Project Blog

Powwow For Change

Aug 11, 2008

                                 We had hoped to shoot another event in PA on Saturday. Until now, the only tool I have had available for scheduling events along our route has been the Events Planner on the Barack Obama website. This forum worked really well back in New York. I was able to find house meetings and fundraisers in the area and contact their organizers to ask for permission to come and shoot. But on the road we’re finding fewer and fewer events even if the timing for an event coincides with where we’ll be, the organizers don’t always read their RSVPs and may not get back to us at all. We considered just showing up to an Obama Picnic on a farm near Pittsburgh that I had RSVPed for, but gotten no response. But in the end we opted for pushing on to Ohio, where we had scheduled an event for the following day in Massillon, near Akron.

Jill Hayden responded weeks ago to my RSVP for her “Powwow for Change.” Her listing on the Obama Events calender promised a 17 foot tall tipi and a visit from a Obama field organizer. I asked Jill, in our ensuing email correspondence if she was part of a Native community in Ohio. She explained that no, in fact, she had raised three boys in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and had, herself been a Scout Leader. A self described tree hugger, Jill and her, now adult sons, had adopted many of the Native traditions associated with the Scouts. And when she had an opportunity to buy a real tipi a few years ago, Jill began putting it up for special events. We all agreed that an Obama House meeting qualified. Jill invited Rob and me to stay the night in her home before I could even ask. She offered the tipi itself and Rob and I agreed that we’d see what kind of shape we were in to brave a “camp out” on the night of the event.

Saturday night I contacted Jill to let her know that we would be arriving in Massillon ahead of schedule. She wouldn’t hear of us looking for a hotel in the area, and insisted that if we could tolerate the going-away party being held that night for one of her sons, we were welcome to stay with her. We arrived in yet another quiet suburb, to find a less than quiet bon voyage already in progress. Ty, Jill’s youngest son, was headed off to law school in Florida and many of his former frat brothers had showed up to see him off. Jill beckoned us inside her tranquil tipi once we had unloaded our gear, and the three of us sat in the tent and talked as it began to rain outside. She told us about raising three boys as a single mother, and her passionate opposition to the war, seeing several of her sons own friends enlisting in order to pay for college. As the rain picked up and began flooding the ground at the edges of the tipi, we were ushered off to bed where we quickly fell asleep to the blaring music of the party below.

In the morning we had a chance to take a portrait of Jill on our red carpet leading out from her tipi. We also had plenty of time to solve our lighting issues from the previous shoot, setting up our lights, backdrop and red carpet in the two car driveway. By the time guests started to arrive for the house meeting we were relaxed and ready to work. As promised, two Obama field organizers showed up and were very interested and encouraging of our project. This was a welcome change from the field organizer we met in Easton, PA, who was unconvinced of our roll as artists and not media, thereby disallowing her by the campaign to speak to us. Otherwise, the gathering was mostly made up of Jill’s family and friends, but there were a few folks there who, like us had responded to her online invitation. None of us stayed strangers for long as we hunkered down in the tipi to begin the meeting, just as wind began to pick up. Rob stayed by the equipment in case anything threatened to blow over, and after the meeting a light rain began to fall as Rob started taking portraits. Luckily we had positioned ourselves beneath the Pig-nut Hickory tree which overhangs Jill’s driveway, and by the end of the evening there was a perfect circle of dry pavement surrounding our set. This miracle was further reinforced when the same area became thoroughly wet just as we managed to get everything moved into the shelter of the garage. Thank you Pig-nut Hickory!

As we finished drying and packing up our gear the temperature dropped into the 50s, but Jill, her boyfriend, sister and a friend, all kept us company and helped out where they could. Despite the cold, we couldn’t have hoped to find a warmer bunch of people! We were lavished with support and encouragement, as these former hippies championed our cause and talked about their dreams of change for the future.

Once everyone was gone, and Rob and I finally had a chance to feed ourselves, we tucked into leftovers from the event and joined Jill for a little Colbert Report before bed. This was our kind of party!

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