By Patricia Wilson-Smith
It happened before we knew it. At precisely 11:00 pm Eastern Standard time, on November 4th, 2008, when we expected to begin hearing more state projections, all of the network and cable news outlets declared Senator Barack Obama to be the President-Elect of the United States of America.
I didn’t do what I thought I would do. I was all prepared to collapse into a fit of tears, to become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all; to feel a huge release from the nervous tension that had been building for the last several days. Instead, what I felt was serenity, a peace that I couldn’t explain. As my family and friends clapped and cheered and cried, I sat to myself, shaking my head at the idea that it could all be over just like that.
There is much to wonder about in what took place that night. What happened to the “Bradley Effect”, or the voters (it was feared) who’d lied to pollsters about voting for Obama and then didn’t? Where was the total desertion of “un-decideds” to the McCain camp that had been predicted by some? It was amazing – there were no states so close to call that the race would linger on for days or weeks. No long lines at the polls, or riots, or voter suppression to speak of, nothing. Just an awe-inspiringly decisive win on the part of President-Elect Obama, including in states that had not voted for a Democrat in several decades.
Even the highly-paid news pundits didn’t know what had hit them. For days and weeks ahead of time, fears regarding the dreaded “Bradley Effect” had been the main topic of many of their shows, and going into election night, it was the one thing that no one was really sure about. I had long ago taken solace in the fact that if the Bradley Effect was in fact a real phenomenon, it would not necessarily be so after 26 years. I was confident, as was Michelle Obama that any such effect would have shown itself in the Primary.
And what of the un-decideds and the ever-tightening race the media warned us about up until the very last moment? CNN’s before and after poll-of-polls results showed that even though some races absolutely did tighten at the end, the polls going into election night proved to be dead-on, primarily because un-decided voters essentially split down the middle in their support of the two candidates.
What about the long, oppressive lines at the polls? The voter suppression fears? Early voting made mince meat of these, in states where early voting was allowed, and in other states, lower than anticipated turn-out helped with the rest. Though it is inconceivable to me that anyone in this country who was eligible would not have been electrified into action by the excitement of this race, the truth is, more Democrats than ever turned out to vote, while fewer Republicans cast votes for their party than in 2004, an obvious reflection on the disparity in excitement levels between the two camps. A concerted effort on the part of both campaigns to monitor the polls for voter suppression and other problems apparently calmed the waters there.
The real truth of the matter is that Election Night 2008 was a brilliant culmination of an almost flawlessly executed campaign on the part of President-Elect Obama and his campaign strategists. We were knee deep in the primary season when I got a taste of how professional and well-run his organization was as a volunteer, and it never missed a beat. It helped as well to have a candidate with the mind and heart to win over Americans from all backgrounds, and untold people from every nation around the world, and whose message of hope and change gave most of us exactly what we needed to hear in some pretty turbulent times. One of the most beautiful things about the celebration that went into the night that night was that it literally took place in concert all around the world – even the staunchest Republican had to have been moved by the sight of the global euphoria, especially from the residents of Kenya, the land of Barack’s father’s birth.
As a black women, it has been almost surreal, watching the nation suddenly become fixated on Michelle Obama, and Sasha and Malia Obama; already so much change, in a country where the disappearance of a small black child or an African-American woman has in the past, garnered almost no national media attention, especially as compared to our white counterparts. Suddenly, what Michelle Obama is wearing is the talk of the fashion world, and where she will send her daughters to school is on the minds of pundits and prognosticators the world over. Everything is changing right before our eyes, and it is a privilege to be able to see it all unfold.
All that is left now is for us to keep up the fight for a truly United States. Electing our first African-American President comes with great responsibility for the black men, women and children in this country. It is not okay to joke about making white people slaves; it is not okay to gloat over Obama’s victory to even our close white friends, because he was not elected by blacks alone. It is, however, the time that we have been waiting for since the beginning of our history in this nation. We can officially close the chapter on systemic racism at the highest levels of government, and focus our efforts on the day to day problems of inequality that still plague our workplaces, schools, communities, and homes.
And we can begin to be the change we need. What would it mean for this country if the legions of Obama and McCain volunteers for that matter, black, white, and brown, were as determined to see that all of our children get a good education as they were that their candidate get elected? What would it mean for us all if that same army of volunteers assisted the elderly, helped feed the sick, aided veterans, and victims of natural disasters?
It would give an already enormously historic event new and lasting meaning. It would usher in a new era of true bi-partisanship and collective support that could get this country back on the road to being the one we once knew, after eight-years of mayhem.
In other words, it would be what some of us fought so hard and long for – the kind of change that President-Elect Obama can believe in.