Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Day America Changed

(This blog is posted on ProgressOnline)
It’s daybreak over San Francisco. The Golden Gate bridge stands glorious and majestic, as America wakes up to a new dawn. A new dawn in self confidence, and its standing in the world. Yesterday I spent the day with the San Francisco Democrats. The phone banks in the office just off Market Street were already packed with people – well over 100 - by 11am. With military organisation, volunteers were told to sit down with a phone and raise their hand, when a phone bank captain would come round with a script and sheet of voter ID. Blitz calls to Pennsylvania were followed by calls to Missouri (pronounced ‘Missoura’), then Iowa, then Alaska. Motivation was kept high by bells on every table “Ring the bell when you find a strong Democrat supporter!” said the sign. And round the room, which resembled a large call centre, spontaneous cheers would be constantly heard as bells were rung and callers shouted out when they found a new democrat. Raffle tickets were given out to volunteers, with occasional breaks in calling when raffles were drawn – a way to keep rewarding callers and hope people stayed longer. And to help reduce the queue for mobile phones, every now and then a “Money for Minutes” bucket would be passed round. People would donate so that a volunteer could dash across the road to buy more mobile phones.
The whole day was like a party. And as Democrat voters asked callers “How are we doing? Have you heard anything?” the same question would go round the tables as people yearned to know what was going on out there. Then the cheer as a “captain” would walk round with some exit poll results on a board – all pointing to the same thing – Obama neck and neck or just in the lead in key swing states. Still people dared not hope too much, just in case.
But Obama had to win, surely. As I talked to activists during the day, from 70 year old Jesse to 14 year old Elijah, it was clear Obama’s campaign had built together an extraordinary coalition of ordinary people from all backgrounds, all wanting, in their own way, and in their own words, change in America. These weren’t just ordinarily active Democrats –the majority of people I spoke to were active for the first time, and like 39 year old Eric from a Republican family, or 66 year old Independent Vicky, this election was a mass reaction to disappointment in what America had become.
At 8pm the long campaign day finally ended. Out of the secret back room came the local campaign director – with someone holding up a new sign saying “It’s All Over – You Did It!” An emotional speech followed, thanking everyone who had been pivotal in the local campaign – including distant friends who had gone to help in other states. Many were tearful as they realised the long hard slog was over. The 21 months for some, who had been involved with Obama from the start of his campaign. Chants of “Yes We Can! Yes We Can!” were replaced by “Yes We Did!” “Yes We Did!” And then perhaps the loudest cheer of the night – when a message went across from the secret backroom like a Chinese whisper to the campaign director giving a speech – an announcement that McCain had conceded.