October 16, 2008

McCain and Obama Meet in Round 3

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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The high security fortress known as Hofstra University was brimming with energy yesterday in preparation for the third and final presidential debate. Barricaded off by the Secret Service, orange parking cones, police cars and officers patrolling the crowds on horses, the outwardly militant environment conveyed a strong message: no messing around on debate day.
But on the inside, the campus was vivacious. Sporting both official campaign logos and homemade apparel, everyone made clear who was their candidate of choice. Obama’s name appeared on the hats, headbands and sticker-clad pants of his supporters, while McCain fans, many in business attire, proudly waved the campaign signs.[img_assist|nid=32707|title=Demonstrating|desc=A woman was at Hofstra’s campus yesterday for the debate.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The grounds were prim and proper, ready for the big day. Manicured lawns and garbage-less walkways were filled with students in shorts and journalists in suits. The on-campus parking lot was filled with massive tour buses — transporting not rock stars, but media representatives from CNN, C-SPAN, Rock the Vote and Project Vote Smart.
Masking tape messages filled dorm room windows, and buildings were ornamented with red, white and blue debate posters. Students seemed to replace “how’s it going” with “are you going?” One thing, and one thing only, was on everyone’s mind — even if it meant neglecting course work.
“I’m going to pull an all-nighter for this,” one student said, grabbing her Obama poster and running. “But whatever … I’m an Obama.”
The intricately designed “debate08” press passes hung around many a neck, draped as metals for their proud owners possessing the ticket into the show of a lifetime.
And that it was, given the small size of the arena and even smaller number of students able to gain access. The debate took place in David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, and over 6,800 total students entered the lottery for seats. According to a Hofstra staff member in the education department, 150 students were awarded tickets. The arena, while it can accommodate up to 5,000 people, held no more than 1,000 for last night’s debate.
The small number of student seats available did not hinder student involvement in the day’s activities. Starting on Saturday, Hofstra planned a slew of events in preparation for last night including student debates, movie screenings, lectures and events with the mainstream media.
“It’s been a crazy and exciting time here,” said Amanda Beneway, a freshman at Hofstra. “The rallies and protests have been on a number of issues. Green issues are huge on campus right now, as well as the Iraq War.” Earlier this week, a group of Hofstra students participated in the March of the Dead, wearing all black clothing and masks to commemorate civilians who have died in Iraq.
Rachel Kaplan, a senior at Hofstra, was lucky enough to get a seat at the debate. As an avid McCain supporter, Kaplan said she “likes [McCain’s] Israel plan more than Obama’s.” While frustrated with the media’s portrayal of Sarah Palin, claiming it “emphasizes the stigmas associated with women,” Kaplan feels the Republican pair is the right fit for the White House.
Craig Kennedy, a Hofstra senior, was surprised by the insurgence of activism the presidential debate brought to campus. “This is kind of weird,” he said, “and unexpected.”
And a single glance outside Hofstra’s metal gates was all it took to see the unexpected. Hempstead Turnpike became a hotbed of radicalism as over 300 demonstrators — some younger than 10 and some older than 70 — filled the sidewalks shouting, marching, dancing and singing for their causes with vigor.
Demonstrators focused on a range of issues including the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, education policy, environmental policy, abortion, women’s rights, immigration policy and the recent Wall Street bailout. The overwhelming majority of demonstrators supported Democratic causes.
“They say bail the bankers, we say jail the bankers,” chanted a group from the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “Bail out the people, not the banks,” they continued.
Estelle Bloom and Ida Peltz, both senior citizens over 70, held onto the roadside barricade, waving signs reading “stop the war now, bring our troops home.” As members of the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, Bloom and Peltz have dedicated much time and energy to educating children and adults about “timely issues.” They have been campaigning for Obama by calling registered voters in Pennsylvania to get to the polls.
“These are thought-provoking times,” said Bloom. “And I don’t trust Republicans.”
When asked to comment on Sarah Silverman’s recent political skit, “the Great Schlep,” Bloom denied that many senior citizens are voting for McCain. “Maybe in Florida … but all my friends are voting for Obama.”
Father Stephen Maloney of Malverne, N.Y.’s Charismatic Episcopal Church was protesting against Obama’s pro-choice stance.
“Abortion is a moral, ethical issue that has been largely ignored during this election season … it is a crisis in our nation, and no one wants to talk about it,” he said, citing the 120,000 unborn babies are killed a month. “We’re the voice for the unborn.”
Another group of demonstrators, waving flags and holding signs reading “Remember 9/11” claimed they were “countering all the liberal protestors around [them].” Self-proclaimed staunch Republicans since the Regan-era, the group claimed they “support Sarah Palin for her conservative values.”
Not all protestors wore red, white and blue. The ladies of Code Pink, a national organization comprised of “women for peace,” made a loud entrance in their giant pink truck. Decked out in pink everything — jewelry, accessories and clothing — the women danced, jumped and chanted messages for peace abroad and at home.
One Pink member, Kelley Jones, wore a homemade dress sewn from two American flags. Jones, a Mississippi native, attended all three debates and was a Mississippi delegate to the Democratic National Convention. “My 18-year old son just got his drivers’ license,” she said. “I told him that voting is like driving, D to go forward, R to go back.”