Obama Ignites Souls -- and Dancing Feet -- of Manhattanites
I was fresh into university when California governor Gray Davis was ousted. In what I shortsightedly conceived to be the most politically significant moment I'd be destined to see in my lifetime, Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced him in Sacramento. I felt seized by the fever of the time, and vowed to always remember what it was like to be passionate about the pulse of government.
That was just a handful of years ago. Today my mind is filled with watershed events that vastly eclipse that first taste: a mortgage crisis, the dramatic collapse of hulking financial institutions, and a black Presidential incumbent pitted against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket, then against another woman -- Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin -- for the right to walk with proprietary pride across the vast square footage of the White House.
Last night, a handful of ad:techies learned the results of the November 4 election over a dinner hosted by Susan Bratton, the DishyMix queen bee. I sat between social medialyte Dave Evans and a well-traveled guy called Roy. We ordered duck gizzards and spun casual, but slightly taut, conversation.
Anticipation hovered like a mist. Every five or six minutes we committed cardinal formal dining faux-pas: whipping our mobile phones out anxiously, scouring Twitter or news headlines for updates to the polls. Every once in awhile we leaned forward and, like eager sports aficionados, hissed something like, "So what's the tally? Anything on Indiana yet? Who's reporting the numbers?" I remained pessimistic we'd learn anything certain until well after midnight.
It was nowhere near that late when California's electoral votes were counted, adding to a running total that definitively cemented Obama's win. A palpable change at the table occurred: collective breaths were released, shoulders loosened, and Susan raised her glass and proclaimed (more than once), "I didn't dare to hope!"
Glass-tinkling all around. Dave beamed like a ruddy kid (it was all we could do not to start shoving each other with glee), Steve Hall snapped photos, and Roy smiled smugly and shared news headlines with me from his iPhone.
Around 11:30, Steve and I hit the 236.com bash at the Huffington Post. This was no ad:tech party; it teemed instead with cheering Millennials kissing and hugging, exhibiting the political fervor one acquires in college -- or maybe on YouTube, if you've seen a "Yes We Can" mash-up.
Beer caps popped. Somebody took pictures of a cardboard McCain with a plastic bag wrapped around his head. (I visibly winced, then reached for my camera.) I partook of a fortune cookie whose fortune read, "Either Hillary wins the candidacy or this cookie is really, really old." And it was, I discovered with quiet dismay, chewing in slow, unspeakable agonies.
Screamers fell silent when Obama hit the podium for his acceptance speech. There was crying, and a great deal of cheering, and I covertly snapped a shot of a couple standing in front of me, transfixed, the girl's arm wrapped loosely, intimately around her man's rump. They could have been from any period in time, but they were here, watching with quiet elation as Obama attributed his victory to the people, not himself.
We left the HuffPo offices at our own peril. The streets were alive with honking cabs and dancing groups. It was sort of like a state wedding, or maybe the fall of a tyrannical regime. Needless to say, it was impossible to catch a cab heading back to Times Square, which is where the real insanity was happening, so a pile of revelers hit a random bar to drink too much and dance. Between reggae riffs and snippets of BIG's Juicy, Obama's "Yes We Can" speech weaved in and out, inciting kids to riotous cheering.
"YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!" they shouted in unison at one point, bringing dormant memories of MLM meetings back to the surface of my imagination.
"Jesus, it's like a cultural movement," my companion observed, shaking his head with the kind of awe that belongs to hardened skeptics. (He'd twice attested, with restrained pride, to being the only "red coat" at HuffPo's shindig.)
"It was always a cultural movement," I answered, and we smiled wry, meaningless smiles at each other. Little by little he was being won over -- by the infectious atmosphere, by the sound of Obama's voice, by the pictures we were all painting of an America we vaguely remembered from stories we were told a long time ago.
It isn't yet clear whether Obama will effect the change he promised. But last night, on the riotous free-wheeling streets of New York, it struck me that he's already been used as a vehicle for dramatic change in his disciples. People care about politics again. Once-apathetic non-voters actually flaunted their involvement yesterday. Others policed the ballots on video cams or on Twitter. However they expressed them, their passions united under one desire: to demand a new direction with eyes to the zeitgeist.
The crucial part is, the system changed dramatically as a result. I feel incredibly lucky to be young at such a time -- a time when, like tectonic plates on fast-forward, my parents' Promised Land is being reshaped and revived for new eyes. If I actually had a set of tear ducts, I'd probably cry.