Hooking Up at Alice
I’m not a big donor. I don’t make a ton of money. I’m not a VIP or a major fundraiser or a SuperPAC. I’m just me, average regular everyday activist who tries his best to make the world a little bit of a better place through community involvement.
So I’ve never met a president before. In fact, up until recently I’ve only seen one from afar. Once, in 1992, when I was living in my hometown of Independence, Missouri, during the big presidential race between Bush I and Clinton, I saw Clinton, from afar, up on a stage at Santa-Cali-Gon Days in the fall of that year. (Santa-Cali-Gon Days is an annual three-day festival in Independence to commemorate the launching of the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon Trails out West.) When I think back it makes total sense that Clinton was there: Missouri was a swing-state and he was on his way to win it and defeat the incumbent Bush I.
Other than that event, I never had the chance to see a president up close, not that I ever would have really wanted to see Bush II. However, in February, when President Barack Obama was in San Francisco, up on Nob Hill, just a few blocks from where I live, at the Masonic Auditorium, I got to see him up closer than I ever imagined.
A week or so prior, my friend and Alice stalwart member Jim Haas began working on a coordinated donation campaign with Bay Area Obama fundraiser Kathy Levinson to bring together hundreds of self-identified LGBT donors to greet Obama en masse and show our community’s strength. They formed a plan to bundle LGBT money for the event, have the group all sit together on the main floor of the auditorium for prime viewing by the president, and to wear common stickers so everyone in the audience would know we were there as an LGBT voice for Obama.
Jim and Kathy got me there and had me help hand out Alice stickers to the participants in our group. So I brought a roll of our club stickers and stood out in the cold on that night outside the auditorium watching the flow of people going into the auditorium and scouting out for our LGBT donors on our list of sign-ups. Kathy would hand them their ticket; I would hand them our Alice sticker.
Once in the auditorium, the crowds and organizers of the event could see our stickers and knows that Alice, and the larger LGBT community, were there in solidarity with Obama, but also as a reminder of our causes and concerns for equality in the campaign for the White House and the current administration.
I wasn’t sure I’d actually get to go in. Someone asked me outside if I was going in and I said, even though I had a ticket in my hand, “well, you never know as an activist if you actually get to go to these fancy events.” And it’s sorta true. Not being a big donor, not being rich, not being part of the 1%, it’s hard to have direct access to things that the rich take for granted. I get it; it’s the way our corporate-sponsored electoral system works.
So when I was told that I was done working and that I could get in line to go in, I was wowed. I was thinking how amazing it was that this little guy from middle-of-nowhere USA was going inside. Then when I got in, I realized my seat was on the main floor with the others, only a few rows away from the stage. The president would be up on that stage shortly, within close viewing distance, not afar, and I could see him, in person, for the first time ever. After he spoke, he walked the front row shaking hands. It occurred me to me I could maybe go up there with the others in the crowd too, and so I finally made my way down the aisle and I got a few photos, from just a few feet away, and felt amazed how lucky I was to be in attendance.
So thank you to Jim and Kathy for getting me a ticket. But more than that, thank you to Alice for getting me there in the first place. It wasn’t because I was a major donor I was there; it was because I was an activist with Alice. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club hooked me up for a meaningful and lasting memory in my own life. It’s a privilege to be involved with this group which has the ability to bring those of us in the LGBT community together, from all walks of life, to do big and great things and that some of us, as individuals, never imagined.
Reese Aaron Isbell, Co-Chair
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club