The lines started forming even before the doors to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre opened at 6am. When the curtains to the main stage area were finally opened, thousands of people ran, screaming, to find themselves the best seats, where they would sit, jealously guarding their space, for another few hours.
I waited with as many of the 21,000-plus attendees at the Inbound 2017 conference who could find a seat – hundreds missed out on a spot – for the star of the show, former First Lady Michelle Obama and her interviewer, Roxane Gay. The lights were dim, the music pumping, and the atmosphere electric. When she finally joined Gay on stage, Obama was greeted by rapturous applause and ten thousand smart phone cameras.
Obama has a commanding and powerful presence, carrying herself with ease. Gay was a brilliant interviewer, asking short but insightful questions. Obama’s responses were practiced, measured, often funny, and, when examined a little more closely, very revealing. Early in the interview, Gay asked a question that has been repeatedly levelled at the Obamas since they left Pennsylvania Avenue in January: why have they been so reluctant to comment on the Trump administration? How do they resist doing it? They were, Obama responded, committed to remaining above the fray for a few reasons: there are longstanding protocols that mean former Presidents should allow their successor some space, and they know how hard it is to do that job with a “peanut gallery” watching on. They “want the sitting President to be successful because we live in this country”.