Election 2008 - The view from London
Collated by Stephen Moran
It is 10:15 pm in the backroom of the Rising Sun tavern, Harlesden Road, London, and writers in for a drink after their weekly workshop are being calmed by a lone American, who repeats "Take it easy. Settle down" with calming gesture. With just five days to the US presidential election, everyone is worrying how it might be stolen this time. Last time they couldn't all vote in Ohio! "Calm down." There aren't enough polling places in areas that favour Obama! "Relax." I can't actually hear what anybody else is saying in the clamour as our American friend tries to calm us. "It will be okay. It's not as bad as you think." I asked my writing group friends to share their thoughts about the historic election and their experiences on and around election night.
I'm hoping, I'm praying he wins. This matters. What will it feel like if he doesn't win? How will it feel to be living in a world where people could vote for the other guy? The wrong guy? Obama, well he's the good guy and good guys always win in the end, right? No. Because we are humans and too many of us are stupid or greedy or just don't care. Is it too much to hope that America will do the right thing? How could it not? Who are these people that they would consider putting an idiot like Palin within a heartbeat of the Presidency? But then they did vote for Bush….
Go to bed wondering if Jarred, our American friend, is right in assuring us anxious Brits that it'll be fine. Wake up to the news. I feel human, feel joy, feel my faith in humanity restored. I actually feel love for the whole human race because sometimes, we get it right. Ok, it's not often, but sometimes we all get together and we do the right thing, and it's wonderful.
Then I wonder how many Americans are even now loading their guns with murder in mind?
There was a time difference of five hours and a distance of 3,000 miles. My feeling on election day was that the emotional elastic that held me to my erstwhile home of New York City was stretched too thin. I needed to be there! I recalled the 9th September 2001, the opposite extreme of world-changing events, when I had recently returned to London. Then, I had found myself detached, suffering a different grief from people around me who (rightly) resented the US as a worldwide bully, and (wrongly) revealed thinly disguised glee at the events. But the Obama victory was different. Although some Brits complained about the domination of US politics in their newspapers for weeks on end, no-one could deny feeling good about the end of the Bush era travesty. On the night of the election I went to sleep before the votes started rolling in, a very long way from the banners and balloons, and fearful that something could go wrong. I had no need to worry. I was awakened in the morning by a text message which had spanned the distance in an electronic heartbeat, saying across continents, 'wake up, wake up - Obama is president!'
'I'm so excited. I got a twitter from Obama.'
This from the friend who is normally more excited about his twitter feed from Stephen Fry, which includes soliloquies on odd socks and mini-missives to the technologised world,
Anyway, we're curled on the sofa, we have popcorn (which I don't eat) and champagne in the fridge, and we wish they'd just get going. We have no TV here, so someone has done all the media stuff to get something up on the computer, and there's a bunch of Brits and Yanks talking bollocks round a small table on the very small screen and cutting away every so often to 'results' that have not yet arrived, and then bumbling back to the studio again. The Brits are all wearing red so it looks like they support the bad guys.
[But we do, don't we? Or we are the bad guys. Isn't that why we're sending our soldiers off with theirs, to make a mess of a country we never plan to go to? Isn't that why our supermarkets are full of Israeli herbs to cover the bad taste in our mouths, and stacked high with cheap persimmons renamed Sharon fruit?]
This is not our election, and I resent having to watch it, but if the rest of the world has to keep an eye on America to be sure the 'democratic process' is what is claims to be, then so be it.
The loser comes up all in white with his all-in-white Jackie-O wife, and keeps saying 'it was a great ride', which if you once lived in Dublin still sounds a little rude. He is telling us goodbye, and his wife's pinched face is thinking how much money the great ride cost.
We look out for Nigel who has texted us he's in the park in Chicago, shivering and being forcibly divested of banners and badges that security say count as 'weapons'. No sign of him.
The states are turning blue by the time I stumble off to bed. We have improved our knowledge of American geography and hit on an idea for a new board game where players must vote in as many states as possible before the polling stations close. The others are still up: a champagne cork pops softly, and I drift off under the duvet hoping this American dream works out happier than the last, that Obama holds his gloss a little better than a certain British PM whose rise to power started out equally full of hope and faith and conviction.
The result caught me by surprise – not the outcome – the speed. I'd expected a screw up with votes, a re-count of at least three states Thought we'd have to wait days. But there it was blaring out of my radio alarm. Obama was in!
I skipped out of bed and danced around the kitchen. On the way to work I tried to share my high but no-one was willing. There wasn't any jubilation going on in the streets like there would be Stateside. But, this was England and underneath I knew they'd all be singing.
There is a difference, but not so large or quick so as I can feel it. Yeah, a tear wells up in both eyes as I read the transcript of Obama's speech the next day at work. But I'm a sap for high-minded rhetoric and don't consider my own tears a sign of anything meaningful. X's and Kings words do the same to me still. Maybe it's that I still can't believe the quantum leap – the US voting in someone with a name, face and intelligence like that. Right after the demon that was Dubya. The exorcism can't be this immediate, surely. The dream this real. None of my friends comment much. My family don't care. I love this moment, but in secret. I put it away for safekeeping, for the future, ready to weigh its worth in years to come. Britain's New Labour keeps breaking my liberal heart every day they're still in power. I don't blame them. They do what they do, and as Kissinger said, we get the democracy we deserve. Obama is too good to be true, and I fear for him. And us. What kind of Obama do we deserve today?
Bilal Ghafoor and Jarred McGinnis (emails)
Obama? Really? Does this mean I owe you a fiver? It was rigged, B
Pretty awesome. Just imagine how many years it will be before an African immigrant's son becomes a European leader.
America, fuck yeah, J
125% MORE money to win 5% more of the votes... that is America... money negates colour, B
I'm sorry I can't hear you over how awesome America is, J
The fact that you elected someone who is barely left of centre because of the colour of his skin barely makes up for Bush... B
I'd love to listen but your head of state is an inbred German who is in power because some ancestor murdered his cousin. Monarchy, that's so adorable, J
How wonderful that this election has ushered in a new era of not being racist... In any case, it is tourists like you that keep her on the throne... the economic benefit from selling Elizabeth II tea towels is too good (and too funny) to pass up, B
October 2008. "Hello," Grandma says, answering the phone in her crackling rural Connecticut accent.
I wish her a happy 85th birthday and we chat. She complains about the monkeys upstairs. I remind her it's not nice to call her Puerto Rican neighbours that. It's not her fault; she picks up the epithets from the rotten old men at bingo.
We chat some more. She tells me about the Great Depression and how her Dad pulled the family through selling shoes door to door. We chat some more. She mentions a lady at church who wasn't going to vote for Obama because he's a black.
Grandma says, "I said, what does that matter? He's an educated man. We need a smart president and he's it."
"You going to vote for Obama?" I ask.
"Sure," she says. We chat some more, but from then on I knew America was going to surprise the world.
Once upon a time, a guy in a powdered wig wrote a lie. He wrote, "All men are created equal". It was such a good lie he had his favourite slave make duplicates of it.
Generations ago, my forefather sailed from Tipperary, because he thought that the powdered wig man's country actually believed that lie. Instead, they had written other things like, no dogs or Irishman. Eventually, his sons' sons since they were the colour of powdered wigs were able to believe that lie.
When I watched the tears of Jesse Jackson, who was beside Martin Luther King Jr. when he was shot for telling others they should believe that lie, and when I heard Obama's victory speech I thought if enough people believe that lie, it might just be true.
The day they elected
A new leader for the free world
was the day you died.
I never did get to read the news that day.
I hadn't spoken to him in a month
Then there he was,
Lighting up my phone at 7am.
No good can come
of calls that come that early.
He told me you couldn't walk.
I said, 'do you want me to come?'
Even though I was scared.
I was scared to see you.
That I wouldn't be strong enough.
And he cried in reply.
He hadn't cried on the day
I packed my things and left.
So I went to him.
When I got to his house
Obama's speech played on my old TV
And you were lying on the bed,
But I knew as well as he did
cats who can't walk don't live
I've never seen a cat in a wheelchair
You hung on three days in the end
Fought the parasite in your head
But it won
On the last day,
You lay on your side
Like a goldfish flopped out from a bowl
They'd shaved patches from you
You were defeated, but loved
You had power still
In belonging to us
I was so happy we were with you
when you went.
You were the last link between he and I
The reason we still talked
he went back alone to his flat
I went back alone to mine.