Election 2008

10 Moving Stories and Images as America Celebrates Obama's Win

Everyone has their story, but here, in pictures, video, and print, are a few of the outpourings of emotion.
People all across the U.S., and even the world, were moved by the election of Barack Obama on Tuesday. As the news honed in on Chicago's Grant Park crowded with jubilant supports, so too were cities, towns, and even homes throughout the country. People took to the streets, they filled public spaces, they honked their horns and hugged strangers, they shouted with elation and were overcome with tears of joy.

Everyone has their story, but here, in pictures, video, and print, are a few of the outpourings of emotion from cultural icons like Alice Walker to AlterNet readers to the people of Harlem and more.

1. Baratunde Thurston: We Rejected Fear

I cannot stop crying. I am stunned. Barack Obama is the next president of the United States of America, and I cannot stop crying. America closed the deal. Yes, we did. It is hard to focus right now. My mind is traveling sporadically through space and time. Large moments and small are mixing.

I am in South Dallas, Texas, being hugged by the elderly black election judge I met during the primaries. I am six years old and have just learnt to swim. I am cheering with my Dominican barbers. I am being called a nigger by white children on a camping trip in my youth. I am standing on Goree Island in Senegal, the final resting place of so many of my ancestors and the birthplace of my own possibility.

I am shaking Barack Obama's hand in August 2006. I am trembling at my mother's bedside moments after she passed away in October 2005. I am exhausted. I am restless. I am America. This is happening. We shook the world. We won. Last night, at five past 11, a collective roar made its way across living rooms and restaurants and the streets of cities and towns. Strangers sought each other out to hug one another and share in this moment.

At my own watch party, chants of "Yes we can!" gave way to chants of "Holy shit", and the transformational nature of the moment was sealed when I gave my New York City cab-driver an Obama button and he gave me a free ride.

And what a ride this has been. The manner of this campaign is as important as its ultimate outcome. Grassroots organising met peer-to-peer networked technologies, learned from old school campaigning and was remixed through new school art. And it won. We won! Our new president. Our new president, Barack Hussein Obama, truly represents us, America and the world.

He is Kenya and Hawaii. He is Chicago and Kansas, and through his gifts, his timing and his good fortune, we have risen to a great occasion. This campaign was a fire that forged a president and a people, and we have emerged stronger for the trial. It is not simply that we chose an African American or a Democrat for our first post-baby boom leader, although those are all significant milestones.

It is not simply that we chose a communicator and scholar and a man who so clearly demonstrates family values through the love and respect he shows his wife and daughters, although those too are significant milestones. It is not simply that we chose, but also that we rejected.

We rejected smears and race-baiting and Muslim-baiting and desperation. We rejected so much history and so many rules that have bound us to the way things have been and are supposed to be. We rejected fear. Most importantly, we rejected fear.

Our better angels prevailed for one critical moment which can and will change forever the moments to follow. We said resoundingly that we are not afraid. We are not afraid of the world out there. We are not afraid of ourselves.

In rejecting that fear, we have shed something awful, at least for a time, and in so doing we have liberated ourselves. I am still crying, but they are tears of possibility for all that we are free to do and free to be.Yes, we did.

2. Harlem: "Ain't No Stopping Us Now"

Watch this video as Harlem celebrates Obama's victory and residents offer their thoughts on what this victory means for the country and for themselves.

3. Ruth Rosen: Dancing in the Streets

The last time Americans danced and cheered in the streets was in 1945, when the nation finally defeated its enemies in the Second World War. I have no memories of those exuberant days. But I'm an historian and I've seen plenty of pictures and read many descriptions of the joy and happiness that swept over the country.

Obama's stunning victory is the first time in 63 years that Americans once again danced and cheered in the street. Here on the Left Coast, thousands of Berkeley students danced in the city, wildly cheering his victory. In Oakland's Jack London Square and in San Francisco's Castro District, tens of thousands more gathered for joyous street parties, dancing in the street. It was a bittersweet victory because of the success of those who sought to ban same-sex marriage. That day, too, will come. Of this I'm sure.

Elsewhere, people also danced in the streets. In Chicago, a friend describes the thousands of young people who poured out of trains to join the tens of thousands already celebrating in Grant Park. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the largely African American and Caribbean population celebrated in the streets, dancing and setting off fireworks.

All across America, in these blue enclaves, celebration and joy was in the air. The morning after the election, I received emails from friends all over the world who described how the election would transform not just the United States, but the rest of the world. On the Berkeley campus, colleagues, as well as strangers, hugged each other. Smiles sprouted on students' faces. It was as though everyone were awakening from an eight year low-grade depression.

At an election night party with people of my 60s generation, a mixed-race crowd couldn't believe what we saw on television -- and on our computers. As we listened to John Lewis, tears poured down our faces. None of us thought we'd lived to see this historic election. All of our adult lives we have protested racial and sexual discrimination, unnecessary wars, and fought for social and economic justice. None of us could remember wanting to dance in the streets. To feel joy, to feel pride in our new leader, and those who elected him, was a new experience.

All my life I've heard the phrase "dancing in the streets" but I've never witnessed it after a political event. May the future give us more historic reasons to rejoice and dance in the streets.

4. A Dream Realized

Forty-five years after the Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech, many Americans feel that dream has been realized with the election of Barack Obama as 44th president of the United States. The producers of the American News Project take a cinematic look back on this election season as we trace Obama's footsteps in Colorado, Alabama, California, Virginia, Illinois and Washington D.C. As we look back, Obama reminds the nation to look forward to the challenges ahead.

5. Kate Harding: My President Is Black!

When the networks actually did call it, I was in a cab headed north on Michigan Ave. Al called to tell me, but I'd already guessed, since all of downtown Chicago was exploding with shrieks of joy and blaring car horns. A few minutes later, I was stopped at a red light, and a car full of young black guys pulled up next to us, hooting and hollering like mad.

I was on the opposite side of the car, with the windows up, so I just gave them the biggest grin/thumbs-up/vigorous nod I could. And then the guy in the passenger seat laughed with pure glee and shouted, "MY PRESIDENT IS BLACK! MY PRESIDENT IS BLACK!" At which point my grin turned to laughter, and I screamed, "WOOOOOO!" without really thinking about the fact that all the windows were closed, and I'd just made the cab driver's ears bleed.

That was my Most Memorable Moment of Election Night in Chicago, right there. So you can guess how fucking awesome it was to click through the Trib's photos of the celebration this morning and find this one right at the beginning:

That's the guy ... 

His president is black. Mine too. Despite last night's horrible disappointments, that is so mind-blowingly exciting.

6. Tears of Joy

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a collection of photos that are priceless. Many were moved to tears when Obama's victory was announced, but, as these photos show, his words have moved people long before his acceptance speech on Tuesday.

7. Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks: He's One of Us

We watched Obama's victory speech in a room with people ranging in age from 10 to 63, and all of us had tears in our eyes. Looking around the room, we saw the same emotions on our faces as we saw in the crowd at Grant Park. Some of them were crying tears of relief, others tears of pride, others pure elation. Beyond emotion, though, the amazing phenomenon was the size of the crowd. We wondered what other event and what other person could inspire a couple hundred thousand people to stand out in the cold at midnight. They were there to celebrate Obama and to see history being made, but the looks on their faces told a deeper story: They were there to celebrate the triumph of love and hope over fear and divisiveness.

When Obama took the stage, we saw a man embodying a complex array of feeling. He looked tired, of course, and who wouldn't be? A ten-year-old in the room, who hadn't heard of the death of Barack's grandmother, said "He looks sad." It takes a deeply integrated person to let his grief be visible on a night of overwhelming victory. This is a key to his personality, and bodes well for the future of his presidency. It takes enormous strength to let your vulnerabilities rest so comfortably in yourself that they can be readily seen.

There was one emotion we're glad was missing from Obama and the crowd in Grant Park: any sense of triumphant glee. We couldn't help wondering if it would have been present in McCain's supporters had the tables been turned. John McCain had to silence a few boos and jeers from his audience, but by and large they just looked sad, tired and meek.

Finally, we were deeply moved by Obama's body language at the end, in the easy way he brought forth the other members of his and Biden's family to share the stage. He seemed to melt into them, as if he knows deep in his bones that none of this is really about him as an individual ego. There's a huge difference between needing to be the center of things and simply being in the middle of things. Somehow, despite all the adulation and glory (as well as the relentless attacks mounted by the other side) Obama still knows what he's known all along: he's one of us.

8. Jill Hussein C: For the First Time in My Adult Life I'm Really Proud of My Country

When you grow up at a time like the one in which I did, it's easy to lose sight of just what this country is supposed to be. The formative events of my life and my early memory start with the Cold War and the assassination of a president. It went on to an unpopular war, the civil rights struggle that ultimately brought us to this day, and a presidential scandal. As a young person growing up then, it's understandable that we would become cynical about our country. Of all the things I'm grateful for today, perhaps what I'm most grateful for today is that for millions of young people who became the foot soldiers of this campaign and this movement, their dreams and their goals have come true, and at least for now, they have been seized from the jaws of despair and cynicism, and energized for what lies ahead.

And I and so many others of my generation -- and those of my parents' who are still here -- will be right there with them. Because this is a moment of history; a history that spans two hundred and thirty-eight years. And in that history we all march together.

9. Stepping Back from the Cliff

An AlterNet commenter:

I feel like we, as a nation, stepped back from the edge of the cliff leading to the Abyss. We have nowhere to go but UP. We have the opportunity to remake the government and ourselves as just, compassionate, and wise. Maybe it will take time to win over the greedy and the bigots. Maybe it will happen fast, like a tsunami wave. Who knows what happens when HOPE energizes a people? Yesterday I had faith as small as a mustard seed. Today I believe we can move mountains.

10. Alice Walker: Dear Brother Obama

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.