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Berkeley Celebrates Obama Victory

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday November 06, 2008 - 09:46:00 AM

Berkeley celebrated Barack Obama’s victory as the 44th president of the United States way past midnight on Tuesday, but no one was complaining. 

Hundreds of people rolled out on the streets a little after the polls closed at 8 p.m. in California, the same time the networks announced Obama as the president-elect. 

Shouts and murmurs echoed through living rooms, front porches and driveways in South Berkeley, where a good number of families crowded around TV sets and radios to witness history. 

Around 8:30 p.m. a man stood in front of Shattuck and Ashby a avenues, yelling “Obama, Obama,” and the euphoria soon took over the city’s drivers, with all of them honking in unison at traffic lights or just at anyone they passed on the street. 

Cyclists sped down Shattuck Avenue, cheering and screaming out Obama’s name and waving the American flag. 

Bars, restaurants and shops that played Obama’s victory speech on TV were packed with visitors and random passersby dropping in to hear parts of it or simply pat strangers on the back. 

At Beckett’s Irish Pub, customers sat on the staircase and the floor, waiting for Obama to take the stage in Grant Park, Chicago. A young African-American girl ran down the sidewalk, carrying an Obama T-shirt and screaming the name of her new president at the top of her lungs.  

Her friends did a little jig as they ran next to her, lending their voices to her enthusiasm. 

At Venus, late-night diners raised their champagne glasses for a toast, and at the 24 Hour Fitness around the corner, exercise buffs got off their treadmills to watch Obama speak, all eyes glued to the flat-screen panels inside the gym. 

The homeless listened intently on their transistor sets, and Bruce W, an African-American homeless man, who was standing at the intersection of Shattuck and University avenues panhandling at the very moment Obama was speaking, paused for a second and said “congratulations.” 

At Bobby G’s, a pizza parlor on University Avenue, people spilled out on the streets, cheering when Obama said the words that will be forever etched in history: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” 

Friends hugged each other, couples kissed and many started to cry. 

“We had a couple of Republicans. but we sheltered them,” said Robert Gaustad, who owns Bobby G’s, smiling. 

At the John Selawsky–Jesse Arreguin headquarters, a small group sat frozen in time in front of a tiny TV set. Al Winslow, a Berkeley resident, said he didn’t blink even once during the nine minutes that Obama spoke. 

“I started to cry,” he said. “And I looked around and I saw everybody else was crying as well. He makes you think about things. How do you explain that? I was struck by how many people were crying.” 

Tim Donnelly, former president of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, said the news had brought tears to his eyes. 

“I was home,” he said. “I heard John McCain’s secession speech, and I was very proud of the United States for electing Obama. I actually voted for Cynthia McKinney, but I am glad Obama won and not McCain.” 

John Selawsky, president of the Berkeley Board of Education who was re-elected to the school board on the same night, called Obama’s victory redemption. 

“I got a group of friends together and we agreed that if McCain was re-elected we were going to move to Sicily,” he said laughing. “I was going to grow olives and grapes. We had it all figured out. I have been saying this all along but this was our country’s one last chance at redemption. In the eyes of the world, we have been redeemed.” 

Selawsky’s wife Pam Webster, who sits on the Berkeley Rent Board, said she was not going to take a bus back home from the campaign office. 

“I am going to walk through it,” she said excitedly. “It’s history. There’s nothing more exciting than being a part of history. In my lifetime, it’s the most significant election. The people going out on the street, the jubilation, the overwhelming international joy is exhilarating. The only other time this happened was during V Day, after World War II.” 

Michael Barglow, a South Berkeley resident, called Obama’s victory a tribute to all teachers who have taught students about civil rights over the years. 

“It goes back to our civil rights movement, which gave African Americans a right to vote,” he said. “To have an African American in the White House is incredible.” 

Hector Rodriguez, a Latino construction worker who was clearing away the rubble from an office building at 2054 University Ave. as Obama finished his speech, said he was happy. 

“I voted for him,” he said, amid the dust from the debris. “I want the change. The other presidents take all the money, and I need him to fix the economy. I want to see the progress. I think he will be fine.” 

Lee Trampleasure, who worked at the voting booth inside the Congregation Beth Israel in North Berkeley, said voters had been really good at hiding their Obama T-shirts and buttons under their coats and jackets. It’s illegal to display political signs inside a polling place. 

“People were great,” he said. “I have been working at the same precinct for 15 years and I have never seen so many people campaigning for a presidential candidate near the precinct. People were handing out flyers on every corner. I am pleased Obama won, but I am worried that anybody who gets elected owes too much to corporations, major donors and politicians to make the kind of change I’d like to see—a greener America, a more peaceful America and an America that’s part of the United Nations.” 

Some Berkeley residents, who had been feverishly following the pollsters and the betting websites, said they were excited the predictions had been correct. 

“For a month now all the polls and online betting would say Obama would win,” said Tom Hunt. “As of last night, McCain had less than one percent chance of winning. I am very happy.” 

UC Berkeley students came out in groups near the campus to celebrate, calling friends on their cell phones and checking the news for updates. Most said they were thrilled but at the same time speechless. 

Jason Overman, who recently graduated from the university, said he was still in a daze around midnight. 

“I want someone to pinch me right now,” Overman, who is interested in working in politics, said. “We have been waiting a long time for this. We are finally turning a new leaf and it’s about damn time. As happy as we are tonight and should be, the real work starts tomorrow. We have to heal the pain and bring about the change that Obama believes in. It’s going to take every one of us.”