Millions in streets seal Obama victory
Published Nov 5, 2008 4:14 PM
Harlem, N.Y., rally. LeiLani Dowell
first on left.
It was truly a great day in Harlem.
The election of Democrat Barack Obama as the first African-American U.S.
president was celebrated the evening of Nov. 4 in the largest, grandest display
of exuberance and hope in the Black community that this 30-year-old reporter
has ever seen.
The crowds began gathering early at the Harlem State Office Building for an
outdoor screening of the election results as they occurred. Major and
independent media with video cameras interviewed people every few feet, asking
why they were there. Most replied that they were there to see history being
made. A rally at the site featured local politicians and musicians.
Harlem, N.Y., rally Nov. 4.
WW photo: LeiLani Dowell
The crowd swelled by 8 p.m., when the results first began coming in. While some
focused on the huge screen displaying CNN and other news networks, a drumming
circle was busy performing to the side, along with chants of “Power to
When former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared on one of the networks, the
crowd loudly booed and demanded, “Change the channel!” News visuals
of simultaneous rallies taking place in Times Square in New York as well as
Chicago, where a million people attended, gave the feel that one big party was
happening throughout the country.
Down the street at the world-famous Sylvia’s soul food restaurant, a man
with a chainsaw was carving “OBAMA” into five large blocks of ice,
one for each letter. Street vendors sold commemorative t-shirts, buttons and
One million rally in Chicago.
An overwhelming sense of camaraderie filled the air. One man remarked,
“It feels like everyone is your brother here today.” While the
crowd was overwhelmingly African-American, [email protected], Asians and Pacific
Islanders, and whites were also present to show their solidarity. Among these
were a number of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.
When the final projection was made that Obama supporters had defeated the
reactionary John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket, the crowds went wild, augmented by
new ranks of people who left their nearby homes to join in the revelry. The
cops tried to keep people on the sidewalk on 125th Street, then had to open one
lane of traffic to the throng, and finally closed the entire northern side of
the street to vehicular traffic.
Rally surrounds the White House.
It was a spontaneous street festival, with chants, clapping, dancing and
singing every few feet, horns honking everywhere, people sitting in the windows
of cars as they drove by, waving. A brass band led an impromptu parade down
125th Street, with people chanting and singing, “We did it!”
People who had never met warmly hugged each other; one woman ran up to this
reporter, gave her a hug, and said, “We did something tonight,
didn’t we?” A young man ran through the streets, passionately
yelling, “WE DESERVE THIS!”
A victory despite the odds
Obama’s win reflects a movement of people throughout the country who
fought right-wing attacks against voters of color and who repudiated both the
outright racism of the McCain-Palin campaign and the barely concealed racism of
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign. It also reflects a desire to end
the policies of endless war at home and abroad—despite how Obama himself
stands on the issues. That so many felt the compulsion to be in the streets for
that victory is a testament to the legacy of slavery and continuing oppression
and repression faced by the Black community—and the tenacity of that
community to survive and resist.
According to exit polls listed at nytimes.com, 95 percent of the Black vote, 66
percent of the [email protected] vote, 62 percent of the Asian vote and a remarkable 43
percent of the white vote went to Obama. Sixty-six percent of voters aged 18 to
29 and 69 percent of first-time voters chose Obama as well. Sixty-two percent
of voters said the economy was the most pressing issue in the election.
Even a multifaceted onslaught of voter disenfranchisement throughout the
country—including the purging of voters from the registration rolls;
threatening and/or misleading phone calls, text messages and leaflets; legal
action to prevent polling places from staying open longer; and a serious
attempt to prevent students from voting from their
campuses—couldn’t prevent the sweeping number of votes in
Obama’s favor. Determined voters lined up for hours throughout the
country. Lawyers and legal observers traveled across the country to assist the
process. Many people voted days in advance in an attempt to ensure that their
vote wasn’t stolen as it was in the last two presidential elections.
The election also reflects a response to eight disastrous years of the Bush
administration—disastrous not only for working people, but also for U.S.
imperialism and its relations with the rest of the world.
As of this writing, Obama has won 349 electoral votes, versus McCain’s
162. For the first time in 44 years, Virginia and Indiana ceded victory to the
Democratic candidate. Of the five battleground states—Florida, Indiana,
Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio—Obama took Florida, Indiana and Ohio
and is in the lead in North Carolina, while McCain is leading in
Solidarity in struggle
Such an outpouring of the masses, particularly oppressed people of color,
warrants the full solidarity of the movement. The Democratic Party is a party
of the capitalist imperialist system, and Obama is now its main spokesperson.
Despite this many see hope in his election—not that Obama will create an
end to war, poverty and oppression so desperately needed in this country and
the world, but that the people who fought so hard for him to be elected will be
increasingly motivated to act. As all working-class victories come from the
movement of working and oppressed people fighting for their rights, this is a
At the same time, the racist, reactionary forces that supported Republican
presidential candidate John McCain, and particularly vice-presidential
candidate Sarah Palin, still exist and can be called into play. Their actions
will likely take the form of racist attacks on Obama during his tenure as
president. Revolutionaries should be aware of this and prepared to intervene
against racism. In this time of increased economic crisis, the attempt by
bigoted demagogues to divide working people along lines of race, gender and
sexuality—the classic “blame the victim” tactic—must be
In the end, only the complete destruction of the capitalist system will
ultimately create the real change needed in society. However, the election of
the first Black president, and a movement of the masses to accomplish it, is a
historical moment that cannot and should not be ignored.
Further analysis of the U.S. 2008 elections will appear at workers.org and
in the next issue of WW newspaper.
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