Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bay Area residents among throngs from coast to coast angling for a golden ticket

"I would do whatever it takes to get these students there," said San Jose State assistant professor Michael Cheers, who with associate professor Bob Rucker is trying to get 10 journalism students on a bus tour through the South, reporting on the communities where Advertisementthe Civil Rights Movement raged, finishing at the inauguration.

"I just believe in these students having this experience ... so we're going to make it happen."

That meant raising about $500 at a carwash and raking in a few hundred more at the first of three bake sales. He figures he needs about $20,000.

"This is a tough economy, normally you wouldn't have to do this — the dean's office or the provost's office would have some discretionary funds and would be looking at this as a no-brainer. Well, it still is, but we've got to figure out a way," he said.

A dozen Mills College students decided to band together to figure out their way; the "Mills on a Mission" contingent, born out of the Oakland college's Institute for Civic Leadership, has been soliciting donors from college and community institutions as well as family and friends. They're meticulously planning every detail of a Jan. 15-23 trip that will include not only the inauguration but various Washington, D.C., and New York City landmarks as well, and they intend to produce a video presentation and a scrapbook to leave behind for Mills' posterity.

With a $3,000 grant from the Associated Students of Mills College, they've secured an Alexandria, Va., townhouse as their base of operations, but they'll be spending this holiday season raising more toward their $9,500 goal.

Organizer Tracy Peerson-Faye said she was inspired by a campus speaker who said soon after the election that "one day she expects to see a Mills woman up there on the screen being elected president — I had to agree with her that that's a really strong possibility, knowing how active our community is."

Students and teachers at Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School began putting down deposits almost a year ago, said Bonnie Sussman, who teaches an early-morning American government class that requires a weeklong trip to Washington. She's been teaching the class and making that trip for a long time — she has been to every inauguration since 1985 — but this is something special, she said.

"We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly, but they're so excited this time," she said. "A lot of them actually worked on the campaign, some made phone calls, some were poll workers "... and all of them were following it. Usually teaching government and politics can find some of the students less than interested, but that wasn't the case this year."

In fact, her usual class size doubled to 60 this year, and 20 additional students signed on for this weeklong trip for about $3,000 a head.

"It's not cheap because the hotels hiked up their prices, they knew what was coming. The kids are four to a room, it's still a pretty good deal, but in this economy it's a lot," Sussman said. "I'm pretty sure some of it went on credit cards; parents really want to give their kids everything they can."

"It will be busy, it will be cold, it will be crowded but it should be memorable," she added. "I just told the kids 'Your parents are giving you the experience of a lifetime, don't screw it up.'"

Evonne Morici, a social studies teacher at Oakland's Skyline High School, also has traveled with students before and knew to plan ahead. She signed up with Smithsonian about a year ago to take students to Washington for the inauguration.

It's $1,300 a head and 13 students are going, including three who each won $1,000 scholarships in an essay contest and one senior chaperon. The rest have been saving and raising money on their own.

"We're not even sure where we're staying yet; we're guaranteed to be staying within 20 miles of the Capitol. Smithsonian has a student area (on the National Mall), so at least we'll have a spot, but we're hoping to get closer," Morici said, noting she, students and parents have leaned on Rep. Barbara Lee for tickets to get them closer to the dais.

It's a lot of planning, down to details such as the neon backpacks they'll all wear so they can easily spot each other in the crowd and the formal wear they'll wear at Smithsonian's mock inaugural ball for students from across the nation.

"But someday, their kids can open up their history textbooks and they'll be able to say, 'Look, we were right there.'"

Jeff Baccus, of Vallejo, and Debi McIntyre, of Richmond, had it easy: They just signed up for Rep. George Miller's online constituent lottery, and they were the two lucky winners — two out of 1,309.

McIntyre, 56, who just moved from being Berkeley City Councilman Maxwell Anderson's legislative aide into the city's public works department, said she had considered a trip to the inauguration early this year but procrastinated until it was too late. She signed up for Miller's lottery on a pessimistic lark — "I never win this kind of thing" — and so she was shocked to find a voice-mail message from Miller telling her she'd won. So shocked, in fact, that she said she needed the voice-mail message that followed, from a television news reporter, to impress upon her that the previous message hadn't been from a skilled George Miller voice impersonator.

She and the friend she's taking, Maggie Bishop of San Francisco, have secured airplane tickets and are working on finding accommodations and the warm winter clothes they'll need for a long day out on the Mall in January. But she's grateful for her luck: "It's not often that we get a chance to be a part of major history in our country, and this is one of those times. I feel that this is where I need to be on that day."

Baccus, 37, a former software engineer now studying at UC Davis for a new career in the wine industry, said he and his wife, Heather, who works for Levi Strauss in San Francisco, found cheap plane tickets and will stay with distant relatives. Miller's fateful call came during Baccus' final-exams week, so he didn't have much time to ponder the experience at first; that'll happen over the holidays, he said.

"Hopefully, it's the start of a new age of politics in America, and I'm just sort of excited to see the beginning of that," he said.

And what of the "30-something-year-old, divorced male of all-around American descent" who got inauguration tickets from his Obama donor/fundraiser dad and posted a Craigslist ad seeking "a fun, smart and sexy date" to accompany him to the inauguration?

In fairness, although he said "no picture, no consideration," he also added that, "if you can't write in complete sentences, it's a good bet you will not make the cut, no matter how you look in a bikini."

"I had over 100 responses before pulling the ad, including two girls who e-mailed nude photos! They did not make the cut," Mr. X e-mailed earlier this week on condition of anonymity. "I have met with six so far, with varying degrees of 'success' ;-) but I am still looking for a date. I have two more dates planned for the next couple days so we'll see how that goes, but I am thinking about reposting."

How lucky for the ladies.

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