Sarah Palin Goes Rogue in Rochester

By 11:58 p.m. on November 20, 2009, over one-hundred people were already seated in pull-out chairs or nestled in sleeping bags and tents on line at the Borders bookstore at 1000 Hylan Drive in Rochester, NY.  Sarah Palin was not set to appear for her book-signing until 6:00 p.m. the following evening.

By 1:00 a.m., the line included approximately 250 people.  By 9:00 the next morning, hundreds more excitedly awaited their opportunity to receive the wristband that would entitle each customer to two books signed by the former Alaska Governor.  

At 9:00 a.m. when the Borders doors opened, individuals received colored wristbands to indicate a signing order that would take place later that evening.  Each customer entered the store, approached a central desk at which were seated two Borders associates, submitted a book receipt confirming the purchase of Going Rogue at that particular venue, and received a colored band appropriate to his or her place in line:  blue was first, followed by gold, orange, pink, and silver.  

Once you had received your wristband, you were free to head home or to your hotel, freshen up, enjoy a quick nap, grab a bite to eat, and return to Borders at 4:30 p.m.., at which point individuals were arranged in a blue to silver marching order.  

Palin arrived a bit early and the media was invited to enter in small groups of five around 6:15 p.m. to take still photos and video for ten minutes as Palin signed.  

I spent the entire morning — from 1:00 a.m.. straight on through to 9:00  — with Palin’s grassroots supporters.  I scurried up and down the line in an effort to capture the essence of the spirit of those individuals, of the passion that led them to the decision to sleep outside with the hope of a few moments with Sarah Palin, of what precisely it was that likened her so much to their souls and instilled such inspiring drive.  

Amy Malzeke, a registered Republican and the very first patron on line who had arrived at Borders at 4:30 p.m. Friday, clad in a large “Palin Power” pin that bore the image of a lipstick tube, divulged that “I love her because she’s one of us.  She speaks to us and doesn’t beat around the bush.  She just tells it like it is.”  Despite the fact that she had already been waiting outside for nine hours when we spoke, her energy and enthusiasm were remarkable.  

Wayne Kilburn, a self-proclaimed lifelong Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election and is now a Sarah Palin supporter, arrived at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and spoke with me around 1:45 a.m.:  “I think she’s honest.  She’s not an embedded politician.  She speaks her mind.”  

Many of the individuals with whom I spoke expressed disgust with the mainstream media’s coverage of the 2008 presidential election, affirming that the left-leaning establishments only succeeded in encouraging their own personal research into the candidates and solidifying their allegiance to Palin.  The far-reaching majority insisted that the principal force behind their support of McCain-Palin in 2008 was, in fact, Palin’s presence on the ticket.  The overwhelming conviction behind supporters’ eyes was that they believe Sarah Palin to be, in a lot of ways, just like them.

All in all, I spoke with thirty-two individuals, spanning ages four-and-a-half to eighty-seven.  Every adult articulated at least two policy reasons why Palin resonated with them, and the overall sense of American patriotism was outstanding.  Here is a sample of what I heard:

“She’s an unabashed conservative.  She reflects my views…fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, her stand on the culture of life, and strong national security.” — Terrance Fitzgerald, First Infantry Division in Bosnia, 1996-1997

“She’s the first politician who has connected with me since Ronald Reagan.” — Richard deFay, Project Manager with an emphasis on energy efficiency

“I like everything about her, really.  The small government principles, in particular…and if she’s elected President or Vice President, I think she would listen to the generals instead of waiting four months to see what happens.” — Sr. Airman John Bosley.

Two very excited middle schoolers worthy of mention are JoAnna Ast and Riley Sullivan, who wore exceptionally bright smiles early Saturday evening.  “She never gives up when everyone criticizes her,” JoAnna said as she glanced over at her mom and smiled.  Riley, who had already begun reading Going Rogue and hopes to one day study marine biology, declared that “I really like it when she was at the fair in the book and got a call from John McCain asking her if she ‘wanted to help him change history’.”

A small group of protestors — I counted twenty-four at 5:45 p.m.. — convened on a small patch of grass nearby that faced the street.  They were nonviolent and several of their signs read as follows:  “Defend Abortion Rights,” “,” “We love you, Tina Fey,” “Equality means marriage,” and, my personal favorite, “Anti-choice is not a feminist stance on women’s rights.”

I had the opportunity to speak with Senior Event Marketing Manager for Borders, Melissa Glowski, at 9:00 a.m. as the doors opened.  When asked what her impression was of the grassroots movement surrounding Sarah Palin, she responded with “My experience has been really wonderful.  People are so excited and energized to have this opportunity.  It’s like a Woodstock for Sarah Palin.”  

Hours later, I spoke briefly with Palin as she signed my very own copy of Going Rogue.  She expressed great gratitude for my time spent with the grassroots supporters:  “I am so appreciative of that.  They are so important.  Thank you so much for doing that.”  When I pulled out a copy of my review of Going Rogue, despite the fact that we were told not to carry anything up to the table where she was seated, I declared “I know I’m not supposed to do this, but what can I say, I went a little rogue.”  

“Right on!” she replied with a warm laugh.  Palin greeted everyone with a smile as country music danced through the store speakers.  She asked their names and listened intently as they expressed whatever it was that they wished to disclose.  What struck me most was the manner in which — despite so many distractions — she focused her undivided attention on each and every person:  she really was listening to what they were saying.  

I left Borders sometime around 7:00 p.m., bid farewell to a handful of spirited men, women, and children, and began my journey back to New York City with the sense that I had witnessed the heart of a very passionate, very resilient grassroots movement that had welcomed my questions and the opportunity to voice their support of Sarah Palin, all very much touched by the fact that someone was taking the time to acknowledge their sentiments.

The bottom line is that whether you like Sarah Palin or not, would like to see her run for office or prefer an alternate option, one thing is without question:  her supporters are certainly a force to be reckoned with.