Cheering and Sweating at ‘Artists and Writers for Obama’ Benefit at Paula Cooper Gallery

  • On Thursday last week, the day the Supreme Court voted to uphold most of the Obama healthcare law, a group of artists and writers packed into the side room at Paula Cooper Gallery’s main space in Chelsea for a Barack Obama benefit, and listened to Manhattan’s borough president, Scott Stringer, give a speech.

    “I want to say, ‘Thank God,'” he said. “I can’t believe we finally got something right.”

    At this point, the crowd erupted into the evening’s first of many big rounds of applause. He continued: “It seems to me that this is going to be a very close election again. And every vote is gonna count, and we’re gonna have swing states, and it’s all gonna come down to how we position ourselves. I just want to urge everyone in Manhattan: no campaigning on the Upper East Side.”

    Everyone moved to the chairs lined up in the giant barn-like space of the gallery’s main room. It was very hot. People fanned themselves with programs and small Obama placards, but they were all sweating anyway. The heat, combined with the wooden rafters on the ceiling, not to mention the general enthusiasm the crowd had for bursting into applause, made the room feel a little like some kind of secret Southern prayer meeting—with people cheering at the mention of Mr. Obama’s name and casually booing any allusion to Mitt Romney.

    Kate Linker, who helped organize the event, stood at a podium and listed some of the president’s first-term accomplishments: “The end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell!'” A cheer. “The recognition of the right of people to love whomever they choose to love!” Really big cheer. “Making college affordable for students!” Some scattered claps. Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who spoke before the House of Representatives about contraceptive mandates (and was subsequently called a “slut” and a “prostitute” by Rush Limbaugh), talked next and said to everyone, “We have so much more work to do.” That also elicited some clapping.

    Jonathan Franzen, who was seated next to Jonathan Safran Foer and right behind Paul Auster, went to the podium to read his story “Inauguration Day, January 2001.”

    “If you’d been there, you might have been stirred by the ceaseless chanting of racist, sexist, anti-gay/GEORGE BUSH, go away!”

    As Franzen was reading, a photographer was racing around the room snapping pictures. He wore a black shirt with big white letters that said, “WHY CHANGE HORSEMEN IN THE MIDDLE OF AN APOCALYPSE?”