Two days later, the reality has started to really sink in. Senator Barack Obama is now President-elect Obama. I have to say that I really predict a few months ago that he was going to win in a landslide — I just felt like he was — and he’s mighty close at 364-173.
On Election Day night, I went to 125th Street in Harlem to take photographs, some of which I will link to soon. It was a pretty special place to be. Hundreds, probably thousands of people were in the streets, all ages, all backgrounds (but many many young people) filled with a sense of euphoria, like the weight of eight long Bush years was finally lifted off their backs. Even the police, who were there to maintain order and keep traffic moving — although, it was not easy, there were traffic jams, people were honking their horns for at least an hour straight and hanging out of car windows — hell, the police were celebrating too, or at least quite sympathetic those who filled the streets in a half state of shock, half state of euphoria.
That night and the next day I talked to many people, many strangers I had never met, but inhibitions were lost because there was a certain sense of a shared humanity. It was truly beautiful. Tragically, New Yorkers hadn’t come together in this way since after September 11th, the day the city and its residents bore the brunt of extremists’ death and destruction.
Two of the people I spoke to stand out in my mind and I will never forget the conversations I had.
One, on Election Day night, on 125th Street was with a man named Charlie, who was probably in his early 50s and had grown up in Harlem. I was recording audio and was holding a mic in my hand — Charlie, who wore slightly past the shoulder-length locks, walked up to me and began talking. Amidst all the celebration, he was so calm and soft-spoken yet so reflective regarding the true challenges Obama will face. But he was also reflective on what it meant to him that the U.S. had elected its first black president.
Charlie told me that when he was a kid in the 1960s, he loved to watch the TV show Perry Mason. He loved watching the main character dissect witness testimony on the stand and argue so persuasively in front of the jury and judge. He learned how to argue and reason himself in that way. Yet Charlie looked at Mason and thought to himself, he doesn’t look like me, I can’t do that. The storybooks Charlie read didn’t feature any characters that looked like him, so he ended up reading books on dog breeds. He told me he memorized every type of dog breed — that he could tell me about every type of dog he saw — that is what he did because he couldn’t see himself in storybooks.
The next day, the New York Times sold out, as early as around 8 a.m., according to some press reports. Everyone wanted a copy, a piece of history. Then we found out the Times would be selling copies outside its building at 3:30pm. So I went. And there was a line. There was a line that stretched around the entire building. Waiting in line, I met and older fellow, a man in his 60s or 70s who was quiet and keeping to himself when I walked up to get behind him. There he was, waiting patiently. Then we started talking. We passed the entire time talking about Obama’s election, about people, and about life. He had grown up in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in the Deep South, in Birmingham, Alabama. Obama’s election had special significance to him. He was just happy to be able to be alive to see the day. There we stood, together in line under the awning of the Times building, appreciating the moment, as the rain fell. A cleanse, we said to each other. We both agreed that the only thing constant in life is change and that the future was upon us, moment by moment, so we’d better appreciate this one. As we neared the front of the line, he stuck out his hand. “My name is Ocie,” he said. I told him, I’m Kieran. A woman selling the papers yelled, “How many do you want?” Ocie and I said farewell and parted ways.
I feel very blessed to have spent those 40 minutes in line with a good spirit like Ocie’s. I hope he felt the same about me. I will never forget those moments.