Today, President Obama came by the law school to talk. We got the announcement of his visit last week. Classes and events were cancelled. A team of event staff came over the weekend to assess the space. They closed off the student lounge area (where the talk would be held) all of yesterday and today to get things ready. They set up chairs, flags, television cameras, the whole works.
We lined up in the snow two hours before the President’s arrival. We sat and waited. Every so often, the music that they were playing would pause, and we would look up in expectation. The music would start back up, and we’d laugh in impatient anticipation.
Finally, Professor David Strauss came in, then the President. He talked about Judge Merrick Garland, his nominee for the Supreme Court to fill the seat held by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He talked about the current polarized political climate. He was personable and charming, although he was careful in his answers. I’m glad that I got a chance to hear him speak.
I was sitting at the top of the risers, right before a black curtain. During the President’s talk, I heard people whispering and walking around behind me. One person opened a granola bar and started munching on it, the plastic crinkling. I thought about all the aides, assistants, and staffers that make events like this possible. Having worked in event planning, I can tell you that behind every big event are planners running around on caffeine and granola bars, trying to make something happen.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask my question. Here is what I would have asked:
“Mr. President, I’m an intern at a legal aid agency. We help defend poor tenants in eviction proceedings. Because of a lack of funding, we can’t take every case that comes to us. And for every tenant that we represent, there are dozens that can’t afford a lawyer. They show up to eviction court and get taken advantage of by landlords’ attorneys. They don’t know their rights because they don’t have a lawyer, and they don’t have a lawyer because they are too poor to afford one. Unlike in criminal cases, there is no guaranteed right to counsel in civil cases. What will you do to make sure that people have access to justice and aren’t taken advantage of just because they are poor.”
After the event, I walked back, bought some tacos, and got home. Unfortunately, I managed to tear a huge hole in the seat of my pants. Good thing that it didn’t happen while at school, though. That would not have been a good look.