SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, MARCH 27, 1968
You take your first close-up look at how a new breed handles the Great Quadrennial American Gymnastic: the Political Campaign Visit.
This is a Happening, ala RFK, which, for all its crush, rush and sudden hush, is even a little terrifying.
This visitor is Robert F. Kennedy, candidate for president of the United States, and One Man Show. And that's the story.
THE PEOPLE who plan his visit work from a single sheet of paper, with just the bare bones of a schedule. They're new at this and the style is different. They follow the simplest of formulas and The Man does the rest.
Gone is the bunting-bedecked platform, the rostrum with its fancy seal, the flags and the ever-present swarm of dignitaries. There isn't even a sound truck at the airport to handle the speeches, as if anyone in this jam would dare to make a speech. The Man uses a bullhorn but his words are swallowed up by a moving mass of humanity.
There is an assault on your eardrums by a band playing somewhere, but even here the similarity ends. There is a new, frantic, nerve-twitching beat to th s music that goes on.
THIS IS A people event, "in" and "out" types, and signs — all kinds of signs, but signs with messages far different from the old slogans:
"Sock it to 'em Bobby;" "Turn Me On. Bobby!" "Hope is RFK".
The opposition is there too, with the "All the Way With LBJ" and "This is McCarthy Country."
A receiving line? There is supposed to be one, of sorts, but even this is lost in the surge of the crowd. The only way out is the next flight!
BUDGET? The committee says this project qualifies for the poverty program. There is no money.
Security? There isn't any. No Secret Service agents; no military guards of honor and just a few uniformed police. And crowd control is nonexistant.
"Happiness" is the order of the day. No strongarms, but there's a bareknuckle, brash, brusque tide running beneath this cool veneer. And you can feel it.
THE BEHIND-the scenes strategy is low-key. No detailed instructions. No press handouts. No promotion. Just a simple announcement to the press that the man is coming and Kazam!
The advance man talks of being a "volunteer." You scoff at his positiveness about the crowd turnout. And then you see.
Press box? This is like the Elks picnic with everyone talking at once. Gone is the traditional photo pen and the TV platform. This is every man for himself. May Day, Man, May Day! And the press bus for the motorcade? Khe Sanh is safer!
The payoff on these things is the crowd estimate. There are three. Yours, the police and the committee's. In the above order, the estimates are 8,000, 11,000 and 15,000 people at the UW speech. Everyone agrees on 500 or so at the airport welcome.
YOU COMPARE the turnout to the 4 - to - 5,000 or so who came to hear Vice President Nixon in the 1960 when Elsenhower's veep spoke at the airport. You remember the crowd (range: 25,000 all the way to 90,000) who greeted John F. Kennedy in Seattle streets in 1962 [Note: this was a reference to 1960 or 1961, since Kennedy didn't come to Seattle in 1962.], and you remember the 125,000 to 175,000 to greet Lyndon Baines Johnson oh the same route in 1964.
Those were the traditional welcomes. Great planning. Painstaking detail. Professional.
This "happening" brings out people without a program. It's a success by the new standards. It's NOW-TIME!
TEN THOUSAND, one hundred and 12 screams later: This entourage dedicates a Union Street headquarters and barges into another wave of cheerleaders. But here you notice there are more adults ... looking and thinking. ...
There has to be a legal limit to this intensity. But there isn't. There are now some 800 more people in the hotel lobby and Georgian Room and it's the airport, the university scenes all over again. Even the "delegates" are in a daze.
You know old friends Gordy (Nixon) Clinton, Luke (LBJ) Graham, and Mort (Rocky) Frayn will have to top this when their men come to town. And they'll try and maybe succeed but for now you have seen something new and its awesome in its excitement and confusion.
AMERICA is changing.
The traditional ways are Exit, friend. The amateurs are in charge and they seem to know where they are headed.
You are at JackGordon.org,
a salute to John F "Jack" Gordon, Mr. Seattle
Copyright © 2002-2012 John R. Gordon