After tonight’s DNC excitement, I’ve decided to re-post what I wrote the morning after election day, 2008. This is the first time I’ve felt those political goosebumps in a long time. Remember the hope, remember where we were, and think about where you want us to be next. Enjoy.
America is Ba(ra)ck (written on Nov. 7, 2008)
How can I not respond to what has happened, what is happening? The streets of New York are ELECTRIC! Last night was magical (oh yeah, I said magical, and you LIKED it).
YES, WE DID IT. Can you believe that a man named Barack Hussein Obama is the next President of the UNITED STATES? And it is because of us, the little people who voted and voted and voted, and canvassed and canvassed and canvassed, and believed and believed and BELIEVED!! (Did you bring your barf-bag? Because this entry is about to get EVEN cheesier!)
Yesterday [Election Day], the excitement began when I walked outside. The air felt unseasonably warm and damp, with a cool bite to it. I could tell that there was a little tingle in the breeze, a contagious hope that seemed to bounce back-and-forth between people as I passed by each stranger on the street. I noticed a spring in everyone’s step.
The NYC polls were open from 6am to 9pm. I decided to try and beat the 9-5 rush and go around 7:30am. My walk was brisk. I played my iPod on random shuffle and had to laugh when John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” came on immediately (no joke). I think that might have been the icing on an already delicious mood. I let the song play all the way through and walked, feeling like I had woken up on a new and different planet.
I arrived at my voting station, a public school on the Upper West Side, to find a line beginning to form around the block. In my voting history, I’ve never seen anything like this in NYC. Even though I beat the rush, there was a hold up at District 86’s voting booth (that would be mine). Eventually, they fixed it, but it contributed to my 1hr 45min wait. I would have waited double that if necessary.
While we waited, the line began to wrap around the block, hooking itself around a Barnes & Noble and past a newsstand where people anticipated their vote appearing on every front page come morning. I’ve never felt so many people glowing at the same time. We were being photographed in line and everyone was absolutely beaming. I overheard people saying “as long as I can vote Obama, I’ll wait all day!” and the overall energy was positive and hopeful. There we were, a bunch of strangers (of all ages), fighting for the same cause, the same embodiment of our future. The weather seemed appropriately spring-like, which felt optimistic to me (as a hot-weather-lover) rather than the usual hint of winter or kiss of death to warmth that tinges the Election Day air.
I entered the voting booth, quickly switched all my choices to x, stood there for a second to double and triple check that I had voted for Barack Obama, and cranked a big red lever all the way to the right. It made the most satisfying clicking and locking sound, making me feel like my vote was real – I could hear it. Then, I breezed by the crowd trying to hide the grin on my face, put my iPod back on, and booked it to work.
On my way, every two blocks, I saw voting lines longer than I had ever seen. I saw Obama pins on every jacket. I heard people yelling “Obama!!” as they passed the lines. I even witnessed “The Obama Truck,” a truck full of Obama supporters blasting music and screaming Obama cheers, which apparently drove around the city all day! I saw a map after the election, and learned that over 85% of Manhattan voted for Obama. No wonder. I had to keep telling myself not to get false hope from the scene I was surrounded by, knowing full-well that the rest of the country had its say as well, but I couldn’t help it: the atmosphere in Manhattan on Election Day was undeniably saturated in the anticipation of change, of success, of an Obama victory. How could he not win when all these people cared SO much? How could he not?! Still, I refused to believe it was real until I saw the front page of The New York Times the next morning.
There were several election-watching parties, most of which were in Brooklyn, but I decided to watch with my family. My parents were having a party, and this election has been a journey I shared mostly with them; it only felt right to finish the journey with my family. Plus, I wanted to see the look on my parents’ faces if/when Obama won.
The party was perfect. On his way home from another disastrous day at work – a reminder of the country’s desperation – my dad picked up Chinese food from a delicious place called Shun Lee. They invited four of my brother’s best friends, along with their parents, me, my sister, and her girlfriend. Everyone – the ninth graders, the parents, and I – was excited and nervous. We had the TVs on from 530pm until midnight… We ate Chinese, drank wine (I was too superstitious to bring champagne), talked politics (yes, even the ninth graders had perfectly appropriatet things to say) ,and one parent brought three boxes of Obama-themed cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery (some chocolate, some vanilla cupcakes, each with red white or blue-tinted vanilla icing, complete with a sugar donkey on each, and confetti – MMMM!).
We sat in suspense in our living, watching each state turn red or blue, affected deeply by each projection, watching history get made one state at a time. They kept saying “this is exactly what happened in 2000… in 2004…” They kept making us feel like this intangible dream was just out of reach…again. I was starting to feel scared, as if I was living in a bubble of this country that had no relationship with the rest of it. I felt the harsh reality check I’m always forced to feel; maybe the thought of vindication was too good to be true. I’ve been smacked with the “too-good-to-be-true” card many times. Maybe this was just another let-down.
Then, we won Pennsylvania. HOLY shit. Then, we won Virginia. And Florida. And Ohio. At 11pm, when the West Coast projection came through… that is when they announced that Barack Obama was the projected winner and most likely our next President. That is when the tears started rolling across the television screen. Our first African American President was named. BAM – history.
We cheered for every state that lit up – New York, of course, and Michigan (where my brother has been working so hard as a field manager for the Obama Campaign), held special significance for us. At the time, I had friends on the ground in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, and New Hampshire. My friend, Hawaii Heather, texted me from Hawaii: “WE DID IT! I LOVE YOU TAVEL!” My New York City friend living in London texted me “THANK YOU AMERICA!!! You all did it! Congrats!” My Dutch/Caribbean special friend texted me from The Netherlands… The texts just kept on flying. I could feel cheering from around the world. I heard screaming and honking and yelling from every corner of my neighborhood. I’ve never felt such an equally personal and global victory. After watching McCain’s gracious speech, I decided to get back to my apartment so I could watch Obama accept and then go to sleep (it was about 1145pm, I was a bit sick, my knee ached, and I had to get up at 6:30 for physical therapy).
Well, my walk home was one of the highlights of that night. The first couple of blocks, the streets were dead silent – not a car, not a pedestrian, only me. Then, I hit Broadway. Two homeless women wrapped in blankets outside of my bank were listening to Obama’s speech on an old radio. I hit Amsterdam Avenue. Four Mexican guys at my local bodega were huddled under the red awning of their flower shop watching a tiny television above bunches of 2-dozen roses and lilies, discussing, in Spanish, what they liked about Obama. I continued up Amsterdam Ave, towards my apartment. Every bar was full of screaming, Obama cheers, excitement, electricity, singing, CELEBRATION. Cars were honking and people were yelling our new president’s name. Strangers high-fived me, I could hear excited people celebrating in their apartments high above the sidewalk. When I got home, I quickly got ready for bed. It was ok now, I could sleep.
Well, I couldn’t sleep. I was too happy, too relieved, too shocked. And the streets were so loud, so excited. The whole evening, the moment, it was all so surreal – and yet, finally real, not just a pipe-dream. As I was about to fall asleep, I heard about 20 people start singing “God Bless America” outside my window. I let go, I let it takeover. I admit, I cried (I’m sorry, but the cheesiness of the moment overpowered me!). And then, I drifted off to sleep.
I awoke to a new America – the one we wanted back. I was glowing, and so was everyone around me. This whole week has been so full of optimism and pride. I will always remember it.
But now comes the reality of the situation: Obama is inheriting a gigantic mess of American problems. He has to try and untie an impossible knot, and he will be given impossible standards. He has the challenge of his lifetime – of ANYONE’S lifetime – and he is the only person I believe who can step up to it and face our deepest, darkest problems. Not many people have the cajones to take on a job that is as daunting as the one he now has, but it seems fitting that the impossible candidate has become the man for the impossible job — and yet we still believe in him.
Speaking of impossible, he couldn’t have made it without us. Because of the way his supporters came together, he was able to run three quarters of this race on his own, but it was up to us to carry him across the finish line. And we did; the race is over, and we ALL won! The world won, I like to think.
I have witnessed many forms of excitement for his victory, so far. There was the man on a bicycle who rode by while I was waiting to vote and yelled “Get the FUCKERS out of Washington and elect OBAAAMMMAAAAA!!!!!!!!” to our line of smiling/laughing voters, the two homeless women huddled outside my bank on my way home that were listening to the election on an old school radio, the four Mexican guys talking about Obama as they watched a tiny television above the colorful roses and lilies they sell every day at my corner bodega, the “God Bless America” I heard being sung by at least 20 people at the bar downstairs while I closed my eyes and tried to drift off to sleep, the emails, the Facebook messages, and the conversations I have gotten/had with people from all over the world who are proud of America’s choice and excited for not just our, but their future as well…
The extent of excitement about Obama has reminded us of what it means to be American, and what America means to the rest of the world. The American Dream is alive and well. The America that “CAN” is back. Barack. We have stepped up, forgotten our wallets, forgotten our flaws (just briefly), and remembered our DIGNITY, our identity, our ability to dream, our PRIDE.
The election of Barack Obama is a victory for much of the world – Europe, Asia, Africa (Kenya). He must bare the weight of the world and stand up to the Herculean challenges that await him, but he has the support of so many, and the hope that HE inspired in millions. Can he succeed? Can we heal this country? Yes we can, yes we did, and man, I hope we WILL.