of sobriety or legibility in my writing the next day (with genius comments such as “MY PEN IS RED- THATS SOOOO SIGNIFINCNAT” and “The sound of a gin martini being made is suspiciously close to the start of the Pretty Girl Rock song“) I have since learnt to cap my writing at two drinks. It wasn’t wasted though, I got a few good tidbits out of it, and met the wonderful Bill and Ellen.
The next day we were due to leave but went to Arlington Cemetery in the morning on what turned out to be Veteran’s day. The weather was gorgeous and it was a very sobering experience. I recommend it to everyone, but try to avoid being such a tourist about it and posing with war memorials. That’s just not cool.
On the way out, we noticed a slight buzz about the place. Helicopters swarmed overhead. Of course, it was Veteran’s day, and who else would be here but the President and his family. We only had to wait about ten minutes, saw one of the biggest entourages in the world and had Michelle Obama wave to us from one car whilst the president himself drove by in another. It was just funny how I was so sure I’d get to see him that weekend, and I did, just not in the place I suspected. My life was well and truly made.