Celebrating Democracy in the Nation’s Capital

    After midnight in the United States capital, when most of the nation was glued to their televisions and the Nov. 5 early morning editions of the Washington Post were hitting the racks, I found myself, a Republican, in a cheering mob of Democrats.

    Strangers met in the streets like old friends, hugging, clapping and crying together. If Oprah hadn’t been at Grant Park in Chicago she could have been leaning on someone next to me. A celebration of success poured out from D.C. bars, crowded the Washington streets and rallied in front of the White House. The future of the next four years had finally been decided with the election of Barack Obama.

    UCDC students, usually off work on Tuesdays for our research seminar, filed out of the classroom on Election Day either headed to the streets to gauge the reaction of the city as the polls came in or to the Mayflower Hotel, where the Democratic National Committee was holding its election night party. The Obama supporters — nearly everyone in the room — wore their buttons and T-shirts, excited and feverish in anticipation. The few Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) supporters, weary of the insults they’d been bearing, gathered together to make a trip to the liquor store; they’d be drinking early.

    I went to work late that afternoon, deciding to stay at the MSNBC studios until every poll closed. But it was worth forgoing the early bar-time festivities to get updates through the flurry of news wires and NBC staff e-mails. When the wire came through that Obama was the 44th president of the United States, the information was listed as “hot” and embargoed by the network until the appropriate release time; I immediately called my mom, my roommates and a few friends from back home. As each person reported the outcome to whichever bar, club or party they were attending, I could hear cheers.

    I tried to leave the studio around 11:30 p.m. to join my friends for Obama’s victory speech at Hawk ’n’ Dove, a local bar on Capitol Hill, but my producer was convinced that none of the interns should walk back and after having my arm twisted, I was driven home in a black town car reserved for NBC’s big wigs. While the driver scrutinized me in the rearview mirror — trying to determine if I was related to an anchor or sleeping with one of them — I watched the crowds outside in the streets chanting, cheering and honking all the way to the White House. By the time I reached Pennsylvania Avenue it was so packed with people and vehicles that I had no choice but to walk.

    In front of the White House, my plans changed again. A small crowd outside the gates, holding Obama signs, yelled for President George W. Bush to start packing. “If you need help, Bushie, let me know, because you’ve got to go!” one woman shouted through the metal bars. A flood of people, marching directly from the DNC party down the street, made their way into the area.

    Anticipating a large crowd, security fences had been erected to section off Lafayette Park and the main gate, funneling the crowd in and around — but not close to — the driveway to the president’s front door. The snipers seemed to multiply in the minutes that I greedily snapped pictures, but there was no tension between the crowds and the police. I watched a group of men get overfriendly in their celebration, pushing and prodding the rest of the crowd, and I hurriedly moved out of the way expecting fists. When a few police officers arrived on the scene moments later, they exited their vehicles and after brief hesitation began hollering right alongside the revelers.

    As the minutes wore on and Obama’s speech came to a close, a crowd that had once been 50 became 5,000, peppered with teens and elderly; blacks and whites; high-ranking suited officials and average Joes in T-shirts. News stations, with bright lights and boom sticks, captured the entire event for the world to see; most of the reporters were foreign. The world was watching and the crowd loved it as they yelled and pumped their fists for the cameras. Eventually, one man started to sing “Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, good-bye!” and the entire crowd serenaded President Bush until the lights of the White House were finally extinguished.

    At the back of the park, cars slowed so that both driver and passengers could roll down their windows and shout in approval, earning high-fives from courageous crowd members who stole into the intersection. It was as if each person in the car, or on the sidewalk, or in the crosswalk, were personally responsible for bringing about change. Even I, a skeptic fiercely loyal to McCain, realized that there’s something to say about a bombardment of car horns synchronizing with the crowd’s cheer, “Yes we can,” and so I did what felt right — I danced along with the beat of the song the masses were singing.

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