On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America, and the first black man to call the White House home. The District of Columbia was prepared to explode, and once media outlets confirmed that Obama had secured the 270 electoral votes needed to beat Arizona Senator John McCain, beautiful pandemonium erupted as history was made.
Back in '08, I saw a flatbed-truck full of celebrating drunks cruising the District. There was also the phenomenon of being a black male, especially one over 6 feet tall—people couldn't wait to give you a high-five after staring and smiling at you for an awkward amount of time. Everyone was high on history unfolding right before our eyes. This time around, it was a little different.
In 2008, people were anxious, but let's be real: McCain didn't have a shot in hell. Obama skated to victory, winning the election by the largest margin since Bill Clinton's 1996 victory. But this year's post-election antics were born of relief after real stress—especially given the first presidential debate, which showed that Massachusetts Senator Mitt Romney actually had a chance. It looked like the 2012 presidential election would come down to the wire.
You could also hear the random exclamations of "Kendrick Lamar for president," which was puzzling. Shyne would've been sad.
When the first batch of results came back showing Romney with a sizable lead, people were certainly nervous. It was like watching a basketball game that would be decided by a pair of free throws. However, once the projected electoral votes climbed into the 160s, the chances of a Romney victory seemed unlikely based on the probable outcomes in states where President Obama was favored.
It was a wrap for the '08 election by 11 p.m. Last night, around 11:20 p.m., with Obama's projected electoral votes exceeding 240, his re-election was all but guaranteed. Once a friend's mother—and of course Twitter—confirmed Obama's projected victory, there was only one thing to do, aside from stop obsessively checking Politico's map of election results: play Chief Keef's "Love Sosa" in celebration. The song has absolutely nothing in common with the election, but it warms the soul all the same. After that, I joined the crowds forming in the streets.
The first stop was the U Street Corridor, where a modest gathering at the corner of 14th and U Streets NW celebrated with Biggie's "Warning" in front of the Dunkin' Donuts and Subway. Walking down U Street, I overheard several people screaming "FOUR MORE YEARS!," including one man riding shotgun in a station wagon. You could also hear the random exclamations of "Kendrick Lamar for President," which was puzzling. Shyne would've been sad.
Police had blocked off everything between 13th and U, and 11th and U, and a large crowd formed in front of the historic restaurant Ben's Chili Bowl, one of President Obama's favorite spots. The sound of a whistle blowing with no regard became forgivable when I learned that it wasn't coming from the police. It was a woman, who was also performing a celebratory dance. Cameras flashed as a skinny kid in a red Nike hoodie raised a replica wrestling belt with the signature Obama "O" emblazoned on the front to the heavens.
The evening's first tense moment (aside from the actual election) came during a heated exchange between a man and a cab driver. It's unclear what they were arguing over, but a passer-by smugly asked, "What, is he a Republican?" Funny how any election-night anger will be attributed to the losing party. By then, it was already past 1 a.m. and unforgiving winds were clearing the streets, so the best place to find guaranteed activity became obvious: the White House.
The scene behind the White House was calming down, but the fun was far from over. With police looking on, a large circle formed, everyone chanting "O-BAMA!" to the rhythm of a drum. An American flag waved and the smell of weed hung in the air; a bottle of champagne was popped and chugged.
Then, a cowbell rang out. The only thing better than the jubilant sounds of a cowbell is—that's right—more cowbell. This kept the party going, while the drumming, chanting, and dancing were all captured by cameras, smartphones, and iPads. And what would the night be without creative signs? The best one read: "These Are The Only Mittens I Want!" and it came courtesy of a girl wearing mittens. There was also a young man, clad in a pinstripe suit, carrying a ripped Romney/Ryan "America's Comeback Team" poster. That slogan was doomed from the beginning. Don't call it a comeback.
Soon, chants of "O-BAMA!" became "FOUR MORE YEARS!," which then became chants of "RGlll," a nod to the Washington Redskins' thrilling rookie quarterback Robert Griffin lll. This, along with the rising tide of crushed cans of Natty Boh and empty bottle of 211 Steele Reserve, were signs that it was time to wrap up.
Election night 2012 was far calmer than what we saw four years ago. Though the result of the election was the same, anyone expecting a repeat of that celebration doesn't fully grasp the old "lightning doesn't strike twice" idiom.
If you're looking for a real celebration, wait until the inauguration in January.