CBS News and FOX had both called Ohio for Obama by the time I left the office at 7:30. The presidential race was over; on the way out the door, I passed by our African-American security guard, who was staring at the election returns on the front-desk computer. I said to him, "It's a helluva thing," and he grinned and said "It is."
I made my way into San Francisco to the Westin St. Francis Hotel, where the "No on 8" campaign had set up its election-night headquarters. Among friends equally gripped by hope for the moment, I watched Obama's victory speech on a jumbo screen and felt for the first time in my life the call of a real national leader, in a moment when we badly needed one.
(A little old man, Spanish or Italian, wandered in and obviously couldn't speak a word of English or read a word on the TV screen. He asked me, with hopeful eyes, a single mangled word: "Oh-bama?" And when I nodded a comforting "yes," he lit up and walked back out of the room, deeply satisfied.)
I listened to Obama's speech in the grip of powerful emotions, and I don't have much to say or write about those emotions just now -- I was reminded earlier today of Frederick Douglass, who upon witnessing the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation declared that it was "hardly a day for prose" -- but I do want to relay how mixed the feelings were in that ballroom at the Westin St. Francis.
Because Obama's speech was quickly followed by the early returns on California's Prop 8, amending the state constitution to deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples. And even though only 5% of precincts had reported, I understood (along with all of the professional political operatives in the room) that the 56% support rate indicated a crushing blow to the hopes of Californians seeking equal protection under the law.
It will be interesting to tell people decades down the road exactly where I was the night America elected its first president of color -- in a hotel ballroom among hundreds of gay men and women and their straight friends who watched Obama in hope that the discriminatory legislation being passed in California that same evening could eventually be undone, overcome with the same kind of cathartic redemption. Someday. Hopefully soon.
In any case, Union Square was filled with jubilant San Franciscans, and we joined them. We got ourselves good wine at the Four Seasons bar. After eight breathless years, it was time to exhale.