“Somewhere in the universe, a gear in the machinery shifted.”
-Eldridge Cleaver on Rosa Parks
I haven’t Cleaver’s way with words, so I hope you’ll forgive my reducing history to one man’s personal narrative of 12 hours of chaos. At best, this will fade into the millions of personal sketches that comprise the people’s history hiding behind any newspaper headline.
Two fucking years of this stuff boiled down to one day worth of drinking, voting, waiting, waiting, drinking, waiting, and drinking again. We kicked off at Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal’s Washington leftist landmark. (I met Shallal when he guest-lectured on business and peacebuilding; he’s fantastic.) Busboys is a good place to spot Dennis Kucinich and his amazon wife. Unfortunately, the place was packed like sardines in a Chongqing bus, (line around the block,) and eventually we left for more breathable climes.
Second option was a dead little Ethiopian restaurant. There must’ve been four people in the place when our group showed up and promptly piled bottle after bottle of honey wine on top of the prior stuff. By the time they called Ohio for Hopey, everyone was shitfaced. At this point I started texting WIN! to 18 people at a time, even while it was still technically too early to call the election.
Once Virginia came around, the entirety of DC hit the street. Here’s photographic evidence, and the videotape. (Sadly, we lack footage of Mireille shrieking “I LIVE IN BLUE VIRGINIA!” for the next four hours.) Open bottle laws went the way of the permenant Republican majority, and people were passing champagne bottles (and what I believe was heroin) along the street. I don’t think I’ve ever hugged so many strangers.
A few thousand people marched in the rain to the White House, a sort of traveling Woodstock complete with SDS signs. Chants of “Yes we can!” and “U-S-A!” rang out in Lafayette Park as a revelers welcomed their new patriotic hero with the funny name. Amidst the crowd I see a familiar-looking woman, and amidst the vodka I approach her. “Excuse me, but you look exactly like Joan Baez.” The woman puts her hands on her face, smiles, and replies: “I wonder why?” And then, piss-drunk at 3 AM on election night at the White House, Joan Baez hugs me.
Last night was spectacular. This morning, Washington ran out of newspapers. DCist reports that the Washington Post printed special editions to distribute Wednesday evening. I got home to Eastern Market around 6:30, and there was a line around the block outside the CVS. I was carrying a paper I had bought on the way to work this morning, and three people asked me where I got it — two yelled out of car windows, one offering to buy it. (If anyone has a copy of the New York Times, name your price.)
Undoubtedly, you all have your own stories. It’s a rare day when an editorial cartoonist brings tears to your eyes:
Having just hugged Joan Baez, I called my mother. It was 3 AM and I’d spoken to her earlier, but I figured it was worth waking her up again. My mother is the most patriotic person I know. Working for Gene McCarthy at 14, she organized a walkout of her Rockaway middle school to protest the Vietnam War. A few years later she considered joining the Weathermen.
My mother is the most patriotic person I know. Her parents had campaigned for communist New York City councilman Ben Davis up in Harlem, and her aunt (who used to feed me Ricola cough drops as a kid) is the subject of a 91-page, largely-redacted FBI file. My mother was raised by people who inhabited a unique social and political culture, one which simply ceased to exist with the decline of the old left and the dissipation of working-class Jewish neighborhoods in New York. My grandparents, raised in this Yiddish socialism, still see America more as the place they are than as the place they are of.
Stuck between this passing world epitomized by my great-uncle’s charcoal drawings of Paul Robeson, and the often flaky, psychoanalytic approach of the early 70s left, my mother developed a strongly class-based political consciousness devoid of both the Yiddishkeit of her parents and the hippie ethos of her generation. Without either, she clung to a certain cultural Americanism, maybe best described as either Woody Guthrie’s red-dirt radicalism or the likely politics of the love-child of Mark Twain and Emma Goldman.
My mother is the most patriotic person I know. She told me that she’s tried her whole life to ensure that my sister and I grow up feeling like America is our country, rather than just our home, because it took her so long to come to that conclusion. She doesn’t fly a flag on her house, and I’m not sure she could sing you the national anthem, but that was me leading the drum line cadences in the Veterans’ Day parade and that was my sister camped out at the revolutionary war reenactment at Ticonderoga.
My mother is not a central-casting patriot. She disdains the accoutrements of country, is uncomfortable praising a government simply because she lives under it, and tends to exist in a perpetual state of dissent. Sadly, these traits are often mistaken for (when not deliberately spun as) indicators of ambivalence towards the fundamental promise and potential that this country has offered four generations of my family. My mother has simply been waiting: Waiting for a politician to talk straight with her; waiting for a politician to inspire people rather than just scaring them; waiting for a politician to reach out to people who are used to being ignored; waiting for a politician to, as John Edwards once said so well, “be patriotic about something other than war.”
So I called my mother at 3 in the morning last night to tell her that I just hugged Joan Baez in front of the White House a few hours after 64 million Americans handed a landslide victory to a half-Kenyan man, middle-named “Hussein,” raised by a single mother. And to this my mother said the thing I’ll leave you with:
“I am amazed by your generation.”