Ford Nation Rising?
On Thursday evening I drove out during rush hour to the Toronto Congress Centre for the launch of the Rob Ford 2014 Mayoral campaign. I wanted to see this myself in an attempt to understand "Ford Nation" better. I also plan to cover the Olivia Chow and John Tory Campaigns, and report about them here on my blog for our erudition.
Over the years I've made a point of personally meeting political figures I'm interested in of all political stripes, even if just for a moment, to look directly into their eyes, watch, and try to get a better sense of them. And so Rob Ford is no exception.
Although I arrived early before the announced 6:30 start time the parking lot was all ready filling up. I found a spot near the back and joined the crowd streaming into the Congress Centre. A skinhead loudly greeted a man of colour in a suit with dreadlocks, and began to denounce Olivia Chow and the NDP in a jocular manner. He kept it up all the way across the huge parking lot and into the building.
The Toronto Congress Centre was opened up arena style and filled with big tables and chairs. I'd estimate about 60% of them were rather sparsely occupied with sizable crowds lined up everywhere else. It was truly an occasion where the onus seemed to be on lining up. That is what I ended up doing, as I followed the crowd through the centre for the night's festivities.
Fitting: Toronto Congress Centre entrance way art
First I lined up to meet Rob Ford, which took about 20 minutes. The line up was conducted in an orderly fashion with Congress hall security guards supervising and directing us past the media barrage of cameras in front of Rob photographing his every move.
Rob didn't say much if anything except to try to accommodate everybody for a photo, alone or with family and friends, saying hello and thanking us for coming. His eyes were glazed over and he moved in a robot like fashion. In all fairness I would attribute that to the long, long process of trying to greet everybody who wanted their picture taken with him as they came in the door. He was trying very hard to pose for everybody. No easy task.
The next line up was to sign a card including your name, address and other contact information. It asked you to donate, put up a sign or campaign for Rob Ford. You needed to hand this in at the door to enter the big main hall area, where we were given 3 tickets, for a t-shirt, a drink and a draw. There were stacks of Rob Ford signs, Ford Nation flags and bumper stickers everywhere as I walked in.
I walked across the floor following the line up to the booths along the far wall. I was told there were no more Rob Ford t-shirts, but to choose a red or blue Ford Nation coffee cup. All sorts of other Rob Ford paraphernalia was also for sale.
No more t-shirts! Howzabout a Ford Nation coffee cup?
The next line up was for a Rob Ford bubble head doll. I was told to use my ticket to get one. It was unclear to me which ticket or whether this was for free or not, but I continued to follow the course.
There were tables with huge bowls of salted and spiced potato chips everywhere which were being regularly replenished. One took a small bowl and filled it up with chips using the tongs. They were actually quite good though I was still hungry afterwards of course. There were also drink stands. Your ticket got you a free beer or soda pop. You could buy more if you wanted.
An older white man paraded up and down the line carrying a Canadian flag. I'm not quite sure of the connection at this municipal event but it was constantly being reinforced all night. I found it a bit of a stretch. The patriotism theme also extended to the Rob Ford t-shirts which seemingly promote Toronto on the front, with Rob Ford on the back.
I followed the line for about 2 hours as it virtually snaked down the length of the congress centre to the huge stacks of Rob Ford bobble head dolls. There was an incredibly diverse crowd both lined up and mingling throughout the hall. It was very Torontonian without an overwhelming majority of any one particular group. The folks were white, ethnic, male, female, young, old, workers and suits. You name it they were there.
Fire truck: "Saving the taxpayers from not getting burned" Get it?
Many in the crowd were obviously quite fervent. A rather buxom white lady in a very short, tight, red skirt posed provocatively in front of a firetruck decked out in Rob Ford campaign slogans. Beside her was a young girl, perhaps her daughter or niece, decked out in Ford swag and waving two Ford Nation flags, one in each hand.
Those immediately around me in the line up seemed more curious than anything else. I did not engage in nor did anyone try to engage me in any municipal politicking. I met a longtime, former teaching colleague and sometimes political nemesis of mine. Although we had often been at logger heads, I enjoyed seeing him again. Also joining us for a while was a former TCDSB trustee who quit to become a teacher a few years ago. He said he was still supply teaching. A reporter tried to interview people in the line up on why they were there but nobody wanted to speak, so I gave him an interview. Where it might show up I don't know. It was quite noisy but I believe he said he was Russian.
I told him I could not fathom that my city would ever succumb to such demagoguery as we are now seeing with Ford Nation. I attended the rally for myself to try to understand it better and figure out how and why this is happening.
Git yer Rob Ford Bubble Head Dolls!
A band played pretty good rock music up front on a raised stage bedecked with the words "Ford Nation" projected on two huge screens on either side. From time to time they would show the band, or guests as they were being introduced. Later Doug and Rob Ford during their speech. Former boxing champ George Chuvalo was introduced but I could not hear what he said listening from the lineup due to the din of the hall.
Doug Ford appeared next. There was a huge closeup of his face on both screens. He spoke about concentrating on Rob's record of achievements rather than his personal problems. He seemed to choke up a bit while he talked about his father. Then he engaged in the usual kindergarten level platitudes about how his brother is saving tax payers money.
By now I had finally reached the head of the Rob Ford bobble head doll line. There were three Rob Ford Dolls available, one with a bow tie, another in his black suit and red tie from the Jimmy Kimmel show. Both cost $30. A special limited black tie edition was also available for a $100 donation.
$30 donation each! $100 for the black tie!
At this point "Eye of the Tiger" began blasting from the speakers while a slide show of Rob Ford flashed on both screens. They showed Rob with Prime Minister Harper, then with President Barrack Obama. Rob arrived with his entourage coming up the centre of the convention hall floor with much aplomb. I was strongly reminded of scenes from a Republican convention, the red white and blue Ford Nation signs and flags certainly reinforcing the imagery. However this is Canada. Indeed, the parade was headed by a very healthy young blonde woman carried aloft her back and arms arched high holding a big Canadian flag. As Rob took the podium a mixed age group of male black, South East Asian and Caribbean supporters gathered directly behind him. The signs and flags were arranged on either side. There was a huge closeup of Rob Fords face towering on the big screens.
Rob's speech focused on the theme of "I've got your back, I need you to cover mine" during the election campaign. Afterwards he will continue to "look out for the little guy" for the "next four years". The crowd gathered in front of the stage were regularly prompted to break out into chants of "Ford Nation" and "Four More Years".
Four More Years?!
As Rob's speech ended the Twisted Sister anthem "We're Not Going to Take It" blasted from the speakers while everyone sang along, clapped, and cheered. Most of the action was concentrated in front of the stage. It was not too tightly packed with most folk still sitting around at the tables or in a line up.
When I got home Janet was on the couch watching television. She was quite annoyed with all my Rob Ford swag which I thought was quite funny. I joked about sticking the Ford Nation bumper sticker on our car, which did not go over well. She cannot stand him as mayor and I quite agree. Though as strictly a local yokel he's pretty hard not to somehow like. Therein lies his rough charm and appeal?
The Jimmy Kimmel Show Rob Ford Bobble Head Doll
I will continue to cover the Ford campaign and the other candidates in this year's Toronto mayoral race quite closely between now until election day with reports here on my blog.
I'm not sure how many people were at the campaign launch as either die hard supporters, recent converts or curiosity seekers like myself. The Ford brothers are definitely consummate politicians though. In the value free sense it was a very well executed political event. They had everybody lined up and going through the campaign motions, readily providing contact info, buying or receiving free swag and following the script. IMHO how many actual votes Rob Ford will get come election day is still anybodies quess. However, he's definitely not down for the count. Far from it!
You can follow my Rob Ford coverage @ Cracked?
There are news links there covering the Ford story back a few years.
I also posted a blog on my visit to see Rob Ford in action at Toronto City Hall when he was stripped of many of his mayoral powers last November @ Toronto City Hall Report