Where were you when it happened? That’s a question most of us will be asked at some point in our lives. Where were you on Nov. 4, 2008, when Barack Obama was elected? Me? I was in Washington, D.C., the very heart of the storm.
I’ve always thought D.C. was an interesting place. During my years at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, before transferring to Morehouse College, Washington was a safe haven for my friends and me. We would often sneak away from school and travel Route 50 to Howard University in D.C. It was a dose of normalcy. That’s relative, of course, because the city was (and is) anything but normal.
I remember being amazed at the radical physical shifts in living conditions in the city — sometimes from one block to the next. If one traveled to Georgetown or hung out around the National Mall, D.C. offered one experience. If one ventured toward Georgia and Florida avenues, an ugly, suffering D.C. reared its head. Sitting outside a club in Washington once, one of my best friends opined, “Man, this place is hell.”
Almost two decades later, that same friend is a Navy commander working at the White House. He met me shortly after I arrived in D.C. on Election Day to do television commentary for a global network. We sat at Georgia Brown’s restaurant reminiscing. Life had changed. We couldn’t have afforded to eat here 20 years ago. When my friend declared D.C. was “hell” during our college days, Bush the Father was president. Now we awaited the exit of Bush the Son and the ascendancy of the country’s first black commander in chief.
Then the call came. One of the network handlers phoned and said, “Ricky, we may need you on site a little earlier than planned. They just called Pennsylvania for Obama.” I took another swig of wine and responded, “It’s over then. McCain can’t win without Pennsylvania. I’ll get rolling.”
It was more than four hours later when the country accepted what I already knew. Obama had won. I took it all in from an interesting place. Along with a number of other local, national and global networks, my employer for the night had a set constructed atop a series of buildings with the White House serving as a backdrop. When the race was finally called at 11 p.m., the excitement could almost be tasted.
I, too, was proud — proud, but a bit numb. “This is really happening,” I thought. As a political analyst, I knew McCain’s cause was lost long before the supposed economic meltdown, but I was still a bit shocked that Obama actually won. It was almost surreal. I was glad I still had a while before I went on air to gather my thoughts. What does this mean? How will the world be different? Will Obama now speak to black causes in the way many blacks think he will? How well will they take the disappointment?
I stepped out of the warm network tent onto the roof — alone. I looked down onto 16th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and the surrounding area from my high perch on this cold, misty night. People were spilling into the streets, storming the White House gates, honking their horns, screaming, crying. Some even exited their vehicles and kneeled to pray. They were in the throes of passion and hope. Many of them were black. After all, this was D.C. — Dark City.
One of the network workers quietly approached me and asked, “Wow, Dr. Jones — have you ever seen anything like this?!”
“No,” I answered soberly.
“Aren’t you excited?” she smiled.
I smiled back, “No. I know too much.”
She walked away and I returned to my “self time.” I’m still spending it.
Ricky L. Jones is associate professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies at U of L and author of “What’s Wrong With Obamamania?” His column is published in the last issue of each month. Visit him at www.rickyljones.com