By SHALWAH EVANS
I was at Pirate Cat Café on Florida Street in the Mission District, San Francisco covering election day hype for missionlocal.org, and fighting back my own tears and hysterical laughter as people ran into the streets popping champagne bottles and shouting, “OBAMA!”
My friend Justin Moore’s text message came in as I caught myself on the verge of becoming a participant–and blurring that fine line between citizen and reporter.
“We did it honey!!” it read. I laughed out loud when he asked me to imagine us still in college, co-presidents of the Brandeis Black Student Organization when this happened. My journalist’s hat came off. I told him we would have had the executive board on stage with President Obama during his inaugural speech. And then, the hat—sometimes annoying—came back on.
Being a journalist I couldn’t help but feel like I’d missed out on celebrating. My job is to be objective when reporting politics, but it was hard not to smile at the people running up and down Valencia Street lighting firecrackers. Back at home I felt giddy when my friend signed her Facebook message, “I am singing ‘Solid as Barack.’”
But when it happened, when Barack Hussein Obama made history on November 4, 2008, I was being a journalist. Tired from being up since 4:30 a.m., all I could do when I got home was send an email to my colleagues to commend them for covering such a taxing day with tenacity. Then I went to bed. The next morning I made the mistake of unwinding before heading out and assumed I would be able to get a newspaper later. When I couldn’t find one by 4:00 pm I panicked. Not only did I not have the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the victory of the first African American president, but I was now left with no evidence that it happened. No solid piece of history to show to my great-grandchildren 60 years from now. I felt defeated.
Then I looked at all the work that missionlocal.org had done that day and it reminded me of my part in history. Besides voting early the previous Friday, I spent hours on Election Day interviewing people, listening to their concerns, and giving them a platform to express their excitement or disdain. It made me think again about my family and friends. My mother is 53 years old and this was a monumental election for her.
“It’s the first time we had a black candidate running for the presidency,” she said. “When you look at what he had to say—we have to give this man a chance and see what he can do. We needed a change. The Bushes kept us in war.”
She could only remember voting once before—in the 2000 election to keep George W. Bush from getting into office. In 2004 she abstained, saying “I figured nothing was going to change.”
Like my mother, my friend Justin was excited to go and make his mark in the election. Not only did he vote, he recorded the event with photos and video. For him, an African American man, this election marked a change in American culture that was crucial.
“I felt that he was a candidate that could actually promote change and break the mold of old style politics,” he said.
For me, it was the sense that Barack Obama was someone I could believe in, something about the way he evokes Martin Luther King, Jr. when giving speeches. The sincerity in his words, his realness, his obviously coifed hair, his dark-lipped smile. For the first time I feel like I can relate to the president. Barack Obama is unambiguously African American to me—even if people want to point out that he is half Caucasian. His wife is unambiguously African American and the way he loves her shines through when you see the couple together. As an African American woman that’s important; it’s my victory too.
And, as a journalist, this election was monumental in terms of coverage. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate that night, I wouldn’t change my role for anything. No other presidential race has compared and I had the privilege of covering it. I had the privilege of hearing what all sides had to say. And that right there is something worth celebrating.