Tuesday night, I did not sit down in my apartment and watch election returns with my friends. I did not sit and watch states like Virginia, Ohio and Florida turn from red to blue. I did not cry, whether out of fear or out of hope, when President-elect Barack Obama won the race against Republican nominee John McCain.
Instead, I took to D.C.‘s streets and talked to residents and voters who were taking part in the election. I sat in historic places like Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, where a projector was up in the back room and people were clapping and shouting when the TV networks called each state. The local Starbucks was buzzing with people who were donning “I Voted” stickers and pouring milk in their free coffees. A small, family-owned Caribbean restaurant was decorated with U.S. flags and signs that showed support for Obama.
Conversation sounded the same on every corner. I was told many times throughout the night that no matter who wins, this is a historical election. This is a notable moment in all our lives, and this is a night we will not soon forget.
Granted, I knew all these things. I understood the magnitude of what we participated in that day. But getting out and talking to voters outside of AU’s little world truly made the election come alive for me. The media hype about this election would be unlike any other of its time was difficult to buy into at first - but seeing people who so passionately believed in their candidates, either McCain or Obama, really brought the value of this election to life for me.
On Tuesday, Americans were united by the election, and by Wednesday morning, we would all wake up living in a new world.
After eight years under President Bush, the country was in a dire need for change. This two-year-long campaign wore Americans into fatigue, from the primaries to the general elections and the endless news reports and attack ads - people have been inundated with information. Tuesday night, when results indicated Obama would be the 44th president of the United States, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. From the White House to U Street to the Tavern, D.C. was engulfed in celebration. Obama gave a speech that touched many - echoing his “yes we can” mantra throughout. He touched both sides of the political spectrum in a call for unity - something that needs to transcend beyond campaign rhetoric.
But while I hate to be a cynic, all Americans need to remember that Obama will not be a bandage for the broken parts of our nation. From a realistic standpoint, this economy and the war in Iraq may get worse before they get better. For those who feel like an Obama administration may be a one-way ticket to economic depression - I wouldn’t assume that either. The economy has this amazing quality of eventually improving itself, in one way or another.
In order to make the Obama administration successful, we must remain open-minded. We must also remain patient, despite what the future may bring. We must rediscover our national identity. Like many people told me on U Street Tuesday, it is imperative that we rise up through these hard times, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, not as black or white people, but as Americans. As typical as that statement seems, it could not be any more fitting than it is to this moment in history.