Wednesday, November 05, 2008

the moment

Annie Mae Rosemond, 105, in Greenville, South Carolina

Smut Eye, Alabama

Allie and I went to the Midland Theatre for the Missouri Democrats' watch party. Beautiful place. The place was jam-packed with just about every noteworthy Dem in KC. A giant screen above the stage was set on CNN.

When Ohio went to Obama, I knew it was over. Every projection had him in solid control of 84 electoral votes on the West Coast. Ohio took him to 200. Game over. When the Magic Screen Guy on CNN pointed this out, saying, "I can't really see any path to victory for McCain," a big cheer went up.

Then Virginia went blue, and everyone knew it was done deal. We counted off the seconds to the California polls' closing time and Barack's face filled the screen. The place just went nuts.

Then some pasty white dude took the stage and said he was head of the local Democrats and he started going off on, "We're right and they're wrong!" You know, We're right on health care, they're wrong! Bla bla bla.

And I was like YOU are wrong on the spirit of this moment.

Midway through the third obnoxious speech by a local Democratic hack, I turned to Allie and said, "Let's get out of here."

Out on the streets downtown you could hear cars honking everywhere, as if the Chiefs had won the Super Bowl. My cell phone rang, and it was Ebony hollering into the receiver as he and his friends were dancing their way through the streets of Louisville.

On the ride home we listened to McCain's consolation speech, and we were impressed. When we got home, we watched Obama's speech. I was really moved by his story of the 106-year-old woman who voted earlier that day, the way he worked through the events of America in the long span of her life, broken up with the refrain: Yes we can.

Today I had lunch with a friend of mine who I have long admired, a local community activist who happens to be black. He was at the Midland celebration, too, but I hadn't seen him there. Like me, and everyone else in the place, he was elated when CNN made the call. It had been a day like no other, starting when he showed up at the polling place and saw a line snaking far around the block, and ending at that same location with a DJ camped outside and a line of people cheering on everyone who passed by: Go voter! Go voter!

But te had the same reaction I did to the speeches afterward. He had to get out of there. He said even Obama's speech left him feeling a little flat.

It wasn't until earlier today, when he went to a local school, where the teachers and students of all grades, K through 12, were having a celebration rally. He said that every time someone said Obama's name into the PA system, the kids all jumped up and cheered. A vice principal showed a slide show he'd put together. It started with pictures of Barack, then him with his wife, then the whole family together. Then there were pictures of him with other kids. Lots of pictures, some taken from over Obama's shoulder so you could see the look on the kids' faces of awe and pride. Then there were pictures of Barack with crowds of people, growing ever larger.

And suddenly, there appeared an image of a slave ship, the famous one with all the bodies laid side-by-side across the cargo area floor.

"It was like this sudden shock," my friend said. "Then they showed a picture of Barack and everyone cheered."

Next appeared an image of people being blasted by water cannons, and then another of folks attacked by dogs, then a gruesome shot of lynching -- each one separated by President-Elect Obama. And with each flash on the screen, the kids cheered louder until the whole place was going wild.

My friend had finally found something that began to match the way he felt inside.

"Today, when people ask me how it feels, I honestly don't know what to tell them, because there's never been anything like it before," he said. "I just tell them, 'It feels new.'"

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