John Walker's Electronic House

US Election Experiences – Part Two

by on Nov.06, 2008, under The Rest

Election Day

I spent Tuesday inside a room with no windows, spending seven hours shooting at literally tens of thousands of zombies, for the second day in a row. It was an enormously fun time. At the same time, it was impossible not to slightly regret not being able to see what was happening in the election. Ideally I’d have spent Tuesday sat in front of CNN, absorbing it all while chatting in a dozen IM windows. That’s how to follow elections, right? Instead, the results were a mystery.

After the day’s “work”, we went for dinner with the fantastic Kim who generously drove us into Seattle to find a more interesting restaurant than Bellevue offered. Before we left I scurried to my hotel room to see what was happening. It was peculiarly concerning. The vote at that point was so close that CNN were meticulously breaking down each district of Virginia to see if there was any possibility that Obama could take a significant portion of territory from McCain. Such fine detail did not bode well, and Indiana was looking likely to stay Rep, while Florida remained its elusive uncallable self. There was good news in Pennsylvania, but it was looking like it might be a remarkably tight race.

This meant I had my Chief Naysayer, Nick M, declaring that while he still thought Obama would win (a position he only adopted very late on after McCain’s polls dropped through the floor, and in complete contradiction to his utter certainty that McCain was definitely going to win by a significant margin a couple of weeks earlier), his chances were now much worse, and it would be by the narrowest margin. Not a great state of affairs to leave things with.

After a splendid dinner (pulled pork sandwiches really are the best), we then set out to find a bar in downtown Seattle that was showing the election results. The first, which looked like a cinema from the outside, had an enormous line waiting outside and we were told was at capacity. But while we were stood there, suddenly madness broke out, with people screeching, cheering and whooping, while most cars driving past held down their horns. There was noise from all over, and people were smiling madly. Although the only logical reason for this would be that Obama had been declared the winner, I didn’t let myself assume this. I thought it must be the case, but I also couldn’t believe that it could be that clear a lead, that early on (9pm East Coast time).

We walked up the street looking for another bar, and eventually asked someone working in a coffee store where we should go. She recommended a place called The Pink Door, which she explained was down an alleyway, through a pink door, and then beyond. Which was exactly true. Bizarrely it was down an alley we’d walked past on Sunday after visiting Pike Market, and one I’d walked past earlier in the year when in Seattle with Craig. I recognised it because it has a splendid drainpipe at its entrance, that has peculiar twists and turns with plants growing out of it at various exits. So down there, and indeed there was a small alcove that glowed pink.

Heading through the door, we found a peculiarly plain corridor, that led to a strange open area with a staircase heading down. It looked like the back entrance to a university dorm, or something. But to the left was another door that opened up into the most unlikely, thriving bar. Projected onto a giant screen was CNN, with the latest numbers at the bottom. Numbers I quadruple-took at. Obama: 353. But it was a race to 270. That can’t be right. 353 – that’s… that’s a landslide. That’s an unequivocal victory. I stood and stared at the screen for a long time, sure I must be misunderstanding it, until the headline, “Breaking: McCain to deliver concession speech” appeared. He’d won Florida, he’d won North Carolina, he’d won Indiana. This was impossible. Obama had won!

Soon after, Obama’s victory speech began, and we all stood in the main room with the screen, watching his gracious and passionate speech while the fantastically partisan crowd clapped and cheered with enthusiasm. Every newspaper and TV channel has said this phrase to death, but it really is a significant moment in history, and to be in the right country at the right time, to share it with people who cared so much about it, was wonderful.

Walking back to the car afterward, people were still cheering in the streets. It made me smile and smile. Something good had happened – something genuinely good. Eight years of that despicable murderous criminal have come to an end, and a genuinely good man is soon to be president of the most powerful country in the world. A country that I wish I could live in more than ever.

Back in the hotel I thought I’d put on Fox News to see how they were coping. I wondered if they’d all be sobbing on their desks, or in complete denial and pretending McCain had won. Their angle was slightly more subtle. The headline on screen was, “Obama asks for help from McCain voters” which was a hilarious angle to take, and in the studio they were slavering over what a difficult job Obama now faced and would he be be up to the challenge? A black female member of Bill Clinton’s campaign group was being interviewed via satellite, and they were desperately trying to get her to say something negative about Obama. But beautifully she could not stop beaming. She was grinning from ear to ear, just lit with delight, and their questions bounced off her. It was beautiful.

14 Comments for this entry

  • Fede

    I woke up at 6 am to see the results (and incidentally take the bus to the university 30 minutes later). Turned on the tv and behold! Obama had *already* won and was just starting his victory speech. Impressive.

    But there are things I didn’t like so much. If so much stress is put on the fact that he’s the first black president… well, it means there is still a problem, racism hasn’t been defeated, is just sleeping. In an ideal place, he would just have been a new (long awaited) democrat president.

    Well, we can’t have everything, let’s hope what we have will be enough.

  • Frosty840

    Well, eight years of despicable, murderous criminal haven’t ended yet. He still has another seventysomething days to go and is looting, burning and pillaging all the way to the door, so far as I hear.

  • botherer

    Fede – as idealistic as your comment may seem, it ignores reality. Sixty years ago black Americans weren’t allowed to share a seat on a bus with white people. Now a black man is the president of the United States. It’s an incredible change.

    But it will only ever be an incredible change *because* there was, and still is, such horrific racism. The nonchalance you desire in response to Obama’s appointment would be a grotesque ignoring of this history, and a failure to recognise the massive changes that have taken place.

    So yes, in the decades to come it would be lovely if people didn’t notice which colour their candidate was. But so long as black and minority Americans are treated as second/lower class citizens, and so long as black and minority Americans remain the poorest, most oppressed and worst educated peoples, having a black or minority president will, and should be, a massively big deal. *That* is why so much stress is put on his being a black president.

  • Chris Chapman

    Thanks John. That post gave me a vicarious thrill.

    I went to bed at 3:45am after watching the BBC coverage (no MSNBC on Sky Digital, irritatingly, or I would have watched Olbermann), finally turning in with a big grin on my face before 270 but after it was obvious Obama was going to win it (he just needed the west coast states). Thankfully I’d managed to wrangle my way into working from home the next day.

    Also, thanks are due to everyone in the RPS Steam chatroom for the entertaining backchannel discussion on the night (which largely consisted of variations on a theme of ‘my god, John Bolton is a complete arsehole’).

  • steph

    Adding some deep thought to the conversation, is this the drainpipe in question?
    What can I say, the article was in my googlereader this morning…

  • botherer

    That is the drainpipe, yes! Good work.

  • Fede

    I see what you mean.

    I probably don’t really understand how widespread racism is in the US, and I fail at trying to see things from a different point of view, as I live in a secluded area with very small influx of people.

    What I’m trying to express is also that if he has been elected racism isn’t probably as strong as it might seem, and that, if he can overcome the difficulties of this recession and lead the US out of its wars many will have to admit that he and his minority have nothing less of the other people.

    A last thought: if the demographics keep going like this, his minority will become a majority, and that will also help change, even if, after what you said, probably less than this election.

  • Pace

    But so long as black and minority Americans are treated as second/lower class citizens, and so long as black and minority Americans remain the poorest, most oppressed ..
    Eh. I’ve been telling myself to just move on for awhile, but I can’t help myself. Sorry John, but you sound like Al Sharpton. Or Charles Barkley. First off, not all minorities in the US are so bad off. Asians for instance, are more affluent on average than white people (ref). Secondly, ‘reverse discrimination’ is a far greater fact of life than racism. Alright, this is clearly subjective and I can’t back it up with any statistics, just with living in the US for my entire life. Black people are given the advantage at lots of things. They’re given preference over white people for college admissions, for scholarships, for jobs. (note all the companies who advertise being ‘equal opportunity employers’, scholarship applications always said something similar.) Look at TV shows; wherever there are doctors or lawyers, you can bet a disproportionate number of them are black. There are 4 federal holidays in the US honoring an individual. Those 4 are Jesus Christ, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and Martin Luther King Jr. (what exactly are white people supposed to be celebrating on MLK day?) People are so afraid of saying anything publicly that could potentially be perceived as racist that nobody (well, no white people at least) ever says anything even remotely negative of the black community. They’re absolutely treated with kid gloves. The situation can’t be handled reasonably because of all the taboos, and the situation is conveyed entirely one-sided. There are problems within the black community that only they can address to bring themselves up.

    Sorry I guess this rant had been building up for awhile…

  • Dave

    Pace, I think that what needs to be said on the subject of race is that the utmost care needs to be taken and that it is difficult to make any kind of generalisation.

    For example, you point to the Asian minority being the wealthiest per household race but the same point that you yourself reference illustrates that the Black minority is the poorest. Furthermore, the Asian income is $58k over the Non-Hispanic white income of $50k. However, the Black income trails FAR behind both on $34k.

    I’m not denying that there are people of racial minorities (including Black) who are wealthy but your statistic seems to show itself that a specific minority are significantly worse off than others and that the “ideal place” discussed above, that should not be necessarily the case.

    Within every race – Asian, White, Black and others – there will be varying degrees of prosperity that cannot simply be generalised either way. It is clearly a very emotive subject that, as I say, should be handled carefully.

    Secondly, on the issue of reverse discrimination – again this should not occur in the ideal society but someone asked me why men don’t have a “men’s officer” at university and women do. The reason is that in an establishment that does have an institutionalised prejudice (whether conscious or not – NB. I’m NOT claiming that there is a racist, sexist conspiracy – more a subconscious acceptance of the-way-things-are) a minority, numerically or influentially, does need its own representative.

    That’s why, in my opinion, reverse discrimination occurs and, I agree, it is an issue that needs addressing. But my (rather meandering) point is that reverse discrimination would not occur in a system where discrimination (of the bad kind) did not exist.

    As a final point – what do white people have to celebrate on Martin Luther King day? The triumph of human equality over racism, perhaps? Equality in the value of human beings is something that everyone should celebrate, whatever race.

  • Pace

    Right, I wasn’t trying to present a fair and balanced look at race relations, just a sometimes neglected side to it all. And yes I understand why reverse discrimination occurs, I don’t even disagree with affirmative action, it more or less seems like a reasonable thing to do. To a point. I was simply pointing out that it does exist, on a very large scale, and that it’s something that should be kept in mind when referring to blacks as oppressed. There are forces trying to bring up the black community, and yes, some trying to keep them down. I just think people’s perspectives on the relative sizes is sometimes a bit askew, and if you want to address the ethnic disparities you need to start coming up with better rationales than oppression. Note we’re having this discussion shortly after a (half) black man was elected president.

  • botherer

    Dave’s response is superb, and puts it better than I would have.

    I’m very wary when I hear an argument campaigning against positive discrimination, as if its existence is proof that a specific group therefore has it easy. It’s dangerous nonsense – positive discrimination / affirmative action is problematic, but of *course* it only exists because of something far worse. There isn’t a hint of a question that black and Latino Americans live a far shittier life than white Americans. Look at any statistic from education to wage, criminal records to health. It’s not subtle. The implication that somehow white people are being mistreated/discriminated against is such complete bullshit, and a disturbingly blinkered perspective.

    As Dave mentioned, “what exactly are white people supposed to be celebrating on MLK day?” is an utterly bewildering thing to say. Do you really mean that? Do you really believe that the actions of MLK are only to be celebrated by black people, and are meaningless to those of another race? I really hope you don’t.

  • Pace

    gerrrr, my goodness I never said I was against positive discrimination. In fact, I said the opposite in my last post! And I certainly know that blacks and latinos currently have a lower standard on of living on average than whites in the US, and that there is a reason for reverse discrimination. I was taking them as givens, sorry if I didn’t make that clear. And saying that I implied that white people were being discriminated against is really, really, reeeeeeally twisting what I said! arrrr. grrrr..

    To summarize, I was trying to compare the magnitudes of ordinary (negative) discrimination with reverse (positive) discrimination, and say that it’s not at all clear to me that the negative is necessarily bigger. (though clearly they don’t exactly cancel out in that way.) It was a reaction to what I perceived as the suggestion that if only white people would stop discriminating against blacks that then everything would be fine, which I don’t think is necessarily the case. (and sorry if that wasn’t what was implied.)

    I suppose the ultimate point here is that if we want to make a genuine improvement in the situation of these minorities, we need to look at the situation more realistically, at what the real problems are. If you’ve stopped listening to me, then how about listening to Bill Cosby’s famous speech on the subject.

    (As to MLK day, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Yes there’s something for us all to celebrate, it’s just a bit odd from white people’s perspective. It would be like the English celebrating the 4th of July in the spirit of no taxation without representation. But never mind.)

  • The Poisoned Sponge

    I’m not sure that it’s the discrimination that’s the main problem now. While my experience of any sort of racism or discrimination is taken from a very blinkered and probably privileged English background, I think that it’s somewhat a bad lifestyle begetting bad lifestyle thing in the current climate. I know this might be wildly off the mark, but if you can take something like The Wire as an example, it would seem to me that the black populace is so downtrodden because they’re essentially bred into the downtrodden lifestyle.

    Obviously this can be fixed, but it would take a gargantuan effort on everyone’s part, and would essentially require all race/culture to become moot as everyone intermingled. Perhaps Richard Herring has it right when he says we should force the races to interbreed so that no one can be discriminated against.

    As far as claiming that celebrating MLK day is an odd thing for white people to celebrate, they should celebrate it because it’s something great that was done for equality at the time. The white people of MLK’s time are not the white people of today, just as the English people of the period of American Independence are not the English people of today. I sure as hell wouldn’t like to be held accountable for the Boer War or the murders of thousands of Catholics and Protestants, so I don’t see why it should be awkward for today’s people to celebrate the victory against those who came before them.

  • Richard Millington

    It was an amazing day. I’m working in NYC until Nov 22 and had the joy of celebrating the election victory in Times Square with thousands and thousands of people who had shown up.

    It was just an incredible moment when those Californian polls closed and Obama became the president-elect of the USA.

    Truely, one of the best moments of my life, and by far the best atmosphere I’ve ever seen. So many people in the USA have said recently that they can now be proud of their country abroad again.