BlueOregon has the full background, but in a nutshell, it's this:
In Portland for an already-scheduled town hall meeting at noon today, Senator Edwards joined a quickly assembled "emergency veto rally" in the south park blocks at 5:15pm, one of many such rallies organized across the country by MoveOn.org and allied progressive organizations to mobilize opposition and encourage Congressional resistance to Bush's veto of the Provisional Funding Bill yesterday.
Mise en scène:
We had thunder, lightning, and hail in the early afternoon in Portland, but things had calmed down by 5pm, so I shot across the Steel Bridge, weaved through the side streets to the South Park Blocks, and made it by 5:15. Naturally, people had gathered but the featured speaker was nowhere in sight.
A crowd of people had already gathered around the Teddy Roosevelt statue--for those who like their symbolism to be unsubtle--with signs and banners. It was a pretty representative Portland crowd, running the spectrum from Columbia rain gear to Nike to R.E.I. to Lands End, and even some die-hard Eddie Bauer enthusiasts among the lot.
The organizers had provided "Keep 'em safe/Bring 'em home" signs for participants. There were a lot of others, mostly homemade:
A long war is a disaster for whoever wins--Sun Tsu
Disavow AIPAC [triggered quite an argument near where I stood]
911 was an inside job: Google 911 truth
War against terror--stupid as a war against shooters
At 5.15 a light rain had begun to fall, although not nearly enough to chase anyone away--this is Portland--but enough to bring out those huge, magnificent golf umbrellas that always make it tough to maneuver in a crowd. The rain lasted about 10 minutes, and then there were brief sun patches until Edwards arrived.
KGW NewsChannel 8's remote truck was there, plus a lot of professional photographers of unknown association. (Nothing up on KGW's web site right now; if they upload a story later, I'll update this.)
I estimated 150-200 people; a photographer standing next to me guessed 250. I laughed that KGW would report that there were 100, and the organizers would say there were 700.
Three Portland bike cops stood to the side, chatting and keeping an unworried eye on the crowd (these were Edwards people, after all). Soon two horse patrol officers appeared, although they seemed mainly interested in staying under the trees and out of the rain. (Bike patrol officers have much, much better rain gear.)
Perhaps it was the rain, perhaps it was the short notice, but the obligatory counter-demonstrators were conspicuous by their absence. One of the volunteers, circulating a sign-up clipboard, did get harassed by a fellow with a cell phone to one ear who kept saying something to egg him on (just out of reach of my microphone). The two stood at the back fringe of the crowd, and I saw the volunteer nervously and indignantly protesting that he was "an American," that he "voted American." The cell phone guy stepped forward as the volunteer retreated, apparently offering some more unwelcome comments, but the volunteer refused to engage him further and he drifted away.
In an effort to run out the clock until Edwards arrived, organizers led cheers and made short speeches. In one delightful moment, a fellow read off the phone number for Gordon Smith's Portland office, and the crowd repeated it back as they punched it into their own cell phones. It became a chant: "Five Zero Three! Three Two Six! Three Three Eight Six!" Pity Gordon's local staffers tomorrow.
At about 5:30, a volunteer for Edwards suddenly looked around: "Anybody got a bullhorn? Bullhorn--we need a bullhorn!" The photographer standing on the park bench next to me and I rolled our eyes at each other in amusement. Fundamentals, guys--this was on the midterm for Anti-War Rally 101.
About four minutes later, a bullhorn was located. It had "PSU" marked on the side of it in permanent marker. Did someone sprint down to Portland State's student union building? Once the bullhorn was working, the first chant was: "What do we want?" [Peace!] "When do we want it?" [Now!]
It's probably not fair to mention, but the organizers from Edwards' team and MoveOn looked a bit more frazzled than their counterparts in "Primary Colors" or "Wag the Dog" seemed to do. Draw your own conclusions: It was the end of an off-and-on rainy day, at a last-minute event, 3000 miles from home--but I still give them credit for being on their game. Better them than me.
Twenty 'til six: When I first arrived, I was at the front of the crowd. Then, when they found the bullhorn, the center of activity shifted so I was on the fringe, standing on a bench to see. Now one of Edwards' team tells me nicely that the Senator is going to stand where I'm standing when he gets there, so I'll have to move. I smile agreeably and tell her I'll move as soon as the Senator gets there. You can see on her face that she's clearly spent a day--a week--a whole spring--in an environment where everyone wants to negotiate everything, and she instantly sizes me up for the utter lightweight I am, but she smiles and nods. Bless her heart. I stand on the bench as the crowd shifts and presses close--looking up at me. Just to be clear, I announce, "I'm not him." No one had asked to shake my hand.
Two minutes later, Edwards shows up, walking up the path from the south. Blue sport coat, open collar blue check shirt, blue jeans. Probably the only candidate for either party who looks remotely plausible in blue jeans. He shakes a few hands on the front edge of the crowd (including your humble narrator's), and mounts the park bench that I will insist to my dying day I was saving specifically for him.
The crowd closes in, and even with my trusty MP3 player only five or six feet from him, cheers and applause drowned out a couple of moments. But only a couple:
Edwards' remarks in the South Park Blocks:
Thank you very much. And let me say first of all how proud I am of all of you, and for others like you around the country, who are speaking out and standing up against this president.
This president, four years ago yesterday, arrived on an aircraft carrier and declared "Mission Accomplished." Not quite, right?
And now, for all of us, the reason we're gathered here today, is because the Congress has been given a mission. They were given that mission on Election Day 2006. And that mission is to stop this war in Iraq.
We need the Congress to stand firm and strong. If they don't have enough votes for the veto, then they need to send George Bush another bill, another funding bill [garbled]. If he vetoes that bill, they need to send him another bill.
They need to be strong. They need to be courageous. This is not about politics.
We have men and women dying in Iraq. We have spent five hundred billion dollars in Iraq. It is time for America to leave Iraq.
And I want to say to all of you, and all the MoveOn members all across this country: You've spoken out with strength and courage and passion about this issue. I'm proud of you for what you're doing. I'm proud of what you're doing, in speaking out, and standing up with strength and courage.
For those of you who haven't seen it, we put an ad on--we're putting an ad, tomorrow morning, on the air, in Washington DC, urging the Congress to stand strong, to stand firm, to stand with the American people and against George Bush.
And I want to say to all of you--you can join. Your voices can be heard. You can go to johnedwards.com, you can see the ad, you can pass it on to your friends, and you can join your voice to this chorus [?]. Because we want your voice to be heard.
This is such an important movement. Here's the truth--the great movements in American history did not begin in the Oval Office in Washington DC. The great movements--the civil rights movement, the movement to stop the war in Vietnam, the movement to stop the apartheid regime in South Africa--and today, the movement to stop the war in Iraq starts right here, in Portland, Oregon, with all of you [garbled].
Thank you all very much.
(Update: Video excerpt of Edwards' speech is here.)