It’s one of the most important Tuesday nights in American history, and the tension is electric at Old City’s the Plough & the Stars Restaurant. Patrons, intermingled with staff members from the Philadelphia CityPaper and gulped free beer from Yards Brewing Company. Their body gestures were absorbed in conversation, but their eyes never strayed from the large plasma TV screen that looms above the restaurant.
It’s still early – very little to report yet. Wolf Blitzer kills time by talking to an election correspondent via hologram, which is like something out of Star Wars but far less amusing. The score, like a baseball game, is 8-3, with Sen. John McCain’s sole win in Kentucky paying electoral dividends over President-elect Barack Obama’s win in Vermont.
It’s no surprise either state went the way it did, but then the camera cuts Blitzer and the hologram out to a graphic of Florida. Votes are still being counted in the state once embroiled in one of the most controversial and bitterly contested elections in 2000, but eight years later, in all probability, it seems as if the Sunshine State belongs to Obama. The crowd cheers with the same fervor accompanying a bomb to the outfield by Pat Burrell.
During an election marked with stylish political art – from seething editorial caricatures to Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” print of Obama and a tumultuous period of history – politics has never been so hip or crucial to young people.
Tuesday’s voter turnout, a record-shattering 133.4 million people, can be credited to Obama’s ice-cool composure and invigorating ideas, winning the hearts and minds of college students.
By Tuesday night, people were eager for the election to end, nervous to learn of the results and ready to lend support and celebration to their fellow citizens, no matter the outcome. Hence, the proliferations of what could become one of our country’s most sacred traditions every four years – the election-watching party.
Even local print outlets, long-sworn to the doctrine of fairness, accountability and objectivism in journalism, were involved.
Brian Howard, editor in chief of Philadelphia CityPaper, doubled as a canvasser for Obama during the election. He was surprisingly calm for a man whose candidate stood at the cusp of victory or defeat, along with having to write a subsequent column about the winner.
“It wasn’t my idea. It was our associate publisher who is a very politically-attuned person, and she knew this was going to be a good night,” Howard said. “When I’m canvassing, I’m a canvasser for Obama. I’m not a journalist. … As a journalist, I’m trying to cover it, but as a citizen I think it’s important that it goes the right way.”
Meanwhile, CityPaper senior editor Patrick Rapa was caught off-guard by the concept of an election party.
“It’s fun being around like-minded people,” Rapa said, “but I am more comfortable sitting at home watching the numbers and crossing my fingers.
“I’m disappointed that people don’t vote on the issues. I’ve heard people say things like ‘I’m voting for Sarah Palin because she reminds me of me’ or ‘I’m voting for McCain because I’m a veteran,’ and neither of these things have anything to do with whether or not you’ll be a good president or a good leader.”
Philebrity.com, a local blog, held a party at hipster-haven Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown. Finnigan’s Wake on Third and Spring Garden streets also held a party for everyone who volunteered for the Obama campaign. At North Bowl in Northern Liberties, two.one.five magazine held a watch party, where an estimated 500 people bowled to appropriately-themed anthems like “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey and “Changes” by David Bowie. The cover story for its fall issue, also released on Nov. 4, argues that President George W. Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States.
“Let’s be real: We are not in ‘the middle’ for Obama in Philly,” said two.one.five founder Tayyib Smith. “Everyone already knew the outcome before they got dressed to go out. They were just excited to hear the final results, so we could all scream collectively at once. Screaming at your TV at home alone is not healthy.”
And scream they did when waves of blue states – first Connecticut and Florida, then Pennsylvania and Ohio – were enough to catapult Obama to victory. Friends and strangers embraced, while others kissed, as the two.one.five staff handed out Obama “Hope” prints in celebration of swift victory.
Jimmy Viola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.