Obama Celebration Erupts In Downtown Oakland

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday November 05, 2008 - 12:12:00 PM

It was a historic night of celebration in Oakland, the like of which we have never seen in our lifetimes. 

On Broadway in downtown Oakland, cars began honking horns as soon as the news of the Obama victory was announced, cheered on by whooping pedestrians on the curb. By 9:30 p.m., huge crowds of Oakland’s typically diverse racial mix had gathered in front of the Marriott Obama campaign headquarters, spilling out into the street, stopping traffic. 

Inside the Marriott, Congressmember Barbara Lee finished a speech to the crowd just before Obama began his on the big screen televisions, and then walked through the lobby with a group of friends, grinning and stopping to do a little three-step dance in the hall before walking on. 

One African-American man stood on the corner of 14th and Broadway chanting “History. History.” Over and over, to no-one in particular, but to anyone who would listen. 

Across the street, an Asian-American man did giddy maneuvers on a skateboard. 

Three young white women danced in a druid circle near the 5th Street underpass singing “Ain’t no vict’ry like an election vic’try ‘cause an election vict’try don’t stop!” 

Peralta Community College District Trustee Linda Handy—not on the ballot this year—was seen walking up 14th Street with a companion near 8:30, waving a little wearily and saying she had just come from a full day’s work at the polls and was glad the long day was over. Told that the presidential race had been called and Obama had won she gave a little shriek, all weariness gone, and turned and ran upstairs to one of the many downtown celebrations. 

Walking down Broadway was like being out on the night of a hometown World Series back in the old days, when people followed such things. You could hear the entirety of President-elect Barack Obama’s speech, without missing a word, from the radios of passing cars of those coming out of the bars and restaurants along the way. People passed each other with grins and nods and fist-bumps as if they’d known each other for years, or shared some special secret. 

Oakland police went into sideshow mode, blocking off Broadway south at 5th Street, but otherwise letting the crowds and cars be. Overhead, a police helicopter hovered. 

At Everett & Jones Barbecue in the Jack London Square Area, 2nd Street was blocked off, a live band was playing on the stage, people had kicked away the chairs and were dancing in the street, and barbecue was being served free. Somewhere inside E&J, television monitors on several walls were continuing to broadcast reports and people were talking politics, but the restaurant was so crowded, you could not even get near either door. 

At the Marriott, a campaign worker for a local candidate tried to give a reporter a campaign button to wear. Reminded that the polls had already closed a half hour before and another button in the crowd probably wouldn’t do any good for his candidate, who was handily ahead in early returns, the worker looked a little sheepish, took back the button, and said, “I guess I’m still in the habit.” 

Earlier in the evening, at a packed celebration inside at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a center of Oakland’s African-American political life, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums told the crowd a story of talking a few days before with U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson—an old Black radical compatriot from the ‘60s—and hearing Henderson tell him, “We never could have conceived this moment back in the ‘60s. We’ve lived to see this moment.”  

Dellums then told the story of asking his mother, one time, what her greatest dream was, and her telling him that it was to live in a country someday “where the highest public official looked like me.” 

“My mother passed away a few weeks ago,” the mayor said, “but you and I, we’ve lived to see that come about. This is a victory for all of humanity. Take joy in this moment.”  

The rest of Dellums remarks were drowned out in the roar of the crowd as the projected television monitor beside him announced that Barack Obama had been declared the winner of the 2008 presidential election. In a moment, people were dancing to old ‘60s and ‘70s civil rights-era standards, “Moving On Up” and “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” 

Outside, the celebration was spilling into the streets.  

It was a historic night of celebration in Oakland, the like of which we have never seen in our lifetimes.