Here’s an email from my daughter Amy, who works in Washington DC and was somewhat overwhelmed by the Tuesday night post-election celebration there. Below that is a copy of my reply to her about the celebration here.
DC on election night was absolutely amazing.
I watched the election at a friend’s house in Maryland, then headed back into town after the speeches. As we got close to DC, we heard yelling and honking, that got louder as we rolled into the city. When we hit Capital Street, we decided that we should joint the celebration, so we rolled down the street honking, yelling, and waving to passing cars. Everyone in the cars were looking for people to shout to and didn’t seem to miss any opportunities. It was certainly the most collegial honking I have ever encountered in this city.
We parked the car at my apartment then walked up to U-Street. For people unfamiliar with DC, U Street is an historically African American that was a cultural center for much of the 20th century. It was Harlem before Harlem. It was also the center of the DC race riots, when many of the U Street businesses were destroyed. It was particularly poignant to see the celebration there on Tuesday night.
We spent two hours walking down U Street. When I say we walked down U Street, I mean we walked right down the middle of it (I’m talking yellow line). People drove their cars onto U Street then stopped them, leaving radios blaring. Cars were stopped on both sides of the street with people sitting and standing on top of the cars cheering and holding signs and chanting and honking. Walking down the street we walked by the cars high fiving everyone and cheering with them. Pedestrians were hugging, high fiving, and just erupting into spontaneous cheers together. (I haven’t hugged so many strangers since the 1995 playoffs.) People were chanting O-BAM-A, Yes-We-Can, and Si-Se-Puede (all, conveniently the same number of syllables I couldn’t help but notice), as well as general celebratory yelling. If someone started yelling or chanting, everyone around him/her would yell or chant in response.
A couple drummers set up shop on a corner and a huge group of people were jumping up and down (my kind of celebration) and chanting. It wasn’t aggressive jumping at all, just everyone celebrating together. I could go into the group do some jumping then come back out again. It was very cool. In the middle of another block, a giant ring of people, probably four or five people deep, were chanting O-BAM-A. I snuck in to get a closer look and two guys were break dancing to the chanting. They would pause and encourage the crowd to chant louder, then start dancing again. A young skinny white guy jumped in the middle of the group and started doing some decidedly un-break dancing and everyone cheered and chanted for him too.
It was without a doubt the most diverse celebration I have ever seen. It was diverse in every sense of the word. Beyond the racial diversity, I saw all kinds of people out–from goths to grandmas, and everyone was celebrating together, and happy. I saw parents out with their little kids (only three or four years old). A grandma-aged lady was in the in the front row of people watching and chanting for the break dancers. It was clear that everyone wanted to celebrate, but also to be there and experience history occurring. There seemed to be a feeling that everyone was experiencing something much bigger than themselves.
It was truly one of the most memorable and moving scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I took some pictures. They aren’t impressive photographically, but perhaps you can get a sense of the what was going on. http://picasaweb.google.com/amykoler/YesWeCan#
It would be interesting to have a study of the celebrations in the different communities, then make bold generalizations about the places where the celebrations occurred. Seattle had a celebration break out on Broadway, near Seattle Central CC. There was merrymaking aplenty with a crowd of similar diversity, although weighted toward younger people and there were many fewer than the number of DC celebrants. When the police showed up and got out of their cars, people feared a confrontation, only to discover that many of the cops had left their vehicles to join in the dancing. Led by a drag queen, the throng marched to the area of the market to continue its revelry.
Startled and rather proud of this exhibition of politically correct glee, news media swarmed the group of celebrants, as SUVs and smart-looking vehicles arrived from the nether regions with occupants eager to join in the event. Encircled by media with periodic infiltration for an interview, the celebration became self aware and dissipated eventually. Nonetheless this may have been the first spontaneous street gathering and unlicensed parade since the Vietnam War. (I’m not counting the WTO activity as an unlicensed parade.) I can’t think of a time that the police joined such a party, except maybe at the end of the Second World War.
Alex, who was working as the Smith Tower night watchman, said that he saw groups of men walking by weeping, most of them homeless people on their way to the mission down the street.