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When Times Square went silent

November 21, 2008 00:49 IST
It happened at 11 pm on November 4.

Half an hour earlier I was in a car with a friend when the WNYC talk show host Brian Lehrer said that Barack Obama had enough electoral votes, so that when at 11 pm California, Oregon and Washington closed their polls, the senator from Illinois would be declared as president-elect.

We rushed to Mansion -- a club located on Manhattan's Westside on 28th Street. The Obama campaign had organized a huge victory party and I wanted to be there in time for the 11 pm announcement.

And then I witnessed it--nearly two years after I first began to support Obama's campaign by contributing $25 each quarter, earning the wrath of friends who were initial supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton. There was so much negative campaigning -- from Obama's connections to Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, and the campaign of Senator John McCain calling him a socialist with terrorist connections. And supporters of the Republican candidate said Obama was untrustworthy, labeling him an Arab and--God forbid--a Muslim (as if that is a huge crime).

But then history was made at 11 pm. An African-American man was elected as the president of the United States and it was a landslide victory. He, his wife and two young daughters will be residents of the White House for at least four years. The previous two Democratic presidential candidates were barely  able to keep the blue states in their party's slate.

As pre-election polls had suggested, Obama was able to break the Republican Party's code and win a group of ruby red states--Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.

How awesome that it was an African-American man who was able to cover the vast expanse of the country's electoral votes by his voice for change and the possibility that we could all be one nation-- not broken into red and blue states, but become the true United States of America. And the world is once again proud of the US.

After more than an hour at Mansion, where people of all colors and shades screamed, hugged, cried and then danced, I left for Times Square. I wanted to be at the center of the world, to witness history. Times Square was packed. And even though the crowd was smaller than what we see on New Year's Eve, I felt this amazing sense of camaraderie with all the people who had felt the need to step out of their homes to be with others. There were young African-American girls dancing -- and older white men simply screaming "Obama, Obama."  There were college students standing on top of telephone booths and others balancing on their friends' shoulders.

I finally stood in front of ABC's studio. There on a giant television screen a couple of thousand people witnessed Obama deliver his acceptance speech. There was pin drop silence and an eerie feeling, given that I was standing in the middle of Times Square. Occasionally a bus would pass by. But otherwise the only sound that could be heard was that of the voices of the people--"Yes, we can" --Cesar Chavez slogan "Si se puede" now an American anthem.

It had been a week since the Obama victory and the reality is finally sinking in. For two years I lived in the hope to see this moment. But like many other liberal Democrats I was concerned about the potential Bradley affect and polling irregularities.

Obama's win was so clear. I see extra smiles on the faces of African Americans in subways and on the streets. And one week after his victory, I still see people in New York City wearing Obama buttons.

The president-elect has tough times ahead. The US economy, unemployment, the Iraq war and a host of other complicated issues will keep him very busy. Obama's presidency is not going to be smooth --even though the Democrats have far more comfortable majorities in the House and the Senate.

Right now I think it is okay to bask in the sense of pride. A skinny African-American man, with goofy ears and Hussein as a middle name is going to become our 44th president. It is a win for all of us-- African-Americans, whites, Latinos, Asians, men, women and children, old and young, straight and gays. We should rejoice at this historic moment. 

Aseem Chhabra