Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Spirits in the Night

On Election Night 2004, I was watching thousands of electronic ballots being run through a machine in Wisconsin Rapids after midnight when the Word came. On a tiny 20th-century monitor in the elections office, they had a primitive MSNBC electoral map on the screen, and every five minutes someone would hit the refresh icon. One time we did it that late night, my heart sank to my shoes -- Ohio turned red.

Last night, I was driving home from my voter protection assignment (more on that experience in my next post) and called my boy to let him know I was on the way. We were discussing logistics for the rest of our night when I got the Word again -- "Dad, they just called Ohio for Obama!"

Well, that was that. What was red was now blue. What was bad was now good. Ready or not, Change was here.

We went to a friend's house in time to revel in the moments to come with friends and my brother. We playfully argued about channel selection and volume. Where do we want to watch them call it when California polls closed at 10? Fox always tried to be first, said someone. No way, I said -- I'll take my memorable moments without Brit Hume, if you don't mind. I suggested we check CBS to see if they might bring back Cronkite for this. ABC? Get George Will and Cokie Roberts out of here. PBS? I'd rather not sleep through it, thanks very much.

As if by magic, whoever had the remote hit CNN at just the right moment. And there it was, blazing across the screen in High Definition: Barack Obama Elected President of the United States.

Although anyone paying attention could see this coming since they called Pennsylvania at 7, if not for the past month, it was still hard to believe. For once, the candidate matched the moment and the people recognized it. The ugliness that has characterized Republican campaigns since 1988 didn't work this time. The 24/7 free advertising for the Republicans on right-wing mainstream radio met its match in Obama's enormous grass roots support in the form of millions of small contributors, resulting in saturation advertising. As the storms behind the wake of the Bush Disasters battered the nation's economy and psyche, Obama characteristically kept his cool and McCain characteristically lost his. And, if you needed one more excuse to step into the future, there was the ridiculous Sarah Palin, whose cynical selection sealed the Obama deal for many serious people and exposed the unserious as the shills they are.

We watched the giant crowd in Grant Park, a mere 90 miles away, and wished we were there. Then a local station showed the celebration at the downtown Hyatt. Off we went, just Ken and I, to grab our piece of shared history.

The ballroom was packed and Obama was already speaking as we wound our way in, ending up next to the riser with the bank of cameras at the back of the room. The crowd responded as if Obama could hear us, with shouts and applause and cheers. His speech seemed to flow with our rhythms, feeding off our energy. Among other things, Obama is a great writer, but he really got me towards the end:

This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we cant, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.

At that moment, the emotion of the long day at the polls and the joyful night got to me, and tears streamed down my cheeks. Ken knew this was coming and hugged me. We joined in spontaneous multi-cultural line-dancing with hundreds of others, hugged strangers and each other.

Walking back to the car, a crowd of Marquette students greeted us with high-fives on Wisconsin Avenue. We honked at everyone we saw on the way home, shouting and hearing shouts. We celebrated the end of a damaged past and the beginning of a promising future.

5 comments:

Dave Reid said...

It was such a good night for America.

Anonymous said...

Never before, until Tuesday night, have I ever been proud of this country.

3rd Way said...

That is extremely lame anonymous 8:56. Our government hasn't done much in the past 30 years to be particularly proud of, but this country is much bigger than our contemporary government.

Our ability to right past wrongs and put the power of the people behind an unlikely figure like Obama is enough to be proud of. That ability wasn't created on Tuesday night.

Anonymous said...

What was lame about it? That our next First Lady of the Free World said something exactly like that not too long ago? I apologize if the truth hurts, I'm just reiterating what she said.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I thought clingers only parroted wingnut quotology.