A red, white and blue VW bus, stenciled with the words: “Obama-Biden,” “hope,” “change” and “progress,” is lost somewhere in Vegas, trying to find the UNLV campus from the intersection of Rainbow and Sahara. I’m on the phone with Annie Woods, the young woman in charge of the Bama Bus operation, and I’m trying to figure where on campus the bus will be setting up shop for a short political rally this past Monday, but I end up giving her directions instead. Find the Stratosphere in the Vegas skyline; drive past it. Turn right on Maryland. They’ve never been in Nevada before, she tells me.
“This is as grassroots as it gets: me and Annie and our cameraman, just driving around,” says Gadi, an artist from New York and Woods’ co-pilot on the Bama Bus, a revamped VW bus that the pair are taking to every battleground state in the 31 day before the election.
“We chose a VW bus because it has an old-school image and connects the two generations,” explains Woods, fresh-faced with clear blue eyes and loose blonde hair. “Obama embodies the spirit of the Kennedys and the ‘60s – a new frontier, movement and change. We believe that Obama is our future.”
The Bamabus isn’t just preaching on its coast-to-coast road trip. Gadi and Woods are promoting Obama and political participation through art, helping guests create colorful campaign t-shirts and customized posters, printed with stencils designed by Gadi, that they sell to pay for gas.
On the road with the charismatic pair is Frederick Boll, a filmmaker and friend of Woods’s, who flew from his home country of Denmark to California to document the entire journey on film as the bus rolls through 20 different states making stops at college campuses, assisted-living facilities and fairs. Boll says that he is finding the American people and their election process “fascinating.”
“We’re inspired to get people out from behind their laptops and start talking to each other,” says Gadi. “The breadth of America is so wide and we don’t really know each other.”
“When we drive down the road it’s a spectacle. It’s a show,” says Boll. America needs more of their kind of spectacle: young activists full of enthusiasm and energy.
When I get to UNLV students are on all fours on a sheet stretched across the sidewalk in front of the Lee Library. With Gadi’s help they’re designing their own unique Obama t-shirts. “Sweet! Sick! Tight!” I hear people say. “This is the hotness!” The words are somewhat surprising on a campus where the political attitude has been called “apathetic. Boll, with his handheld camera in one hand and a cigarette in the other, gets it all on camera.
“We want to show what the creative community has to offer America. In the last eight years the arts have deteriorated under the Bush regime,” explains Gadi. “Art contributes to culture, which is society. So if you don’t have art, you lose culture, and you’re really grating society. Obama’s art policy is unbelievable. That’s something that really excites me about him, a chance to get our head above water and really see America for what it can be.”
A few hours later, the Bama Bus is back on the road, making its way toward New Mexico, before moving on to Colorado, Montana and then the Midwest. Until their last stops in Georgia and Florida during the first week in November, Woods, Gadi and Boll will sleep in the bus and live off Cliff bars. They’ll bring art and politics to people across the country, and hopefully, they won’t get lost too often.