It’s one of those events that’s going to become our generation’s JFK. Where were you when Barack Obama was elected the first black President of the US? Well, I was in university doing the student thing. This isn’t going to be like the rest of my entries – it’s a personal story but one I’d really like to share with you all.
I’m a politics student so had this night planned for months. One of our local bars was going to show the whole thing live, and had bought 5 extra TV sets especially. My Debating Society and I got there by 1700, and stayed until 0500. We were talking about the sort of people who’d be there; since Aberystwyth’s a fairly liberal university with educated, multicultural students, we were expecting maybe a handful of McCain supporters, and they’d only support him to spice up the evening. We were also expecting that the people there last night would be International Politics students (like me), or Law. Maybe even History. We were all prepared to recognise everyone and for it to be a really jolly night of social science geekdom; our version of a Christmas party.
And it was. Because when we walked in, and we thought we were early to get there for 1700, the bar was packed. And packed with people yelling out for more booze; booing when Sarah Palin or John McCain were on the screen, even for a split second; whooping for joy when Obama or Biden were on screen; clapping for joy when Anderson Cooper on CNN showed us how many states were blue.
We didn’t recognise many people in the room, more than half were strangers to us. When we asked them what they studied, we were stunned to get responses like “Biology”, “Geography”, “Agriculture”, “Photography” and “Equine Sciences”. Another assumption we made was that these student wouldn’t know what tonight was really about and were just there to say they were. That snobbish attitude soon faded when we found ourselves arguing the minute points of Obama’s Guantanamo plans with an Agriculture student. It made us all, and myself especially, realise just how many people were interested in this and why – all our fates depended on the outcome of the next few hours. We were all there praying the right man would win and bring us out of the global state of affairs we’re in. Politics, last night, transcended our departmental rivalries and became bigger than us, yet all about us at the same time. We were all equally effected, we were placing all our bets and praying for the same results with the same passion.
My friend and I had devised a drinking game based around the election, to make sure we didn’t get sidetracked and also to take away some of the graveness of the whole event. Halfway through the night, another friend and I ordered a pizza. Pizza and beer, in front of the TV. It would’ve been any sports night but for all our destinies hinging on one man winning. What’s funny is that none of these statements is remotely superfluous or hyperbole – literally everyone and everything in the world would be affected by the man Anderson Cooper would tell us was to be US president.
All of us had bought the papers that day, which all came with a red and blue-coloured map of the US showing us which candidate had the majority of votes in certain states. For every 5 states McCain won, and every 20 points he advanced, I owed my friend Alex a pint – and Obama for me. It was an odd combination of games like this, and almost military planning with maps, coloured markers, and rooms full of people focussing on making sure we mapped out Obama’s progress properly.
There was a brief moment when it seemed all was lost – Obama was still in the lead but McCain was making leaps and bounds. It was at this point that those few who were McCain supporters just for the hell of it found themselves being yelled at and shunned to a different side of the room. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if he won?!
The room that we were in was showing coverage by the BBC, where the others were showing CNN. We were just a bit behind the others, and such was the sense of community in the bar that at random intervals, designated messengers from the rooms next to us came by and announced the most recent numbers. Depending on whether or not Obama was making good progress, this poor person either got bought a drink or one thrown at him/her.
It was around this time that I thought we might’ve been taking it a bit too seriously.
Just after midnight, McCain jumped ahead by 20 votes where Obama stayed at the same level. We all started to despair, and wondered what to do. We had the Atlantic between us, so decided that marching across and voting ourselves wouldn’t do much good. So we started decorating our faces and urged the TV sets to give us some good news. Others despaired and turned to shots and cigarettes; when I think about it today, that leap was only for 15 minutes but it seemed a lifetime.
Someone in front of me turned around and asked “Can you imagine what our lives would be like if McCain did win?” There was silence in the entire room as we imagined a future in which our troops were there indefinitely; where people were still tortured in Gitmo without trial and wrongly; where Sarah Palin controlled social policy, a woman whose fundamental principles (or lack thereof) centred around getting rid of certain basic freedoms; and a myriad other disastrous scenarios. Luckily, a barman broke the silence by yelling at the TV much like we would if Wales were playing the All Blacks on a Sunday afternoon. That cheered us up a bit, and the mood was seriously lifted mere minutes later as Our Man’s pace picked up.
The most sobering point last night was when Obama hit 200 electoral votes, at 0233. It was the longest wait, for us, to watch him get there. When he did, several gave up claiming that there was no way McCain would win. The cynics and those who wanted to watch his slow climb to victory though, inched that much closer to the TV and our heart beats were racing. There was one collective thought in the room: “Please, whatever powers there are, give us this one chance. We’ve waited years for a man like this, we NEED this. We’re goners if McCain gets in.” A chant started at the back of the room; chills ran up our spines as McCain’s votes remained stagnant and Obama slowly climbed. If I were to make a comparison, it reminded me of the scene in ‘The Lion King’ when Simba takes his place on Pride Rock.
It was at this point that CNN coverage was slower, so people kept popping in to ask “what the score was”.
And then finally, an hour later, all talk ceased.
There was silence for about five minutes. We didn’t dare believe it – what if we had just imagined the numbers and we still had a way to go? But then, slowly, like the seconds after the first point of a World Cup match, we erupted in jubilation. Chants of ‘Obama’ and ‘Barack’ filled the entire bar; people were dancing, singing, laughing, kissing, hugging. It was pure happiness everywhere you looked, and not only because by then we’d all been drinking since 1700 the previous night. We were dancing on tables, chairs, on each other; hugging strangers and completely incredulous that after all this time, we’d all finally got what we wanted and deserved.
Stepping outside into the crisp morning air, I was enveloped in cigarettes – celebratory smokes, singing and more laughing. Someone had bought a very expensive box of Cubans and I stayed with them for a while to take it all in. In any lulls in conversation, we’d look at our feet and at the brave new day dawning around us and shake our heads in disbelief. After praying for this for so many years, how were we to believe that in a matter of hours we were to be answered?
It still hasn’t sunk in for me. I’m still bouncing around my house a bubble of complete joy, but I don’t think the reality will really sink in until Our Man has been sworn in on January. One thing’s for sure – Aberystwyth’ll be there to cheer him on and do it all again. I can’t wait!