A Blue Rally
On October 26th, I had the chance to travel with one of my close friends to a Hillary Clinton rally. I thought it would be a good location to conduct my ethnographic experiment on the social phenomena of American politics. As a Canadian, I was baffled by the long lines, the various behaviours, and the overall commotion that was happening in front of me. I was not used to this phenomenon since Canadian elections never last this long, and we tend to keep it more low key. In the following two descriptions, I will start by describing the area we were in, what was happening and who was there. I will then elaborate on my own experience as a participant observer, but also an outsider to this cultural phenomenon.
On Wednesday afternoon, my friend and I decided to drive to downtown Tampa and join a Hillary Clinton rally. Once we arrived there, we discovered that Trump supporters made up a small, but vocal minority. They walked around with anti-Hillary messages on their shirts and their signs. These read: “Killary,” “Hillary the Crook,” “Never forget Benghazi,” etc. The Clinton campaign also offered shirts and merchandise for sale, but many of these lacked the patriotic images of the flag. Instead, merchandise bore slogans such as the newly viral quote “Nasty Woman,” “HERstory,” “Madame President,” and so forth. Even though the line was long, with many people not being able to actually get into the venue, people stayed. We gathered as close as we could to be able to catch a glimpse of her turquoise pantsuit. When people realized that they were not able to hear, or properly see her, they walked away, opting to browse the merchandise and either ignore or argue with some of the Republican supporters.
As I took note of these arguments between the two camps, I started to think that my ethnographic experiment could have been even better, had I also gone to a Trump rally to see if there were just as many Hillary supporters there. Many of the conversations I was able to eavesdrop at her rally were mainly focused on “how awesome would it be to have our first ever female president.” I wondered if that’s why the majority of people were voting for Clinton, or because of her policies. I did notice more women than men; I also noticed a diverse number of people there. Near the entrance of the venue, an anti-abortion van was stationed near democratic supporters waiting in line. Many of these Democrats did their best to ignore the critics, but some did engage in discussions with the anti-abortion activists (most of whom were men). One man was wearing a turnaround collar, speaking of bible verses through a megaphone. I found it curious that this anti-abortion crew included no women, only older Caucasian men. Their truck had a large image of a fetus, and included bible verses and hateful Hillary comments. Security was tight, as I imagined it would be at any other rally. While waiting in line, Clinton’s motorcade, consisting of about 20 police motorcycles, SUV’s and tour busses, drove beside us. Hillary waved to us. The crowd, including myself, went wild. I heard someone say that “it was such an honour to be in her presence.”
It was a brutally hot Wednesday afternoon when my American friend and I decided to join forces with other Hillary supporters to go rally for Mrs. Clinton. My friend is a U.S citizen, passionately involved in this election. I, however, am a Canadian citizen, an outsider, who participated in this rally for fun. Nevertheless, I was equally passionate, and frightened, about this election. Once we arrived, we were greeted by a sea of blue-- the democratic party’s colour. People attending wore many different shades of blue fabric; many women were wearing pantsuits, and some were holding blue signs displaying Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan. Eventually, Mrs. Clinton herself was then seen wearing a turquoise shirt. The sea of blue garments mirrored the blue, cloudless, sky.
I had been skeptical of Hillary before, but being at her rally, witnessing supporters’ emotion and pride, I too became enthusiastic. I cheered, spoke of her highly when talking to other supporters, and showed my admiration for her. In other words, being there, among all the other Hillary supporters, affected both my behaviour and my feelings toward the candidate. It was almost as if I began to mimic everyone else’s behaviour. This experience helped me realize a presidential rally is a cultural phenomenon that has a profound effect on the people who attend it. Even as an outsider, I became infected by the crowd and the ambiance. I have no direct involvement in this election. I’m not voting and an American presidency won’t directly affect me, or my country. However, being there with other joyous supporters, my reactions were not my own. I started chanting when others did the same; I got involved in arguments with some of the Trump supporters and started gush over the candidate with other supporters. Afterward, while watching some videos that I took of the event, I realized my screams were louder than those of others. I became extremely involved with her supporters, losing myself in the process. I can’t comment for sure whether the rally had a similar effect on others, persuading them to “hop on” the Hillary bandwagon—I can only speak from my own experience, as a participant observer.
Having completed this exercise, I came to realize that writing ethnography is not as easy as I had anticipated it to be. The description was easier, thanks to exposure to many of the anthropological texts we have read this semester, as well as others that I have read in other Anthropology classes. Those works gave me much insight on how to, hopefully, properly describe a setting. Many ethnographers give details of their setting, and focus on particular, smaller aspects to engage the reader. Yet my second description, the sensorial ethnography, proved to be more of a challenge. Ultimately, however, I found that writing from experience as a participant observer was easier. What helped me the most was the readings from the third week of class, which were about voice and style. I was able to gather insight about how these ethnographic texts were written and to further give emotional and sensorial detail of the event and its surroundings.