I arrived in Honolulu on February 15, 4 days before the Hawaii democratic caucus, on a mission. My mission was to inspire as many voters in the Islands as I could to turn out for our own Barack Obama. Barack was born and raised in Hawaii for most of his young life and although he attended Punahou, my rival high school, I forgave him for that.
My plane landed at noon and I was met by Tim McBroom who was working for the campaign. He introduced me to Chelsea Clinton at the baggage claim, who I hadn’t even noticed on my flight. She was a lot smaller than I imagined, which made me think of how short her mother must be since Hillary seems to be even shorter than Chelsea on television. I don’t know why it was such a surprise since people always say the same thing about me, too. We shook hands and wished each other luck, kind of the way boxers do just before they pummel one another to near death.
My first stop was a rally for Barack at the University of Hawaii. That was the first time I ever stepped foot on the University campus other than picking up and dropping off my very drunk best friend, Joell, at the dorms a few times after clubbing in our younger days. We arrived early at the rally and it was a good thing since I still didn’t have my speech prepared. My friends and feverish Obama campaigners, Catherine Park and Keith Kamisugi jumped into the back of my SUV to help me make the final tweaks. I was able to run it only twice before it was time to go in. I was so nervous about speaking my heart was pounding in my ears and it made it kind of hard to hear what was going on. When it was my time to speak I kept my eyes glued to the paper and was relieved when it was finally over. If I was relieved, I could only imagine how relieved the audience was. Then, my worst nightmare happened. I was told that Barack’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, was running late and I had to improvise! I must admit, however, the Q and A I did to stall was far better than my speech. I decided to scrap the speech for the rest of the schedule.
In the days following I made numerous appearances along side Maya and found that it was beneficial for me to speak before her and the politicians that joined us. Not only was Maya eloquent, funny and poetic, she also had the coolest voice ever. The kind of voice you hear on the radio doing those long distance dedications.
I made a lot of speeches for the next few days and I dreaded every one of them. I recalled a few more stories with each one and by the end of it all I had enough to fill in about a solid 5 minutes. I’m sure no one wanted to hear me for longer than that anyway. My biggest inspiration was Congressman Neil Abercrombie. I envied the way his speeches rolled off his tongue and were so inspiring I felt like I was at a Southern Baptist church and nearly fell to the ground rolling on the floor. His impromptu speeches were almost as good as Michelle Obama’s, who, by the way, had replaced Oprah as my new hero after seeing her speak at the rally at UCLA on Superbowl Sunday.
I did a lot of running around campaigning over the next few days. I mean literally running. Unfortunately all I packed were high heel boots. Who knew I would be running alongside a trolley all over Honolulu and on the beach in the sand passing out fliers to remind people to caucus on Tuesday. I must have passed out about 350 fliers in 3 days. I was obsessed with getting the word out. I stood on street corners, canvassed my mother’s neighborhood and ran through Kahala Mall, which I promptly got kicked out of. Who knew you’re not supposed to hand out fliers at the mall?… or the UH dorms, or on school campuses, or outside of office buildings? I thought I was doing a public service getting the word out. Hey, It was my first time canvassing in Hawaii how was I supposed to know.
It wasn’t all scary speeches and getting kicked off properties though. There were a couple of really fun and totally legal events, too. I had one of the best evenings appearing with Congressman Abercrombie at Hula’s, doing gay and lesbian outreach. I had such a great time there I didn’t want to leave except that my two best friends, Joell and Andrea, were starving and getting drunk while waiting for me, proving once again that I am actually a gay man trapped inside a woman’s body.
Four days, 350 fliers, 7 speeches, 200 phone calls and 4 blisters later, I was about to see if it all paid off. I drove Joell to her caucus location at Stevenson Intermediate School to witness the process first hand. By 6:35PM, 25 minutes before the caucus cut off time, the traffic started blocks away from the site as people drove around frantically searching for parking. The school parking lot was already full and cars were parked illegally along the sidewalks and in driveways for blocks. I decided to drop Joell off so she could wait in line while I circled around for Parking. Twenty minutes later I settled for a space about 1/4 of a mile away. As I walked to the caucus location in my new rubber slippers I bought to replace the high-heeled boots, the slippers gave me blisters in new places. I finally arrived and saw the line wrapping around the buildings, through the parking lot, almost reaching the street. It looked like about 1000 people were already in line waiting to cast their vote.
Tuesday, February 19th turned out to be a momentous day for the Democrats of the Hawaiian Islands and I have never been prouder of the people of my home state.
Voters refused to be shoved into the shadows of virtual irrelevance as they have been in previous elections and they came out in droves to shout from the mountaintops “Yes We Count!” Hawaii had good reason to get involved this year. Not only did their votes matter because of the earlier caucus date, they had a local boy to support, Barack Obama. Hawaiians are famous for supporting their own, I should know, and this year having a candidate they could really believe in like Barack made it all the more encouraging for them to brave the lines that wrapped around the block and the very limited parking at the caucus sites.
In 2004 only 4000 caucus goers showed up to vote for their democratic candidate. In past years getting Hawaiians to be active in politics is like trying to get Britney Spears to sober up. We all know she can but she just doesn’t want to. The Democratic Party of Hawaii was prepared for a large turn out this year and had printed about 17,000 ballots and provided more caucus sites than ever before. But they fell short by a mere 20,000. Many of the 37,000 voted for the first time and many, like my mother, voted as a democrat for the first time because they were so inspired by Barack Obama.
By final count Hawaii voted in favor of Barack 75% to 25%. I think it’s safe to say, “Mission accomplished”.
March 4 marks another big day of voting for Texas and Ohio. I haven’t decided whether or not I’m headed out there yet, but I can tell you this much. If I do go, I’m leaving the high-heeled boots at home.
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