While the Building Trades held much of the spotlight on this, many union members helped make the event a huge success. Here are some behind the scenes stories.
Member organizer, SEIU
On Monday, I got a call that showed up as “Washington DC” and I thought, ugh, spam, but I answered it, and they were asking if I was available to be in the motorcade for when President Biden was visiting Duluth/Superior. The obvious answer was yes, and then I wondered what I had signed up for!
It turned out I was driving one of the passenger vans for Labor people and some media and I have to say, it felt really special to have it be that down to the volunteer drivers, we were all Labor people. This was about the bridge, but it wasn’t just the Building Trades — we were all included in everything.
There was a lot of waiting, but up at the airport, suddenly Air Force One was there, and we got down to business. We were flying down Mesaba Ave. trying to keep up with the whole entourage; it was super fun. There were so many people out lining the way to be supportive — on the way back, we went past Lowell Elementary, and I will remember forever all the kids standing at the fence waving and cheering. It was so cool.
We got to our first stop, way under the bridge, and everybody piled out and they did their thing, and then we took everyone to the Cedar
Lounge. There was a lot of sitting and waiting, but I was just happy to be a part of it and help. At that point some of the staff said, let’s run in and take a bathroom break. So we went into the brewery, and when we were all done, suddenly a staffer said, “OK, we’re going to meet the president now,” and we were all like, “what, see him?”
But it wasn’t just to see him, it was actually to meet him. It was a total shock and surprise. I went up to shake his hand, and his persona, his aura, was so kind and gentle. I had never experienced someone that has such a kind and gentle and welcoming feel about him. He would have stood and embraced us for hours if he could have. It was like he was saying, these are my people.
We got brought back out to the vans, and we were all saying, did that just happen? Can you believe it? The day was unreal. We were just beaming. It was something I will never, ever forget.
AFSCME Local 66 retiree
I didn’t know I was going to get the call, but as soon as I did I said yes. As a driver in the motorcade, I was driving reporters and media people and got some instructions about that — we weren’t supposed to distract or bother them, because they were working, but of course we talked a little. They were impressed with how friendly the people are here. Most people along the route were waving; it was like a parade. There was a little old lady waving a Biden sign at the end of her driveway.
The van I drove was so new, it took a little bit of getting used to. It had a touchscreen and I had to look up on YouTube how to figure out the wiper fluid spray. I wasn’t supposed to leave the vehicle so I leaned out the window and waved at a Duluth Firefighter pickup and as soon as he spotted me, one of them ran over to help.
We didn’t go anywhere without being told where to go. When we were at Earth Rider, I came around the corner and all I could see was him, his big smile. He’s tall — my face was only as high as his chest. He asked me if I got my eyes from my mother or my father, and I started crying and then he asked if I still had my parents or if I had lost them — more waterworks, of course. That’s when he said he’d had some losses too. He’s a tearjerker for sure.
I was able to show him a picture of my grandmother, who died in 1938 from a botched abortion. She was married and had three kids; my mother was 8 years old. I told him this story, about how my grandmother didn’t have access to safe and legal reproductive health care and said “You have to fix this.” He said, “We’re on it.”
Lead labor relations
Most of the day was waiting, but it was amazing how little we actually had to wait. It was fascinating to watch the precision of it all, and the level of organization that it takes for the president to touch down in a city, drive right through the middle of it, see thousands of people, and get back on the plane just six hours later.
Ahead of time, we didn’t know where we were going. So you’re driving and you see how every single intersection is blocked off — actually driving through every stop light and stop sign with a police officer at every single intersection, it’s crazy, the level of organization and cooperation among levels of government.
After the press conference at the Blatnik, we went to the Earth Rider. The staff all piled out and we just waited. There’s a bar across the street and there were a bunch of Trump supporters there, yelling at us and calling us names, calling Biden names. That was kind of surreal.
Then one guy told us we had an opportunity to meet the president, so we lined up through a back door, and honestly I didn’t think it was going to happen. At most, I thought it might be him waving at us, saying, “thanks, guys — see you later,” but no, each driver got a one-on-one with him.
It was surreal. It’s hard not to be cynical at times. I’ve been involved in politics for 20 years, but then you get to meet the president and he becomes a real person.
First, I was struck by his height — he was a little shorter than I thought — and then I was struck by how engaged he was. He looked right at me, saw my [MNA] lapel pin, and I told him I work with the nurses union. He went right into talking about nurses he's had care for him in his life, while he hung onto my hand. You see a lot on the news and the caricature we turn our presidents into, I see clips of him fumbling for his words and I worry about his age like anyone does, but meeting him — it was totally different, he was focused, clear, engaged, and kind.
We got back into the cars and went to the Cedar Lounge, where there were more Trump supporters protesting, and people protesting the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, and it was another surreal moment as I saw people that I consider friends protesting the president, and here I am driving him; that was an intense place to be and I had to sit in that space and think about the intersection of it all.
Probably my favorite part was that my daughter Olivia goes to Lowell Elementary, and when we drove back to the airport, we drove right passed the school. All the kids still at school were standing at the road so they could see the motorcade and I got to honk at my daughter. In a way, that made the president more real, government more real, for her.
All of the drivers, we came from different places, and we had enough time that we got to chitchat with each other here and there. And since then, I’ve connected with them on Facebook and ran into one at Michael’s the other day. It just brings it back to how surreal it was. It’s a great example of why I love Duluth — it’s a big city, big enough for a president to visit, but small enough that afterward you’re running into the people who helped make it happen and then we just go on with their lives.