DENVER When Valerie Wilson saw Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on TV delivering the keynote address four years ago at the Democratic National Convention, she knew he was someone to follow. And follow him she did. Over the last four years she has avidly watched his media appearances and she has been following his campaign closely, sharing information on Obama with friends and relatives and registering everyone she knows to vote as the election approaches.
On Wednesday, Wilson, 59, a Paterson native, and her daughter, Aisha Wilson, 31, arrived in Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Their aim was to be present in the audience when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. The trouble was, they didn't have tickets to the speech, which would be delivered in Denver's biggest venue, Invesco Field, home of the NFL's Broncos. But they made the trip to Denver anyway.
"Ever since Fannie Lou Hamer stood at the Atlantic City convention and said she was sick and tired of being sick and tired, I always wanted to come to a convention," said Valerie Wilson, who works as a medical technician at Quest Diagnostics. "I started to feel that I'm getting older, and these are historic times." It's the second trip she and her daughter have taken this year to mark a historic moment. In April, they went to Memphis, Tenn., to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 40th anniversary of his assassination. Even though she had no tickets for the convention, Wilson started making reservations for Denver months ago.
"I booked things I could cancel, like the hotel and car," she said. Then she finally booked her flight. Her daughter, also a huge fan of Obama, thought it was worth it just to be in the same state while he was speaking. "I said, 'Ma, we have to go, even if we don't get into the Convention Center," said Aisha Wilson, who lives in Garfield and is an adjunct English professor at Essex County College in Newark. Tickets to fill the 76,000 seats at Invesco Field were distributed by lottery, but there were many pilgrims like the Wilsons who made the trip in hopes of scoring a last-minute ticket.
The Wilsons, active members of the Our Lady of Victories parish in Paterson, told their pastor of their quest. Monsignor Thomas J. Coletta couldn't believe they were going to Denver and didn't have tickets to the convention, Aisha Wilson said. He suggested they e-mail Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson. Pascrell's staff initially said they didn't have any extra tickets, so Valerie Wilson signed up to be a convention volunteer and decided to go anyway. Pascrell told them to call when they arrived in Denver, and he would see what he could do.
On Wednesday, when they landed in Denver, they got the good news. Pascrell had arranged for them to be admitted to Thursday night's event. "I was overwhelmed, and I tried not to cry, because it was like everything we hoped for was happening," said Aisha Wilson. Her mother said she had been crying on and off since she arrived. "I'm glad it happened, because this shows my daughter my determination," Valerie Wilson said. Aisha Wilson said a lot of her friends were dreaming of attending the big speech, but they didn't think it was possible. When she kept making plans, they thought she was crazy.
"Our friends told us we were fools for going out there without a ticket," Wilson said. "Now they're wishing they came out too." Obama made headlines a few weeks back when he announced he would make his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High, the football stadium where the Denver Broncos play, instead of the smaller arena where the earlier convention events were held. It was a move inspired by John F. Kennedy, who addressed more than 80,000 supporters in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1960 when he accepted the Democratic nomination.
As they prepared to board the shuttle to the stadium, Aisha Wilson said she was thinking about her 81-year-old grandmother, who was stunned when she heard that she and her mother would be able to witness the speech in person. "Not only can I vote as an African-American woman," Aisha Wilson said, "I can see an African-American run for president of the United States."