a chance for change

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23:30 pm, November 4: My colleagues (ahem) made up in a single evening, all the time that I’ve been late to events so far this year. It was nice that most of them eventually did arrive! 😉 Volunteering at the American Club‘s election eve event was the way to go; at least we were guaranteed entrance! In 2004, somewhere between 900-1200 people attended. This year, more than 2000 tickets were sold before the doors were essentially closed – well before polling ended on the East Coast and prior to a single projection! I enjoyed selling tickets at the main entrance, but checking those precious wristbands at the side door was not as much fun. One drunk guy didn’t miss a moment all night to glare at me for turning away friends he tried to usher in without having paid.
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After a month and a half in Belgium, attending a half-dozen more-or-less official events, the expat crowd begins to seem familiar. Faces seem recognizable, even if the names blur. I keep seeing look-alikes of several friends who I know are State-side; biology turns up similarities even across oceans! At this moment, the roar in the ballroom is near deafening. Some blokes on stage are shouting in debate at each other, critiquing the truthfulness factor in claims made by candidate’s advertising. CNN is on projection screens stationed at intervals throughout the first floor of the Renaissance Hotel, without audio so far. A rock band, The Wanderers, has been playing covers at intervals throughout the evening. 93% of the people who have so far filled out the lottery form have selected Barack Obama as the deliverer of this quote:

“The United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone.
We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies.”

Only seven percent imagined that John McCain could have said this, including me and Alyssa. (We were correct.)
01:30 am, November 5: The women’s bathroom is extremely entertaining. Earlier, there was a woman on her cell phone frantically scheming to get a friend without a ticket inside. Just now, an international trio including “a Swedish girl and a Canadian girl” (so they self-identified, if I recall accurately) were discussing whether a guy who looks pretty must be bi. “He has a pretty nose!” I really could not weigh in, although I did venture that “gay” is a cultural construction that may not apply uniformly in all parts of the world. This shifted us to a discussion of learning English via Michael Jackson and Madonna in Bulgaria.
In general, the crowd has thinned to half or even a third. A noticeable reduction occurred as soon as the band stopped. The buzz, however, is still achingly loud. It is hard to know if we’re getting down to only the diehards. Cheers go up each time numbers are posted showing an Obama lead (even if its only on 1% of polls reporting). The Republican table was unstaffed, although a few staunch supporters were undeniably present.
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02:40 am: CNN just called Pennsylvania for Obama. The crowd here burst into its loudest and most sustained applause yet. (I confess; I teared up.) Alyssa and I are hanging out at our back corner table with its questionable views – she’s studying Flemish in-between updates and I’ve been reading The Bulletin. Folks keep dropping by to buy food tickets and ask questions, but we only look official (we know nothing!) Chris, however, scored a set of campaign set buttons, and proceeded to explain a project, “mindset” and its “zero interest group” platform.
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03:27 am: I finished reading the current edition of Flanders Today. The chatter is still loud. People have taken to the floors, sitting in small groups, although most of the remaining crowd (several hundred) remains standing. Wolf Blitzer just teased us with “a big projection coming up.”
03:35 am: Ohio! An eruption of cheers, upraised arms, flying objects, hoots and hollers. “No Republican has won the Presidency without Ohio.
03:50 am: New Mexico! Way to go, mom! 🙂
Dead heat in the popular vote at the moment; would like to see a wider margin. Meanwhile, they dimmed the lights here at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels a few minutes after the projection of Ohio. They don’t expect us to leave, do they?!
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04:43 am: Folks have been slowly drifting out; the crowd is noticeable thinner as the night turns toward morning. There’s still over 200 people hanging in, waiting for the speeches. Did I mention popping out my contact lens in favor of old-fashioned spectacles?
05:06 am: They did kick us out of the main ballroom; fortunately we were all re-situated in the lobby when CNN announced

The din echoed off the ceiling for no short time; some groups further back in the hotel bar carried on for several minutes in hearty rendition of an Oktoberfest tune. Now, again, the constant chatter continues, and we wait . . .
05:29 am: McCain did alright with his concession speech. Three quarters of the stalwarts listened . . .
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. . . and continued to listen carefully, while a handful kept trying to shush persistent chatterers in the background.
Finally – Obama’s turn.
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09:00 am: I am a wee bit tired. 🙂 We lingered for some time after President-Elect Obama’s acceptance speech, basking in the relative quiet (finally! after the noise of the night and the entire election). Then, Alyssa and I walked in the pre-dawn mist toward the U.S. Embassy’s breakfast affair. At one point, ducking into a virtually empty metro station to confirm our destination and relative whereabouts, we were embraced by Queen. As we walked the quietly-stirring city streets, office lights glowing as if suspended in the ether without structures, the topic of fear arose. Michelle Obama explained some time ago the role of fear in the family decision that Barack would run for President. I agree with her wholeheartedly.
I should have snapped a photo of the BMW showroom gleaming brightly with red and white balloons before we entered; the cops wouldn’t let me later! (I thought he was pulling my leg, he was so friendly about it. “You’re kidding?” I exclaimed. “Please comprehend,” he asked. Sigh.)
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U.S. Ambassador Sam Fox (to Belgium), U.S. Ambassador Kristen Silverberg (to the EU), and Rep. Kurt Volker (NATO) gave upbeat speeches.

“As an American, I have never been so proud of my country.”

Ambassador Fox extolled the election of Barack Obama, emphasizing the “peaceful transition of power,” and guaranteeing the continuation of strong trading relations. (BMW, Ambassador Fox informed us, manufactures cars in Alabama.) These themes were echoed by Ambassador Silverberg and Rep. Volker.

Prior to the three speeches, I was interviewed.

Twice.

Who knows what fool I made of me!

13:59 pm: On three hours sleep (!), I recall the loudest cheer during President-Elect Obama’s acceptance speech. He said,

“…the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals…”

and the people roared. At least half a dozen times our soon-to-be forty-fourth President of the United States of America was drowned out by spontaneous cheers in the cozy hotel lobby. It wasn’t until a second listen at the US Embassy reception that I heard the list of ideals:

democracy,
liberty,
opportunity,
and unyielding hope.”

3 thoughts on “a chance for change”

  1. Thanks for blogging this– it reassures me that it actually happened! It was pretty surreal to begin with, and the lack of sleep only intensified the feeling (I slept for 15 hours straight the next day).
    Meanwhile, I just returned from a weekend in France, where (as in Belgium) the cover of every single magazine is decorated with a big smiling Obama face. Walking past a billboard advertising one of these in Paris late one night, I heard a semi-drunken man ranting (in French) that no French-Algerian could ever be elected president of France. While I’m totally unqualified to comment on that claim, I think it’s interesting that not only African-Americans but all minority populations in the world have a special interest in this election.

  2. Hey Alyssa,
    That night feels ages ago!
    Isn’t it interesting how everyone is also acting as if Obama is already the President? Bill and I talked about this at the Thanksgiving dinner… I wanted to confirm my impression. In the past, it seems there was news about the president-elect appointing ministers and setting up the Cabinet, etc, but that was it. Bush is barely even a figurehead at this point. The media gives him his due (one story I read recently gave him one line, the expression of sadness for losses in Mumbai). Meanwhile, everyone looks to Obama’s response.
    I like how he is going about things so far. Am not surprised by his centrist choices: he is pragmatic.

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