As I watched the results come in last night, I was cautiously optimistic. As state after state turned blue, I still wondered if somehow victory was going to be snatched away. Would we really live up to our national promise? Would we really choose the politics of hope over the politics of fear?
At 11 p.m., NBC answered me, displaying a graphic that read, "Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States."
Shortly afterwards, I received a text message from the Obama campaign: "We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. All of this happened because of you. Thanks, Barack."
I'd joined their text message network a few months ago, when they'd promised early information about Obama's choice for vice president. Since then, I'd been getting periodic updates, such as information about area appearances or reminders of registration deadlines and other election news. Since almost nobody texts me except for my sister, I'd often joke when I heard a message: "Oh, it's Barack again."
The Obama text message was followed minutes later by one from my sister: "Yes, we can!"
I haven't believed in a candidate this strongly since the first time I voted, for Bill Clinton in 1992. Over the course of the campaign I'd even made a couple small contributions, which earned me a place on the Obama e-mail list. But I didn't have time to volunteer, so I did my part yesterday by showing up bright and early to vote with my husband, The Gryphon. We had about a half hour wait, which is unusual for our polling location. This was primarily because they had only one machine. People were cracking jokes about this, because last election they had two machines, but one of them kept breaking down: "I guess they figured we only really needed one."
The most interesting part was when the woman right ahead of my husband tried to vote a straight ticket and claimed that the lights weren't lighting up properly. The election officials were trying to talk her through her problem through the curtain, but it's like they were talking a different language. Finally, she allowed someone to come in, and the poll worker discovered she'd accidentally pushed the button for a write-in vote, which opens a little window where you can write your vote. It was blinking because it was waiting for her response. Once they figured it out, the poll worker stepped back outside and the voter registered her vote properly. As she stepped out from the curtain, several people in line applauded for her. She was all smiles and cheered a little. Considering how anxious people were to get to work, I thought that was nice.
Afterwards, I took The Gryphon to eat at the local 24-hour diner. Shortly after we arrived, crowds of people began arriving, chatting excitedly, fresh out of the voting booth. It's rare that you see so many people in one place happy about doing their civic duty!
At home, I got a couple more e-mails and text messages from Obama and other mailing lists, asking me to urge my friends and family to vote. So I sent a message out, containing information about voting sites and asking my friends to share their poll stories. A few friends answered. A couple of them had voted by absentee vote, to make certain their votes were counted (especially since one is out of the country). A couple others had to wait for short periods of time at the polls, although nobody had any true hardships. My New York friend said the city was in a celebratory spirit, and she planned to watch the results that evening with hundreds of people in Rockefeller Center.
My job, as a transcriber of cable news programs, meant that I was up until 5 a.m. on Monday night and 6 a.m. last night. I transcribe programs from video segments that are automatically uploaded to a server, and as I did so, I kept my television turned to NBC for the live results.
When Brian Williams caught up to his graphics and announced that Obama had won, I was filled with mixed emotions. I was proud of this country, proud that we'd chosen, together, to put ugliness aside and move forward. I also felt uncertain about the future of the rural, Central Pennsylvania area where I grew up. Would people feel disenfranchised, bitter? Or would they embrace the new president and strive together for a better future? As I watched McCain give his concession speech, during which he had to quelch boos from his supporters, those fears were renewed. Would this victory only lead to greater division?
Then Obama gave his acceptance speech. He began with an inclusive litany of thanks:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.
It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.
We are, and always will be, the United States of America.
By the end of the speech, I was ready to put aside that fear, to dare to hope. And as I saw Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had witnessed so many important milestones in the civil rights movement, tearing up in the audience, my own eyes welled up, and I shouted to my mystified dog, "We did it!"
We are not blue states and red states but the United States of America.