lessons from America

Political pilgrimage

Yesterday in DC was very much a political pilgrimage, walking to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House and along the Mall to Capitol Hill.  A lot of walking (DC is such a great city to explore on foot) and to time to reflect, and to see people’s reactions to these hallowed sites in the light of Obama’s victory.  I’ll write more on that shortly.  And finally today, the pilgrimage ended on a cultural note: going to an art gallery and seeing one of the original, iconic Shepherd Fairley Obama ‘Hope’ pictures.  

While I was doing that (and attending a Green Festival here in DC earlier today), Meghan was at a Sheffield film festival doing a workshop in which she showed ten minutes worth of clips from the many tapes she shot in Ohio and Chicago.  I look forward to hearing how that went and what people’s reactions were. 

Shortly, I will board a plane back to London: back to cold, grey weather; back to work; back to a post-election life.  But there is plenty I still need to write up from this trip – both diary entries and more analytical pieces too.  So stay tuned. The journey is not yet complete.


November 8, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | Leave a comment

Buying a piece of history

The [unofficial] merchandise sellers were in full force in the streets surrounding Grant Park. And I picked up some great stuff: Obama beanies (hats), a big button with Obama’s image and the words ‘thank you’ on it; another which simply says “yes we did”.  But this was all tame compared to the scenes the following day.  Everyone wanted to get their hands on the special editions of the Chicago newspapers – the Tribune and the Sun Times.  All the newstands and stores had long since sold out by the time I got up.  And I wasn’t the only one scanning every sidewalk and metro carriage for one. 

The Tribune rose to the occasion though.  They started churning out extra copies and distributing them across the city.  The trouble was, as soon as a delivery arrived they were instantly snapped up.  A van was arriving every 30mins or so straight from the printing presses to the Tribune HQ in downtown Chicago.  I joined the queues outside the building waiting patiently to get their copy.  Some people were just buying a couple; others more for friends and family; and budding entrepreneurs were buying up bundles of 20 to sell on the streets for many times the cost price.  In the end I bought 5 copies, plus a few souvenir posters as well.

Update:  As I passed through Baltimore Airport to fly back to London, I noticed the newsagents there were still selling copies of Wednesday’s election special edition of the Washington Post.  Needless to say, I purchased a copy; along with the Newsweek and Time magazine specials.  Those two magazines embed reporters with each candidate and every four years, immediately after the election, produce a wonderfully rich and insider account of the each of the campaigns.  Worth getting hold of a copy, especially Newsweek.

November 8, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | Leave a comment

The winning moment

Despite my love of blogging, I realise there are some occasions when I just want to put away the camera, put down the notepad or laptop, and just be in a moment; focused on it and myself; not on how to report it or capture it for posterity.  For me, one such moment was 10pm CST: when CNN called the election for Obama. 

As the clocked neared the top of the hour, I knew that that victory moment was approaching.  Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virgina and Colorado had all been won by Obama.  There was no longer any possible route to 270 for McCain.  And with California’s megaload of electoral college votes about to be added to the Obama tally as soon as the polls closed, along with Washington and most likely Oregan too, Obama was easily about to pass the winning post.  I was excited and eagerly anticipating the official call and the celebrations that would follow.

And sure enough, at 10pm CST the announcement was made and the crowd all around me went wild: cheering, jumping, screaming, arms raised, waving flags and placards, hugging, celebrating.   It was like a huge tidal wave of elation sweeping across the park.   And for the first 30 seconds or so, I was part of that; wildly celebrating with the rest of the crowd. 

And then the emotion really hit.  The realisation of a dream fulfilled; a journey completed; witnessing a historic moment; putting this day in the context of the civil rights movement and the stretch of American history that began with slavery.  I stopped being part of the crowd and for a while it just seemed like me and the video screen, that was all that I noticed.  It was akin to being in a state of shock, knowing that something big had just happened, but unable to react to or be in the world around.

The tears welled up.  I can’t recall if I actually cried, but I was close.  I just stood there trying to absorb even a little of the enormity of what had just been achieved and how much it meant to me.  Eventually though I snapped out of it and went back to wildly cheering with the rest of the crowd.  And then a little later dancing as the campaign song ‘signed, sealed and delivered’ started up over the speakers.

I let myself experience the moment and not try and capture it on my camera – hence the lack of photos or sound for me to put up on this site.  However, Meghan didn’t have that luxury / choice.  It was imperative for her to be filming (me).  Hence there should be some interesting footage on the documentary she is putting together.  I look forward to actually seeing my reactions to the victory call.  Though it will be weird, as I already have in my mind a picture of that scene and that moment.

November 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Obama victory celebrations in Chicago

I was there: albeit at the edge of the Grant Park, Chicago, celebrations.  Couldn’t wish for anymore, given we didn’t have tickets to the main section and also had driven for 6+ hours from Cincinnati that afternoon and only arrived at the park after 9pm, having made stops at the different sets of friends we were staying with.

We parked ourselves fairly close to a jumbo screen on one edge of the park, so we could easily watch the results and Obama’s speech.  Here is the first few minutes of Obama’s victory speech.  Stirring stuff.  

And here are a selection of photos from that night: mainly taken inside the park watching as history unfolded around us.  It was amazing to be part of it; eventhough tiredness and gaining an extra hour in the time change from Cincinnati left us without the energy to continue celebrating in the streets all night. 

November 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The sun sets on the Bush era

The feeling in both Chicago and DC these past few days has been of a people liberated.  The end in sight of 8 years of living under the nightmare that has been the Bush presidency. At last a chance to regain real pride in one’s country and fellow citizens, rather than the superficial patriotism everyone has been forced to subscribe to. 

Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote that “the English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved.”  For many Americans, Tuesday was freedom day.  And that spirit is continuing on – and will I suspect all the way til the Inauguration on 20 January, and possibly a little after as well.

November 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Washington DC: the yes we can city

I arrive into DC and the first thing I hear on the metro is the guard announcing after the train pulls out of each station: “welcome to the yes we can service …..”

Outside the White House, a group of students were chanting “yes we can end genocide (in Darfur)”.

And on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in the same spot where Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech 40 years ago, the global citizen advocacy group Avaaz has set up a giant “Yes we can together change the world” board for people to write their messages of congratulations to Obama on.  It is part of a global ‘petition’ Avaaz is organising. 

November 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment