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Yes We Did

November 9th, 2008 by Jeff Simmermon

It’s been a couple days now, and it keeps happening — and at the oddest times, too. Sometimes I can control it and sometimes I just let it happen, let the people on the subway stare. My breath hitches kinda funny, hiccups, and my throat and voicebox shake like a bus on a bumpy road. My eyes tear up every time and I’ve just sort of stopped wiping it away.

I can’t tell if I’m happy or sad when it happens, mostly I’m just swallowed up by the enormity of the feeling. It’s like being a particle of plankton and getting swallowed up by a gigantic, benevolent whale.

America elected Barack Obama to be the President of the United States on Tuesday night, and the emotional aftershocks just keep coming.

So along with the spontaneous, random sobs of joy and relief, I’m having this recurring hallucination. Or maybe it’s a daydream. But whatever.

Every time I see, hear, or imagine somebody doing something incredibly well, that person has Barack Obama’s head.

For example: I am on a cramped bus as I write this, and I’m listening to the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out.” And the song’s at the part with that smoking guitar solo, but instead of Duane Allman playing it, in my mind it’s Barack Obama. Somebody a few rows up is watching a James Bond movie, but even though I know it’s Daniel Craig chasing down the bad guys, I keep seeing Barack Obama every time I look at the screen. My kickboxing coach demonstrating leg kicks? That’s Barack Obama’s head with tattooed white arms and legs.

I saw four different Barack Obamas jump off a fire truck on 8th avenue today and help out a road crew while a fifth Barack Obama made sure an old lady with a walker got across the street safely.

I can admit that I’m a little obsessed.

I just sat there at work, reading the most incredible series in Newsweek about the campaigns behind the scenes, jaw dropped, flicking back and forth between incredible photos of the Obama family on the campaign trail and the Newsweek stories and all the other media available online which essentially said the same thing:

Holy Fucking Shit, we got it together and got our country back.

Maybe work isn’t the place to work out my man-crush on America’s first black president, but I had a LOT of company. Nobody anywhere in New York or Washington has been able to do anything apart from smile, high-five and read the news.

Except we didn’t just get our country back from the mortifying disaster of the last eight years. We got together and we rescued the American Dream. This election is everything that America the ideal stands for — hope, change, and proof that not only is the dream something tangible and real, we can get over our history and build the future.

I wish Hunter S. Thompson was here to see this.He built his life around fear, paranoia and a mourning for the American Dream, and this would’ve blown him farther apart than an entire Amish quilt soaked and dripping with LSD. I wish Richard Pryor could see this, and you know that James Brown would cheerfully retitle himself Soul Brother Number Two if he was still around. Not to belittle Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln here, mind you. I’m just not as familiar with their writing.

And as long as I’m wishing, I wish I was black. I wish I was black so I could fully be rocked by the utter glory of seeing a black man elected to the highest position in the United States.

I voted in Washington, D.C., and I would skip the chance to be the first man on Mars to turn around and do it again. D.C. can be such a grey washrag of a town, an endless parade of blue dress shirts and Blackberries and people who manage to somehow be holier-than-thou and cooler-than-you without even being religious or glamourous. But on Tuesday, November 4th the town was ELECTRIC. People were predicting 6 to 8 hour lines at the polls, and I couldn’t wait to stand in the rain and just feel the excitement.

My best friend and I finally bundled David (his 1-year old son) up and made it up to the polls at about 3 in the afternoon and man, were we shocked — we were in and out in five minutes. David spent more time makin eyes at the ballot supervisors than I spent voting, and I stretched it out as long as I could. I considered messing my ballot up somehow, just so I could turn around and vote for Barack Obama again.

We bought some bourbon at the liquor store for a few celebratory drinks and everyone in there was jut on FIRE. The clerks, the lottery players, all the Columbia Road liquor store regulars — they were all just charged up about something more than a little liquid courage and the chance to win millions.

You’ve probably read all about the scene across the country — or at least in the godless liberal cities — when Obama took the election. But my God, my GOD does it ever bear repeating.

There’s a collective consciousness that ties everyone together, we all know that. It’s the same thing that makes the Flaming Lips so awesome live, the same thing that makes a NASCAR race so spectacular in person: hundreds, thousands of people all tuned into the same thing, roaring with one voice and making each others’ bodies vibrate at exactly the same frequency. Except this time, everyone in the United States was in tune with everyone else in the United States, and the beams that tie humans together were shooting across the oceans and out into space. I’d like to see a satellite photo of the earth taken last Tuesday night. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a NASA spectograph showed that our night sky was a trembling shade of pink.

The whole world was watching and praying for this and even though the scene in the Red Derby, where we watched the election results roll in, may have looked like a bunch of people drinking PBR it felt like so, so much more.


I’ve been in the pit at a NASCAR race and I’ve seen the Ramones without earplugs and I’ll tell you this right now: I’ve never heard ANYTHING as loud as the screams that went up when CNN called the election for Obama. It was so loud that my ear hairs flattened and the sound itself distorted in my ear canals. And man, was it beautiful. The entire bar broke into a spontaneous rendition of “America the Beautiful” without a trace of irony.


We all held our breath during Obama’s acceptance speech until he said the part about the new puppy about six people started crying. Maybe more, it was hard to tell. I was one of them.

An elderly black man — the Mayor of every urban neighborhood — flawlessly dressed in a three-piece suit and a fedora with a matching cane came in during a quiet moment and announced:

“I saw JFK speak and I saw MLK speak. And this whole country’s been on a damn dial tone ever since … UNTIL TONIGHT!”

There was a brief silence and then the whole place roared.


Down near U Street and all around the White House people were waving American flags and dancing in the streets. Gospel music blared out of SUVs and cyclists zipped in and out of traffic shooting off Roman Candles. Exhausted cops directed traffic the best they could while grinning ear-to-ear and laughing. I distinctly saw one traffic cop give a high-five to a man behind tinted windows in an SUV.

Obama’s victory isn’t just a victory for Democrats, for Americans, or for black people. The entire human race took a bold step forward on Tuesday night. We proved to each other and the rest of the planet that we can work together and move past the mistakes that make up our dark history — racism, the Bush administration, and voter apathy all took it on the chin on Tuesday.

There are two Barack Obamas. He’s already vaulted into the category of American mythology with JFK, Daniel Boone and Spider-Man, a cultural archetype that we can root for, rally behind and tell stories about.

The real Barack Obama is probably going to make some incredibly tough decisions in the coming years and it’s not going to make everyone happy overnight. We’ve got a lot of tough work ahead of us, and I suspect we’re going to hear some uncomfortable truths from Obama’s White House. But if there’s anyone I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, it’s that guy.

My entire life I’ve just sorta stood there and mumbled the pledge of allegiance, fudged the anthem and thought about suppertime or television or something else.

Now, everything feels different.

America elects a new president every four years. They come and go.

On Tuesday, November 4th, America chose a leader. There’s a difference.

Things are going to get tough before they get better, and the hangover’s going to kick in soon enough. Obama’s going to make mistakes like anyone else, and like all love affairs, this one’s going to change and mellow into something a little more real and long-lasting. But all that’s for later, For now, it’s time to celebrate.


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