One More Take on a Historic Night

I thought you might get a kick out of this email I received from a former Middlebury College student, now working in Washington DC, who happens to be one of the four people who voted for McCain in that area.

“I have to say, even though I ended up voting for the other guy, last Tuesday was an event that I’m going to remember for a very long time. It was totally unreal experiencing it here in Washington. When the networks called it for Obama as the western polls closed at 11 o’clock, the city, for lack of a better word, just exploded. I had been watching the returns in the U Street area with friends and we ended up walking down to the White House and then back up to U Street. I don’t know how familiar you are with the different DC neighborhoods, but U Street was where most of the upper-middle class black families in the city used to live. In 1968, it burned to the ground, and it is only within the past five years or so that the area has really started to recover. I remember driving through the neighborhood periodically when I was much younger and seeing boarded up buildings for blocks – and this was in the mid-90’s, almost thirty years after the riots.

Anyway, U Street was total pandemonium. It is no exaggeration to say that everyone in the area simultaneously took to the streets and started an impromptu block party, which went on for hours, with people yelling, crying, dancing, and celebrating with random strangers. It was like nothing I have ever seen before (and I live in Dupont Circle, where totally insane things happen with a surprising regularity). Anyway, seeing people celebrate the culmination of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream in an area that had paid such a heavy price in the wake of his assassination was very, very cool. We have a ways to go, and I’m not yet sold on Obama’s politics, but there was a lot to be proud of on Tuesday, and I’m glad I got to witness it.”


And in the next post I’ll begin to present exit poll data demonstrating why the historic symbolism of Obama’s victory will not necessarily translate into increased political clout.

One comment

  1. Oh, c’mon, now where’s the gusto?

    Amen To That, Brother!

    That really was an amazing note. Thanks for sharing that news.

    There’s the old lore about who was involved in ending the riots. James Brown organized a concert the day after King’s assassination at the Boston Garden and worked with network TV to have it broadcast live. During the performance, he personally spoke out against the rioting and appealed for calm. He was simultaneously maligned by the Panthers, and invited to dinner by LBJ for that concert. But he wasn’t ready to be boxed in by either. By the summer, he was all over the airwaves again with one of the most popular radio hits — “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

    But not to digress too far; it’s a great story, and a great sign. It was my experience too, living a block from U and 14th in 1993-94, that it was a fairly sketchy area, still prone to gunfire — probably made the more sketchy because I lived there. But it roared back, fueled by a niche of business that’s best poised to thrive along the poverty divide — trendy dive bars. They’re the only businesses in no need of daytime business traffic, drawing throngs of passers-by at night, and able to afford taking a low-overhead, high-margin financial risk of setting up shop in the neighborhoods. It’s not at all unlike like Adams Morgan a generation earlier. Today U Street is absorbing almost as much nightlife as Adams Morgan — and, by this report, throws block parties on the same scale as well!

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