Today's Wisconsin State Journal contains a charming letter from some Madison school boosters toasting the many excellent reasons President Barack Obama decided to visit Wright Middle School in Madison. These include: "Wright is both a successful charter school and has one of the most diverse student bodies in the Madison school district."
A few minutes ago, in an ill-fated attempt to get into this event, the first Madison presidential visit since Truman, I happened to glean another reason: Wright is a security fortress.
"No," was the word of the day from the police officers manning the intersection of Wingra Creek and Fish Hatchery Road, the security perimeters' northern terminus. No, you can't bike past this intersection to get to the school, a half-mile down the road. No, you can't walk past. No, you can't get in as a media rep without proof that you are among those authorized to attend.
The officers were stationed on the far side of Wingra Creek, a formidable natural barrier. Barricades blocked the road. The Secret Service must have loved this arrangement.
By 11:30, a half hour before the earliest time the president might arrive, several dozen citizens were gathered on the corners, accepting, as I ultimately did, that this was as close as they were going to get.
I saw one lone man with a lonely handheld sign, "Abortion Kills Babies." Good to know.
A large group of students were gathered on one corner behind a banner that said, "Support the Dream Act." Another sign from this group proclaimed, "We Want to Go to College, Too." I asked one of the young people about the Dream Act. She rose to the challenge admirably, explaining that it was a proposed law to give residency to undocumented students who came to the U.S. before they were 16 and have been here at least five years.
Across the street a slightly larger group was gathering, holding peace signs: "End the War," "Fund Schools Not War," "Books Not Bombs." I spoke to a few of these folks, too. I appreciate the earnestness of their presence, standing on a street, holding signs, on the odd chance that the presidential motorcade will pass and the president will catch a glimpse of them with their messages of peace.
One of odder protesters, if that's what she was, carried a sandwich board sign that included a health-care-reform to-do-list that seemed to come from a don't-do-it mindset. One of the items: "Request clearer synopsis of 1,900 pages." Why, oh why, does CliffNotes focus only on the classics?
The woman with the sandwich sign was holding a half-dozen helium balloons of stars and the U.S. flag. I heard her exhorting one of the Dream Act students: "We can speak together! We can speak."
And if you think Obama may listen, his message of hope truly has taken root.