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Here, like rest of the U.S., an unforgettable night

on November 6, 2008


Nov. 6 – Before Dan Lopez left his house Tuesday night, he didn’t check to see whether a hot iron was plugged in or a pot of water left to boil over on the stove–he double-checked the digital video recorder. He needed to make sure he’d gotten it all.

Lopez drove to the Rockridge BART station to pick up his wife, Meghan. Meghan was trying to ignore her cell phone, buzzing with text messages from friends who had big news for her. She opened the passenger side door and took a look at her husband.

“Don’t tell me,” Meghan said.

Jorl Douglas at Ink Well Tattoo

Jorl Douglas at Ink Well Tattoo

What Meghan wanted was the moment before knowing Barack Obama’s fate, and the fate of the country – the moment of anticipation that thousands of men, women and children, from the Oakland Convention Center in downtown to Everett and Jones near Jack London Square, and in bars and homes across the city had experienced minutes before.


North Oakland resident Daniel Brownstein and his wife had huddled in front of a large television at the San Francisco Opera, hoping their celebratory swigs of sparkling wine at home hadn’t jinxed Obama’s chances.

Andrea Blackwell, 42, was gathered in the living room of her 65th Street home with three generations of her family, in touch with extended family in New Orleans via telephone.

At Manuel Rivera’s house, it was just him and the TV. Rivera had been glued to CNN’s Spanish language channel, waiting, hoping, praying for Obama to get Ohio and Florida.

Jorl Douglas, a 30-year-old tattoo artist and owner of Ink Well Tattoo, was bent over a woman’s torso, needle to ribcage, as one of his staff members provided updates to the shop.

And Aaron Sokol, 26, still exhausted from campaigning in Colorado, was at George and Walt’s, “a kind of grungy hockey bar” on lower College Avenue. He met his friends, ordered a beer and made his way around a crowd of more than 200 people to get a look at one of the bar’s big screen televisions.

“It was packed,” Sokol remembers. “It was noisy. But when Obama got up to make his speech, everybody in the bar got quiet. By the end of his speech, everybody was crying. Everybody was singing… They were singing anything, everything.”

Dan Lopez held his tongue as he and his wife Meghan made their way home. But whereas their North Oakland neighborhood had still been quiet when he left to pick her up, it was now flooded with noisy bodies, cheering and singing and dancing through the streets.

“I don’t want to know,” Meghan said steadfastly, as a bacchanal erupted in Oakland.

Andrea Blackwell

Andrea Blackwell

Andrea Blackwell recalls that at her house, “everybody went wild, just hollering and screaming. It was like a big ray of joy.”

Josephine Lee, 83, of Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood, popped the cork on the first of two “special” bottles of champagne she’s had on reserve since Obama announced his bid for the White House. “I’m saving [the second] for Jan. 20, the day he’s sworn in,” she says.

Alexandra Rigaud, a 35-year-old youth counselor from Temescal, was screaming, not only because of the outcome of the election but because of surprise over herself. “I’ve always been an anarchist,” she says of her Election Night realization, “and now I have a laminated picture of Obama. I can’t believe myself. ”

Some were less ecstatic. About three dozen people gathered at College Avenue United Presbyterian Church, for example, accepted the announcement of Obama’s win with surprisingly straight faces, recalls Interim Pastor Anthony Gamley. “They were all pretty restrained, because there were members of both parties there,” says Gamley. “Those who had cause for celebration felt pleased and those disappointed by the outcome restrained themselves very well.

Jorl Douglas, too, looked up from his client at Ink Well Tattoo just long enough to hear the news and listen to a round of jokes—anti-Bush jokes, cynical political jokes–that he now hesitates to repeat.

But the break was short-lived, lasting less than five minutes, Douglas says. His customer was paying $140 an hour for his handiwork: a tattoo of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

The quiet moments, however, were few and far between.

Alice Butler went out to her porch about 30 minutes after the win was announced.

“I put my right hand to the right side of my mouth and my left hand to the left of my mouth, shaped my mouth in a wide O-shape, inhaled deeply until my lungs were completely full and I let go.”
Butler screamed two or three times until she was exhausted. Neighborhood friends later joined her to release a few screams of their own.

“The win,” she says, “was wild and fun and rewarding and thrilling and emotional and unbelievable and deserved and at the very least historic.”

By midnight, Aaron Sokol and his friends were making their way downtown, headed for a bar called Luka’s. They found hundreds of people flooding the streets, the police closing off roads that bodies had already clogged. Sokol remembers the heavy thump of drums leading a chant of “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma.” It was a night, he says, infused with a feeling of victory.

“It was the most triumphant night our generation has ever seen,” Sokol says. “It was a bloodless, democratic coup. We rose up and took back the government from one of the most maniacal dictators in the world. America just completely remade itself.

“All I could think was, the world was different. Everything is different. Everything I thought was impossible is possible. For everybody. Obama is the leader of the army of the righteous.”

Finally back home, Dan and Meghan Lopez popped open a bottle of wine, settled into the couch and pressed “play.”   They clinked glasses.  They called and texted friends.  This moment had been a long time coming.  

“I had butterflies of excitement, anticipation,” says Dan, who broke into tears at the sight of Jesse Jackson crying. “It was an extraordinarily powerful moment for me. I think our generation, that generations will always remember this as a human triumph over division and fear.”

reporting by the staff of Oakland North
written by Maggie Fazeli Fard and Linnea Edmeier||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

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