November 12th, 2008

Celebrating Obama’s Victory

Posted in Politics, Public Space, Society and Culture, United States, Video by Christopher DeWolf
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If anyone doubted that the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States was a watershed moment, the sight of him delivering his victory speech before an ecstatic crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park should have changed that. Although every politician’s victory is accompanied by jubilation on the part of his or her supporters, it’s rare to see the kind of public enthusiasm that greeted Obama’s win — and not just in Chicago, but around the world.

Here in Hong Kong, I watched the election results come in at a special event hosted by the Hong Kong Club and organized by a variety of American organizations. Most people were ecstatic when Obama won. It was interesting to be somewhere full of enthusiastic expatriate Americans but, at the same time, I wish I had been somewhere public. Hong Kong isn’t a city prone to spontaneous celebration but I would have liked to see the reaction of people in Times Square or Central as they watched up at the giant video screens broadcasting Obama’s victory speech.

It would have been even more of a thrill to actually be in the United States. In the video above, you can see a people celebrating spontaneously in the streets of New York’s East Village. Similar gatherings occurred throughout the city, including street parties in neighbourhoods like Prospect Heights and Williamsburg and, perhaps most symbolically, Harlem. “Obama win spreads joy through famously cynical New York,” declared a headline in the Daily News.

Last Wednesday, on The Daily Show, comedian Jon Stewart made light of the transformative atmosphere created by Obama’s win: “As you walk the streets of New York City, people are making eye contact and they’re nodding and smiling,” he joked. “I’m literally afraid that someone on the street is going to invite me over for pie.”


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3 comments

  1. Christopher Szabla says:

    The Obama celebrations in Boston caused me to meditate a little on the nature and use of public space, given different cultural boundaries for decorum.

    As soon as I went outside I was greeted by the blare of car horns and the chants and screams of passersby. Reaching Harvard Square, the streets were completely blocked off by revelers. It took the police hours to move in and give credence to the de facto new order by officially closing nearby streets.

    On the one hand, I thought, it was odd to watch the volley of honking cars approaching the thronged square. Celebratory or communicative honking is near-constant in Cairo, but very rare in austere Boston/Cambridge. On the other hand, a crowd spilling into the streets has been unthinkable phenomenon in Egypt for some time – the police deploy in large numbers to shepherd around low-level diplomats, so one can imagine the reaction to some political rally, however far removed from the Egyptian context.

    I wonder what prevented people in Hong Kong from celebration in the streets. Was it a cultural boundary, or some sense of distance from events? Or something ore insidious – a sense of discipline instilled by the state?

    November 15th, 2008 at 4:00 pm

  2. Donal Hanley says:

    The subdued public reaction in Hong Kong, if such it was, may have something to do with East Asian city planning – to avoid unnecessary confusion brought on by unauthorized public demonstrations, there is a noticeable dearth of public gathering places.

    November 16th, 2008 at 11:26 pm

  3. Christopher DeWolf says:

    I don’t think it has anything to do with urban design or government control. There are plenty of public gathering spaces in Hong Kong and there are protests pretty much every day. But I don’t think that people here had as much of an emotional reaction to Obama’s victory as in other parts of the world that reacted less well to the US’ policies over the past eight years. For many Hong Kongers another American president is just that — another American president.

    November 17th, 2008 at 2:56 am