I met the documentary producer Pagan Harleman at the MacDowell Colony in 2002; this fall, she took a leave from her job to volunteer on the Obama campaign, telling them, “Give me the hardest job you have.” They sent her to one of the most Republican counties in Colorado…and the rest, as they say, is history. She sent this great recap of the inauguration to friends, and has kindly let me post it here.
One Campaign Worker’s Abbreviated Tale of the Inauguration including the Purple Tunnel of Doom, the 21 gun scare, and Obama’s thank you to the staff with Jay Z.
by Pagan Harleman
1) Woke up at five thirty am.
2) Put on long underwear and four layers of clothing and then walked to the capitol accompanied by about a million other people.
3) Felt like I was staring in a music video as all around me people walked out their front doors, down their front path and fell in behind us.
4) Got to the purple gate — I and my three friends plus 60,000 people had tickets for the standing purple section — and then proceeded to walk to the back of the line only to discover that the line snaked around three blocks and ended in a tunnel underneath the capitol which was later nicknamed the “purple tunnel of doom.”
5) Had visions of being stuck in this purple tunnel of doom during a nuclear attack.
6) Decided that waiting at the end of 30,000 people in an underground tunnel for several hours was not a wise choice so went back to the front of the line and — along with 10,000 other people — tried to wedge our way in.
7) For one hour pushed and shoved and hoped that the 40,000 people behind us did not get too excited and start a stampede.
(8) Watched as the DC police rode up to try to control the situation, made an announcement, and then gave up.
9) Realized that we were packed in so tight we could not raise our arms above our heads and wondered if this is what it was like at Altamont.
10) After another hour of shoving and pushing with panic attacks erupting around us decided that we would rather watch from a bar so gave up.
11) Walked back down to the purple gate just out of curiosity.
12) Just happened to reach the gate as they finally opened it an hour late.
13) Walked in to the capitol lawn to witness history (while inadvertently cutting in line in front of 60,000 people).
14) Felt really bad for the thousands of people still stuck in the purple tunnel of doom.
15) Struggled to watch Barack take the oath on the jumbotron which was blocked by a tree.
16) Was totally startled when the 21 gun salute started because the cannons were about 20 feet from us and sounded like a gunshot.
19) Waved goodbye to Bush’s helicopter as it pulled away from the capitol above our head.
20) Walked out and had a fabulous lunch.
21) Took a nap.
22) Went to the western inaugural ball, one of the ten official balls, which feels like a cross between a prom and a trade show.
23) Watched as Mark Anthony rocked the house (turns out he can slam down on the salsa).
24) Lamented that there weren’t more Latino people at the ball because all the white people were just standing around watching Mark Anthony sing. Actually half the people were sitting on the floor in their gowns and tuxes watching him sing.
25) Formed our own impromptu dance floor where we did partner salsa which would normally look pathetic but since we were surrounded by gringos looked pretty good.
26) Clapped wildly when they announced “President of the United States Barack Obama.”
27) Watched Barack and Michele do a lovely dance and thought once more, wow, they are really in love.
28) Met a congressperson from Oregon who complained that normally the balls don’t make you buy drink tickets but this year they were cheap. He also said that at the Clinton balls it was so crowded that the sequins on women’s dresses stuck together.
29) Met a bank president who admitted that he was using his bailout money to make acquisitions not lend and who said that the government was just “giving money away without restrictions”.
30) Met about 30 people who told of their horror stories waiting in the purple tunnel of doom and never making it to the inauguration.
31) Waited for an hour in the coat check crush that is apparently a ritual after inaugural balls.
32) Met several congressional staffers who said everything they knew about government they learned from the TV show “The West Wing.”
33) Waited in line on the metro.
34) Arrived home very happy that finally I would hear the words President of the United States and not cringe.
35) Woke up really late.
36) Logged onto google earth and found the tree we had been standing near at the inauguration and calculated that we had been 572 feet from the historic spot where Barack took the oath.
37) Attended the staff ball which since it was organized by Obama’s people, not the inaugural committee, rocked out with FREE BOOZE, awesome food, tables, and great entertainment.
38) Had my heart swell when Obama came onstage to thank us. I was even more emotional then when he took the oath because I thought, wow, I was really a part of this. He made a half hour speech which went something like this (I’m paraphrasing.) There are three reasons why I won this race. The first is Michele. If she weren’t such a force of nature, so steady and so strong and capable in her own right, I could have never done this. The second is David Plouffe. Not many people choke me up but David always does, because he never lost focus. He never did a press interview, never wanted to meet with famous people, never goofed off, he always stayed focused on his job. The third reason I won is you. (BIG ROAR FROM THE ROOM.) Look at you all, you are so young. (They were, out of a staff of 4,000 maybe 85% are under 25). You are so idealistic and naive even that when the pundits said that I couldn’t win this campaign you didn’t know better so you said yes he can. And when they said he can’t raise money on the internet you said yes he can, and when they said he can’t run a different kind of campaign, one of inclusion, you said yes he can. You all helped me win because you were courageous enough to believe. And now I want you to listen to me. I want you to take that same conviction and creativity and resolve that you all applied so masterfully to the campaign and use it for things besides campaigning. Use it in your life. Bring creativity and courage to everything you do in your life. Don’t let somebody tell you what you can’t do. Go out and meet with your neighbor, form a group, and make change happen. You know how. You helped elect the president of the United States. So don’t let anyone ever tell you what you can’t do. (BIG CHEER AROUND THE ROOM). Now Michelle is looking at me because I promised to keep it brief and I have been going on for awhile so I have to go, but I just want to truly thank you all for all that you have done. Good night.
39) Watched Jay z come on and do a slamming show to thank us for working for Obama.
40) Found myself surrounded by a bunch of kids in their twenties jumping up and down chanting, “I have 99 problems and the bitch ain’t one” (I think that is what we were saying).
41) Took photos with my awesome Colorado staff.
42) Went home very happy and ready to change the world.
Pagan and friends at the Capitol:
Pagan Harleman is a documentary producer and writer whose most recent credits include Hopkins, a verite documentary series about Johns Hopkins Hospital by ABC News, State of the Union, an ABC special on America’s political divisions hosted by George Stephonopolous, and Crazy Sexy Cancer, a personal story of one woman’s survival with cancer which debuted at South by Southwest Film Festival. This fall she worked for Obama’s campaign as a GOTV (Get-Out-The-Vote) Coordinator in Colorado.