US elections: History is made

November 5, 2008

The United States Socialist Worker is maintaining an online election journal and analysis of the November 4 vote. Below is the account posted by SW journalist Alan Maas at 11pm on November 4 on the impact of the victory for Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama, who has become the first African American head of state in a nation founded on slavery and where, only a few decades ago, many African Americans were denied the vote in a number of southern states.

As soon as it became clear that Obama was over the top, the tone of the media changed to one of reverence in recognition of the historic significance of the election of the first African American president.

And yet, coming out of the mouth of someone like MSNBC's Chris Matthews, it was a travesty.

Matthews used the opportunity of Obama's moment of victory to brag about how great the US is — having done, he claimed, what no other advanced country had in electing a Black head of state.

What hollow cant in the face of the US's long and vicious history of racist barbarism — a country founded on slavery and made into a "great power" with the use of systematic racism.

But not even this hot air could overshadow the sense of exhilaration and tear-filled celebration among ordinary people, wherever they were gathered:

In Harlem in New York City, Brian Jones reports:

Several solid blocks of people celebrating. A giant mural depicts Malcolm X and Obama. Out of a sound system came the song "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," and the streets turned into a giant dance party. On the jumbo-tron, McCain is conceding, but the sound is breaking up. But no one wants to hear him anyway, so they put on Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours."

Outside the White House, a spontaneous crowd gathered to celebrate Obama's victory and jeer George Bush, who is reported to have called Obama to congratulate him. The contrast between Obama's sweeping win that has transformed the so-called "electoral map," and Bush's theft of the White House in 2000, on the basis of the disenfranchisement of African American voters in Florida, could not be more stark.

And in Grant Park in downtown Chicago, there are at least 1 million people, maybe 2 million, filling every visible corner of the huge lakefront area. The pictures on media really are worth a thousand words: dozens of young people with their fists raised in triumph, whole families dancing in the cramped space, tears flowing down the faces of older African American women, flags waving, singing and chanting.

As Lee Sustar described from downtown.

As Obama was headed in his motorcade to speak, people were still streaming toward Grant Park. The crowd is very racially mixed. All ages, though mostly young.

I just encountered a group of 10 Sri Lankan sisters and brothers, non-citizens who came down. "This is a moment to remember," they told me. "We're living through a moment of history. I want to be able to tell my children and grandchildren I was here to cheer on Barack Obama."

To them, Obama's victory represents something that they have seen only very rarely in the past generation. They know that the door is closing on an old era, and that a new one is beginning.

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