The first time was when all of the news networks (at what seemed like the exact same moment - 8:00:01 PM PT) made the same announcement. Since the polls on the west coast had just closed, I figured they’d make projections for some or all of those states. But nooooo! Wolf Blitzer launched right into “Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States.” All of a sudden I had tears in my eyes.
At least I wasn’t alone. The networks cut to Grant Park in Chicago and there were 200,000 people all crying too. And then they cut back to the studio. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like some of the talking heads were crying too!
Equally surprising were the spontaneous celebrations, not just in the United States but around the world. In every other election I can remember, the only celebrating came in seedy hotel ballrooms where the cheering was more likely fueled by alcohol consumption than any real excitement about the candidate.
In the United States . . .
* People dancing in the streets in Harlem.
* A crowd in Times Square that was more enthusiastic than any New Year’s Eve celebration I've ever seen.
* Folks at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sr. were both pastors) hugging and crying.
* Another crowd in front of the White House that seemed to keep growing and growing and who kept cheering “Yes we can! Yes we can!”
* People honking horns at each other – not in anger but in celebration.
* A spontaneous acappella rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.
And overseas . . .
* In Vienna Austria a reporter who got kissed on the bus going to work, just because he’s an American.
* In Indonesia, where Obama lived as child, "hundreds of students at his former elementary school erupted in cheers when he was declared winner and poured into the courtyard where they hugged each other, danced in the rain and chanted "Obama! Obama!"
* In France, a black junior minister for human rights who compared Obama’s election to “the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten. America is rebecoming a New World.”
* People in Kenya who woke up before dawn to view election results and then stayed up all day – and all night – to celebrate. Not to mention that president of Kenya declared the following day as a national holiday
But most of all, the enormous crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park who – along with the millions of us listening in our homes and elsewhere – heard Obama talk about what is to come. The tears came again when he talked about 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper:
Tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed:
Yes we can.
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can.
From that point on, I was fine. Well, until later in the evening when I heard Donna Brazile talk about the significance of Barack Obama taking "the oath of office on the steps (of the U.S. Capitol) built by slaves" who "perhaps never envisioned that this moment would come."
I guess that means I cried three times, doesn’t it?
Over the years I have witnessed lots of memorable and historic events, but never one like this. It was the most amazing “I’ll never forget” moment in my life so far because it left me feeling so enormously grateful. And tremendously hopeful.