Tucson Arizona was one big party last night.
Most of the election night action centered around the University of Arizona campus. Democrats held their main party in the ballroom of the University Marriott, and when the ballroom filled to capacity it spilled out into the lobby. The lobby soon filled to capacity, so it spilled out onto the streets in the university area. People were laughing and dancing, shouting encouragement to the many cars driving slowly up and down the streets, hands on horn, windows rolled down, folks leaning out car windows shouting O-BA-MA to anyone they saw. One woman turned to me and said, "I feel like the whole country just won the Super Bowl!"
As returns began to be broadcast on the giant screens inside the ballroom, the early mood was optimistic, but with a sense emotions being held in check; there was anxiousness, as people waited for the news to become official. When West Coast polls finally closed and the giant screens showed Barack Obama as the new president, nobody held back anything. Screams and shouts of pure unabashed exhilaration filled the packed room. Most people around me were laughing and crying simultaneously, and everyone seemed in motion; jumping up and down, turning to find their friends and family in the throng, high fiving strangers, and screaming, screaming, screaming at the top of their lungs. Nobody stood alone -everyone was hugging someone. It was bedlam - a loud, raucous, insanely happy scene.
Then the crowd turned quiet as Arizona's own senator, John McCain, appeared on the screen to give his concession speech. The giant crowd applauded often. Over the last few months I've interviewed a lot of Arizonans who had voted for McCain in the past but kept repeating to me the same words; "this isn't the man I voted for. I won't vote for him now- I don't know who he is." From the respect shown by the celebrating crowd, it seemed the man speaking on the screen was the John McCain this state had elected. More than one person turned to me during the speech and said, simply, "Where has this guy been for the last four months?" The only time the crowd booed was when McCain's vice presidential candidate appeared on the screen. Sarah Palin has not been, and will probably never be a popular person here in the Grand Canyon State.
As anticipation grew for Obama's acceptance speech, even more people crowded their way into the ballroom. It was wall-to-wall people, moving around grew almost impossible. When our president elect appeared on the screen the room erupted, the chant of Yes We Can was thunderous. As they listened to his eloquent and gracious speech those who had kept their composure gave in to the waves of emotion. I saw an older black woman put her face in her hands and weep, while her friend put his arms around her shaking shoulders. Two volunteers I recognized from the Northwest Democratic headquarters stood hand in hand, tears streaming unabashedly down their faces.
And I cried too. I cried for all we've been through these last eight years. I cried for the grief and anguish of the Gold Star families who shared their stories of loss and heartache with me. I cried for the prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, for the thousands of Americans and Iraqis whose lives were lost or forever altered, for the people in our own country who have been made to feel as if they did not count. And I cried for my father, who fought for working people his whole life, who worked tirelessly for equality and justice, and who had raised me to never, never give up. How he would have loved this night. I cried for joy, for my two sons who's future looked brighter this day, a new day, a new beginning.
I cried because I felt something I'd almost given up on, the sweet gentle feeling of hope.