I’m in a holiday-like stupor today because Barack Obama won the presidency last night. I wanted to write about what I experienced in the early hours of this morning; about the spontaneous, peaceful celebrations I saw erupting in Mt. Pleasant and on U Street and on H Street behind the White House. I had to file a review of the very good Usher concert I attended yesterday evening first, which prevented me from putting a paragraph or two together in time for Sommer to post it with her roundup of Election Night revels on DCist. The review was tough to write; after last night’s euphoria, the show, good as it was, felt like it could have happened a month ago.
My girlfriend spent last night with her folks in Maryland after going there to vote and teach a class for Chesapeake Shakespeare. She called me right after the show ended, and we spoke by phone a few times while I was wandering the various street celebrations after Obama’s victory speech with my little brother, Steve, and my pal Derek. Steve and I hadn’t planned to spend Election Night together; I’d invited him to be my plus-one for the “ladies only” Usher gig. But it was a happy accident that I got to spend last night with him. We were in his car heading up 11th street from the Warner Theatre to Snake Oil HQ in Columbia Heights when the networks started calling the election for Obama. We were just south of U Street, and I heard cheers coming from the bars and apartments all around us. People just starting spilling into the street, and cars were honking their horns.
A few minutes later, we’d parked up on Harvard and were walking over to Tonic on Mount Pleasant Street, where friends were waiting. There was a festive atmosphere in the bar. We watched McCain’s very gracious and dignified concession address. I thought he looked relieved. Tonic’s owner rang a bell to silence us and gave a moving speech of his own, saying “it feels like we got it back” and thanking us all for being there. I was standing between Steve and Derek for President-elect Obama’s speech from Grant Park in Chicago. I wanted to hug people, but I stopped short of grabbing strangers , though that would have been very much in the spirit of the evening.
I talked a little bit with a woman at the bar who turned out to be the niece of former Virginia Lt. Gov. Don Beyer. Soon after, Steve, Derek, his pal Jesse and I headed out into a light rain to walk down 16th street towards U. By then, the party was in full effect. Every car that passed was honking, and people were riding their bikes down 16th waving American flags. The Howard University dorm at 16th and Euclid was in full revel as we passed. Police had blocked off the intersection of 16th and U , and people were just standing around or jumping up and down and chanting “Yes we can!” and “Yes we did!” A couple of blocks east, the scene was even crazier. A uniformed Marine (or a guy in a Marine uniform, at any rate) was leading the chants from atop a traffic-signal pole, and guys were dancing on top of the bus shelters. The cops were there, but they weren’t interfering with the celebration.
Derek tapped me on the shoulder and announced, “We’re going to the White House!” I had to convince Steve, and Derek and Jesse disappeared in those couple of minutes. Steve and I walked back up to his car and drove down to the White House. We got no closer than H, but the scene was much as it had been up on U Street: Flags, song. I saw a woman performing with a light-up hula-hoop. People were singing “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” and — while looking at the portico of the White House, where I could see at least one person moving around — “Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey hey hey, good-bye!” Here again, I wanted to hug people, but I didn’t. Steve found a woman he knew from his grad program at UCSD, and she rode back up to Columbia Heights with us when I wanted to call it a night. I left her with him when I got out at at the corner of 15th and Columbia.
Derek was really the only friend of mine who I actually saw last night, though I exchanged calls and text messages with many others. But I was with my brother for a night we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. That’s something to be thankful for.
I need to go pick up a paper.