Friday, November 7, 2008

Cheers And Floating

Many of the posts here have been long, thoughtful looks at issues and what kind of policies and dialogues we're going to need in the next four years. For my inaugural post, I thought I'd change it up a little. I'm not sure how widely the news videos spread around the country or how many people saw the images, but I was at the all-night White House street party that broke out on election night, and for the curious, here's how it went.

I've seen crowd estimates settle around 1,000, and although I have no talent for estimating these things I'd say it was more like double that, especially considering the stragglers and people at the margins of the glut. I'd also say, from the time I spent there, that it was about 90 percent college students, something I'm not sure has been mentioned in the press reports. So, enough with the dry statistics. . .

It was fun as hell. Knots formed in the generally milling crowd and started chanting or singing at the drop of a hat. A lot of girls were riding around on guys' shoulders, and pot use was pretty open, but there was none of the stupidity and tawdriness of spring break shitkickers. Everyone was there to celebrate, not just to get wasted, and people were for the most part sober except for being really happy. I found the best way to enjoy the whole thing was to make my way back and forth through the crowd from one end to the other, stopping whenever I saw a group I wanted to join or it looked like one would form. We sang "Ole, ole ole ole" and the national anthem (a lot) and God Bless America. On too many occasions to count, people would start up cries of "Yes we can!" or "No more Bush!" or "O-ba-ma" or the occasional "Si se puede!" and the next twenty people in each direction would join in. One game that emerged was spotting the bright white glare of a television camera and trying to get through the crowd to make it into the shot. No one pushed. There were no fights. It was all in good fun. I never got interviewed, but I'm positive I ended up cheering and chanting on one Canadian broadcast. After the correspondent signed off, everyone in the crowd went nuts around him with cheers and he smiled and, frankly, joined the party for a moment before having to leave.

As the night wore on I started to see a few middle-aged and older people in the crowd, including one guy who was shouting "You fascist motherfucker!" and balling his fists with victorious glee, facing down the White House like the Scots taunting the British in the middle of "Braveheart." I ended up on a home video being made by Frank from Winona, Illinois, who asked me as I passed him why I'm so happy to be rid of Bush. My answer, as best I can recall (with a big grin on my face): "Oh, man, there are a million and one reasons, I could never get to it all. I thought I wouldn't have a job when I graduated college. I thought there would be a hole in the sun by the time he left. But now, not only are we getting rid of Bush, we're replacing him with someone who actually knows what he's doing. Save this tape. You'll remember this." Then we introduced ourselves, shook hands, he said he totally agreed with me and we kept going our separate ways.

Most of the fun came from just being there. It felt good. Everyone was partying for the best of reasons. A few people carried Obama cutouts above their heads, making for good photo ops when they lined up nicely with the White House. Two or three people crowd-surfed, prompting someone next to me to say to his friend, "Come on, this isn't a Hootie concert." At one point a big group had formed and started singing, of all things, the Georgetown Hoyas fight song. I was standing right there but didn't know the words. One college guy was smoking a cigar and sprayed his Heineken beer foam over his head, splashing everyone around him, but no one seemed to mind very much.

For the record, there were a lot of sexy coeds. I spotted a few guys I thought might have been there to pick up chicks, but I didn't see anything happen. Everyone there seemed to be with a group of friends, and people would often link hands and go through the crowd in fours and fives. I never saw anyone I knew, so I was free to kind of roam the scene and stop to sing or whatever or, once, join a temporary drumming dance circle. The snipers were visible on the White House roof despite it being the middle of the night and completely overcast, but they didn't ruin the picture for us -- everyone seemed to take it all in good fun, as if to say, "Ha ha, we get that roof now." At one point, I think probably around 1:15, the White House floodlights went off for the night and everyone took it as a chance to start chanting "No more Bush!" at the top of their lungs. I shouted "Address the nation, George!" and a few people laughed.

Anyway, I could go on, but you get the picture. When I left at 1:30 it showed no signs of slowing down, and several hours later, watching the local news hoping to get some late Senate election returns, I saw that by 4:00 it had finally petered out. Every account I've read of it includes quotes from security guards or police or whoever saying they'd "never seen anything like it." I hope we keep seeing that kind of jubilation on election day from now on, because that's how people should feel.

First, last and only plug: this is cross-posted at my (currently slow-moving) personal blog, Lapplander.

No comments: