Tuesday night, downtown Seattle, heading home just after Obama’s victory speech:
As strangers pass each other on the sidewalks we see each other’s signs or pins, or just the smiles on our faces, and we shout and high five each other. “YEEEEAAAAAHHH!!!” Somewhere down the block someone is just yelling “OBAAAAAAAAAMA! OBAAAAAAAAAAAMA!”
At the Showbox, downtown’s best music venue, people are spilling out from the election party put on by the local alternative weekly. Some of them stand on the side of the road holding their Obama signs, waving to the honking cars. It feels good. How often do we get to celebrate something like this?
The sidewalk group has grown to a few dozen. Suddenly a rented “Party Limo” pulls up – a minibus covered in Obama/Biden signs. The door opens and some very satisfied African American gentlemen in oversized Obama shirts emerge spraying champagne, passing out cups. We pour into the street. I always said we would be partying in the streets.
Cars honk and wave as they pull around the mini-bus, but a real bus (nearly empty) cannot pass, because it’s an electric-powered trolly bus and can’t change lanes. The driver gets out and convinces the smaller bus to move along.
But the party is just getting started. Car after car rolls by honking, waving, giving a thumbs up. They roll down their windows to shake hands or high five the pedestrians. Cab drivers, both on and off duty, seem particularly excited. People run up to pet dogs in the backs of cars – one guy actually kisses a dog. I would draw the line on that one but I don’t turn down the many strangers offering hugs, saying “We did it!” Chanting “Yes we can!” and “Yes we did!” and “OBAMA!”
Then the flags start showing up. Huge American flags waving in the streets, draped on people’s backs. Across the street people watch from windows and balconies. Now people start dancing into all lanes of traffic. A red pickup truck stops and – I can’t tell if the driver suggested this or not – several people get in back to wave their flags and cheer. Now people are standing on the hoods of their cars. Within a few minutes the whole block is filled with revelers. And suddenly, I don’t know who is responsible, but the crowd begins to move south – a spontaneous parade!
As we march through the streets of Seattle we see people waving from windows above, employees of various businesses standing in their uniforms applauding, almost no one who doesn’t look thrilled even while stuck in traffic. It’s all so familiar and yet so alien – I walked these same places, saw these same sights many times – the WTO protests in 1999, the anti-war protests in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007… but always I was protesting something, angry about something, sad about something, trying to stop something. Tonight it’s an unprotest! This time we’re all happy, all about the same thing, all united behind one person and idea we believe in. The only splinter group is a lone young woman saying to “keep this going!” into some kind of protest later in the week that has something to do with Iran. The idea of people like us celebrating a political victory is so new that she doesn’t even get what it is, she thinks it’s civil disobedience. She’s roundly ignored.
In these past 8 years it’s been hard to be a liberal. We have so often been put in the stupid position of having to explain that disagreeing with the direction your country is going or criticizing the actions of your government doesn’t mean you don’t love your country and everything it stands for. Back when there was actually a debate about the Iraq war and we (according to the media) were on the losing side of it, I heard so many pro-war people claiming that we were anti-American, that we hated our country. I remember one particular local radio shithead asking derisively “if they’re really patriotic then how come you’ve never seen them with flags at the protests?” which of course showed that he had never seen a protest before. But so often at those protests having the flag seemed like a defiant act, even a self-conscious one. It was sincere but it was defensive, like “before you say I’m anti-American, please realize that I’m holding a flag here!” You felt like you had to actually make an argument for your ownership of the flag, these assholes weren’t gonna just accept it.
But now here we have Seattle liberals in their 20s and 30s waving full-sized American flags, a continually growing crowd chanting “USA! USA!” Hacksaw Jim Duggan is nowhere in sight and my arms are covered in goosebumps.
We walk up the hill to Capitol Hill, the neighborhood I’ve written about before, where all the worst police-on-passerby violence happened nine years ago. This time the police stand unimposingly blocking streets, just hanging out and not batting an eye at rampant violations of public drinking laws. The streets are completely filled for blocks, there are now what must be a few thousand people celebrating. People are hanging from lightpoles, bodypassing, dropping balloons from office windows, confetti from the top of the QFC. There is more high-fiving of strangers than you can possibly imagine – tonight we are all Arsenio Hall. And with tonight to fuel us it’s amazing how long you can just yell “WWWWHOOOOOOOOOO!!!” and slap hands with different people without getting tired of it.
We start talking about that Ewok celebration I’ve always wanted at the end of the Bush era. People drumming, dancing, singing and… right on cue, fireworks begin to fill the sky. We don’t have any storm trooper helmets to pound on, but someone passes around a Sarah Palin standee with a smashed head. Other than that this is all about positivity. We can’t believe it but YES WE CAN. We CAN have our voices heard, we CAN have a president we believe in, a black man CAN lead our country. WE DID IT. I’ve never seen so many people so happy at the same time. This is incredible.
* * *
I wish I had stayed all night. After a few hours I went home and I was so excited I couldn’t sleep at all. This really happened! This is really happening! That was the celebration of a lifetime, I don’t ever expect to feel something like that again. I talked alot about an Ewok celebration in 2004, and of course there would’ve been alot of excitement if Kerry had won. But not like that. We liked Kerry, but not like we like Obama. What we liked best about Kerry was that he disagreed with Bush. Obama, we hope, will mean as much to us when we’ve forgotten about Bush. Remember when families used to have paintings of Kennedy hanging in their living rooms? If Obama doesn’t let us down that could be us.
Think about that. In an age of ironic distance, in a neighborhood known for its cynical hipsters, I joined a thousand people chanting “YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!” and meaning it sincerely. And having good evidence to back it up. I can be kind of a softy sometimes, but it wasn’t until the next morning thinking about that that I started to tear up. Tuesday night it was like a dream. Wednesday morning I got out of bed and it was still there. And I realized if we can do this we can do anything. Look out, assholes. We figured it out.
At least one stranger said to me, “They told us we couldn’t do it!” And it’s true! They told us – and sometimes we told ourselves – that we couldn’t do it. That middle America and the south would not vote for a black president. That he could never beat a connected politician like Hillary Clinton. That he’d have to use dirty tricks to beat the Republicans. That McCain is popular with moderates and independents and could never be beat. That “McCain’s strength is foreign policy” so Obama would have to avoid that. That people are stupid and will vote for Sarah Palin because they can relate to her being stupid.
We got scared – what if this elitist thing works, what if this Reverend Wright thing works, what if this Bill Ayres thing works, what if none of this matters because the voting is rigged? I mean if Bush, the worst president of all time, couldn’t be defeated after 4 years of destroying the economy and starting two losing wars – how the fuck were we gonna do it now, against a Republican nobody thinks is as bad as Bush? If Bush’s people could turn “the country was attacked under my leadership” into an unbeatable selling point then how the fuck can we get people thinking our way?
BUT WE FUCKING DID IT.
And in fact I think this election has put the lie to many a cynical piece of conventional wisdom. At least for right now, for this moment, that Karl Rove style of politics we thought was here to stay has a stake through the moldy dried up dog shit it calls a heart and it’s buried in a garlic patch. They always say that dirty politics work. But when McCain (mostly Palin) tried to do it against Obama it only made them less popular, and this pattern has held in other races too. When Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota went on Hardball and said that Obama was probaly anti-American and that the media should investigate the Senate for anti-American sentiments she went from a comfortable incumbent to almost ending her political career. I honestly think the only reason she survived is because her opponent was named Elwin Tinklenberg. Still, that type of bullshit is supposed to help a crazy Republican rattle the base, right? Instead she was almost defeated by a guy named Elwin Tinklenberg.
You want one with a happier ending? Elizabeth Dole made an ad accusing her opponent of being supported by an atheist group called Godless Americans. The real kicker was the end of the ad that showed her opponent Kay Hagan’s face as another woman’s voice says “There is no God!” Of course, who gives a shit if she’s an atheist, but it turns out she’s a Sunday school teacher and church elder, and the whole premise of this small group supporting her was a stretch.
They tell us that a dirty trick like this – the Willie Horton ad, the “McCain fathered an illegitimate black child” phone calls, the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry – are sleazy, slimy, they make you a scumbag and a filthy worthless pile of human-shaped shit, but that they win and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. That voters say they don’t like them, but then they are swayed by them. Not this time, though. The ad made Dole look like a scumbag and her poll numbers plummeted. On Tuesday she had her swift boating ass handed to her, and get this… come January, FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1952 THERE WILL NOT BE A DOLE OR A BUSH IN OFFICE.
Can you believe that? I just about did a flip when I heard that. How does that song go? “If you’re having Dole problems I feel bad for you son / I got 99 problems and a Bush ain’t one.”
Which reminds me, President Obama will be the first American president who is a fan of Jay-Z. He even specifically talked about the underrated American Gangster album in an interview. Bill Clinton may have played saxophone on Arsenio Hall (note: this is the historic first Vern column to mention Arsenio Hall twice) but I bet he didn’t have an opinion on Jay-Z’s storytelling skills. The only time I remember him mentioning hip hop was when he criticized some Sister Souljah (obscure poet briefly affiliated with Public Enemy) lyric for cheap political points. Obama talks about hip hop just like I do, loving it while being frustrated by its materialism and sexism. The guy is cool.
So how did this happen? How did we get this lucky? Let me put it in nerd language. This election is BATMAN BEGINS. The Bush Years were BATMAN AND ROBIN – they may have succeeded at the ballot box but they were so undeniably awful that they made a new beginning possible. He fucked up in such a spectacular, nipples on the batsuit type of way that it gives us this chance to start over. If he had been merely bad this might never have been possible. Obama’s got a hell of a hole to dig out of here, but I’m optimistic about it. I think he can make his presidency THE DARK KNIGHT. Hell, I think he can pull a DARK KNIGHT in Imax. We’ll see.
* * *
Unfortunately there’s some bad news in this election too. In several states, it looks like even in California, they thought it would be a good idea to balance out this powerful landmark by actually taking away rights from gay people. You add some equality, gotta take away some equality too. On the same day we voted in our first African-American president we also voted for bigotry in several states, stopping gays from being able to marry or to adopt children. Just as some assholes once told us that we could not marry someone of another race we have people telling my and your family that we have to follow their beliefs. Hey man, terrorists hate our freedom, and government isn’t the answer it’s the problem, and don’t tread on me, but also wouldn’t it be great for the government to take away some of that freedom and force my personal religious beliefs onto others? Yeah that seems like a great idea let’s do that please.
Seriously homophobes, what are you even thinking? Have you ever sat down and tried to map out your beliefs to find out if they make any god damn sense? Because you’re sure not coming through to me. You sound like some fucking nut jobs. I understand that you have your personal religious beliefs and that you have a funny feeling in your loins or whatever but I cannot for the life of me figure how that gives you the right or even the urge to make laws telling other people what to do. I don’t believe in wearing gold chains or putting neon lights on the bottom of your car, but I don’t want to make it illegal. Who gives a shit if other people do things you don’t want to do? How is it you think that gay people loving each other is any of your business anyway? How does it hurt you for gay people to have the same legal rights as you, and how does it help you for them not to?
And I hate when people make fun of a religion, I’m not even comfortable with people who get all worked up about Scientology unless they used to be involved in it. But I gotta point out that it was the Mormon Church that paid for alot of this campaign in California. That’s real fuckin charming for the church best known for it’s weird idea of marriage to be going after other people for their beliefs about marriage. With all due respect, fuck you motherfuckers. And I’m glad you don’t drink caffeine. You don’t deserve Dr. Pepper anyway you fucks. But please don’t make a law against it.
Homophobes, you have your beliefs and I have mine. The only difference is you have forced our society to live under your beliefs and I have not. Doesn’t seem fair to me. So to even this out I would like all of you who believe in these laws to publicly admit that you are nosy, selfish and kind of perverted to be sticking your nose in this business. OR I would like you to hand over your entire porn stash to your mother for evaluation, have her tell you how she feels about what you’re into. Then we will be even. (that’s just me, though – you will still have to square up with the gays.)
This is fucking 2008, people. You know who said he was against banning gay marriage? Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Do you understand what I’m saying to you? You motherfuckers are so god damn backwards that Conan the Barbarian is more progressive than you. He wears a fucking loin cloth. He has a helmet with horns on it. And his values are more evolved than yours.
Or maybe not. Schwarzenegger vetoed laws that would’ve legalized gay marriage before the California Supreme Court did. He said it was up to the courts and the voters to decide, which is what is now happening. Still, he did say it would never happen in California because the people of California are further along on that issue than other people. I guess not.
My fellow normal people who don’t care if some dude wants to kiss another dude: let’s make sure everybody does get further along. Even Sarah Palin of Wasilla, Alaska, claims that one of her best friends is gay. I think that pretty much seals it that everybody knows gay people these days, it’s not just liberals and not just out here in cities. Palin apparently doesn’t believe that her best friend should be able to be visited in the hospital by the love of her life, but you know what? You’re a better friend than Sarah Palin is. When these people create laws to take away rights, they are going after your friends and your relatives who are gay. I take it personally and you should too.
Don’t attack my family and then tell me you’re “tolerant.” I don’t want you to tolerate my family and my friends. I want you to get out of their way and stop trying to fuck up their lives.
Here’s an example of somebody deciding he has to do the right thing. The mayor of San Diego. This press conference was before the election went south but it gave me hope (and made me cry like a baby). Here is a politician – a Republican even – who has been following this hypothetical ideology that gay people can’t get married because if they did then that would make your marriage less awesome or whatever the argument is. But then when the paperwork is sitting on his desk he searches his heart. He thinks about the actual human beings in his life who would be affected by this, in this case his daughter and some people on his staff. And he realizes that only a huge fucking worthless prick asshole would tell his daughter and his friends that they don’t deserve the same rights that he does. So he mans up and he says that this is wrong and he can’t do it. I don’t know anything else about this guy but at least in this one incident he deserves a fuckin medal. You don’t see too many pure moments like that. You nerds who are reading this, next year when you go to the comics convention be sure to give the mayor a high five.
Unfortunately, all he could do was refuse to sign a resolution in support of the gay marriage ban. A symbolic act. The ban looks like it’s gonna pass, and others against gay marriage and adoption passed in other states.
It’s sad that we still have this hurdle to get past, but Obama’s victory shows us that we can’t rule out what progress could happen in our lifetime. And that starts by being like the Mayor and saying look, asshole, that’s my daughter you’re talking about, or my sister, or Sarah Palin’s best friend but please don’t blame her for Sarah Palin, they knew each other when they were young and I’d like to see you find decent friends in god damn Wasilla, Alaska. It’s not easy. If you’re reading this you may or may not be gay, but I’m gonna assume you are cool and not a bigot. And if that’s the case then anybody talking this shit is personally insulting you and your people. So give them an earful.
Okay. That had to be said, but I refuse to end this one on a bummer note. We have many battles ahead, but we just took a big step and good god is it sweet. There’s so much left to do and to learn but just think about how much our country changed with this one achievement. We have heard for decades very legitimate complaints about there not being enough black role models in the media, not being enough black leaders. Especially in this last decade or so it was hard to give a kid something to aspire to other than rapper or athlete. Well, we got two words for that: PRESIDENT OBAMA.
Let me put it another way. In ’04: SOUL PLANE. In ’08: PRESIDENT OBAMA.
That alone would be worth an Ewok celebration, but I think for many people race is not a main factor in the excitement. They’re waving flags because for the first time in a long time, or maybe ever, they have a president who they trust, who they believe in, who they think truly wants to form a perfect union. They didn’t have to triangulate, either. All this talk in 2004 and in the primaries this year about “electability.” Yes, we would like so-and-so, but he’s not mainstream enough, he’s not well known enough, the Republicans would smear him too much, we can’t be too idealistic, we can’t ask for too much. But fuck that, fuck electability. Obama was not “electable.” But he was our first choice, so we went with him. And you know what? It turns out that