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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Nuit de folie à Richmond

by Bruno Odent

A Crazy Night in Richmond

Obama’a Victory

Translated Wednesday 12 November 2008, by Henry Crapo

In the black neighborhood of Jackson Ward, at a party organized on Floyd Avenue at the home of a local member of the Democratic Party. The city was submerged in a sea of jubilation.

by special envoy.

It was just after 11 p.m. Tuesday evening, in the black neighborhood of Jackson Ward, in Richmond, Virginia. CNN had just projected an image of Barack Obama as certain to be elected President of the United States. Cries of joy filled the air, and groups of people began to emerge from the row houses that border West Marshall Street. And we saw her, she came out of her house as if stunned, dazed. She kept repeating, turning right, then left. turning around, beating her chest: "Oh, my God, he’s elected. He, a black man, he’s elected president." Then a pause: "President of the United States", accenting each of the syllables of those words, "the United States". Just a step away, one of her friends wept tears of joy. She was some sixty years of age. She works, she told us later, as a housekeeper. We asked her no other questions. From this evening, with horns honking, cries of joy, music and dance that possessed the entire neighborhood, this was the scene that impressed itself upon us the most deeply.

The polls, for several days already, had begun to prepare people for this outcome, but "all those who were reasonably old, like her, couldn’t believe it; such an outcome was simply inconceivable," explained Shandell Matthews, an African-American student at VCU Virginia Commonwealth University, who exclaimed, "How on earth do you expect them to understand? When they were born, and during a good part of their youth, civil rights did not exist. Their parents did not have the right to vote, and they lived a life apart, even after the end of apartheid, in neighborhoods like this, doing menial work."

At midnight, the definitive result is known. McCain has conceded defeat. Obama spoke to tens of thousands of his supporters assembled in his city of Chicago. The neighborhood, which had seemed to me so deserted and sad in the afternoon, began to be filled with groups that bit by bit filled all the available space. Chants of "Obama, Obama" were to be heard here and there.

Percy Law came out of his house, guitar in hand. He confides in us that, at age forty-two, this is the first time that he has registered to vote. "Up until now, I didn’t vote. I didn’t see any reason to vote, because the politicians make all those fine promises, but they aren’t really interested in us." Percy starts to strum his instrument. A saxophonist has arrived to join our group and appearing out of nowhere, someone has brought an enormous drum. Between the little houses, surrounded by porches with wooden columns that have known much better days, the improvised orchestra starts to play, leading all present in a fabulous dance of joy.

"It’s great to be able to shout with happiness. I think I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my days," says Sheila Brownson, twenty-two years old, waitress in a Starbucks cafe, and adds, laughing, "With Obama, it’s almost like we ourselves were elected president." Likewise overflowing with joy, Shandell Matthews, who has been fighting for years in an association against discrimination and racism, knows it is essential that all this energy lead to a real movement. The proposals of Obama are much too prudent, too much to the political center, to his mind. "We’ll have to shake him up, in the good sense of the term." And the young man expresses his wish for a movement for social justice that will bring together "whites, hispanics, and blacks." It’s because there had been "a strong movement in the fifties and sixties that we gained our civil rights," he emphasized, his voice hoarse with emotion, fatigue, and the fact of having "talked too much", he concedes with a smile. But Shandell wants to express his thoughts to the end, and adds, "Obama is not enough. We now need a movement of the same size and force as in the sixties if we are to hope, with our white and hispanic brothers, to obtain our social rights."

At one-thirty in the morning, the stage-setting changes. We’re on Floyd Avenue, in a fancier neighborhood, inhabited by the middle class, in the home of one of the local members of the Democratic Party. A hundred people have invaded all the rooms on all the floors of this big house. Everyone is toasting the last electoral results that are arriving from the west coast.

The historic moment is here, too, fully savored. We clink glasses, embrace. The joy here comes from an enormous pride in having beaten Bush’s proposed successor, and in being able to live in "a respectable country", as Bob Follek, a fifty-year-old computer consultant describes it. "America had doubts about itself, and was ill at ease with the rest of the world. It can find its place again today with a president with Obama’s personality."

Bob is convinced that it is the economic crisis that has permitted the Democratic candidate to win. But, curiously, he considers in advance that the new president will be powerless in the face of events, because, he says, "We can’t ask someone to fight against the fair and foul weather." To his mind, the most important issue is the war against Iraq, because "America has no right to wage illegitimate wars."

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