Hundreds of people packed Bishop Street last night, filling the sidewalks of Oak Cliff’s arts district and watching the election returns on huge screens erected outside the shops and cafes. As the Happy Bullets played on stage and Barack Obama was poised to take not only Pennsylvania, but also Ohio and Virginia, groups of people sat picnic-style on folding chairs and along the curb. Parents drank wine and minded children, while couples wandered around in Obama T-shirts licking ice cream cones; the mood was cautiously upbeat. The signs looked good for the Democrats, but then, they also looked good in 2000 and again in 2004. Better to put off the celebration, just in case.
Meanwhile, Ken Molberg, who emerged victorious in his race for judge in the 95th Judicial District, stood watching the local returns with about a dozen other area politicians, a tiny group compared to the mob watching the national screens. They occasionally glanced over at the shouting crowd near the band but focused on the local races, which seemed to have enjoyed the down-ballot effect of national enthusiasm. Shortly after 9 p.m., with 420 of 708 precincts in Dallas County reporting, 61.5 percent had voted straight-ticket Democrat.
“That tells you that there’s a good balance of people who are big fans of Obama and those who are just fed up with the Republican Party,” Molberg said. In 30 years, he added, he’d never seen such high levels of early voting combined with high-pitch swells of fervor that lasted through Election Day.
By 8 p.m., Obama had collected 174 electoral votes to McCain’s 49, and blue states were popping up on the main screen near the stage: Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico … Nevada?!
A shout went up outside the boutique called Epiphany. “That’s what I wanna see!” a man yelled, pumping his fist in the air. “If he wins Florida it’s over.”
Maybe at this point, with the land of Miami hardliners and Broward County leaning toward Obama, people sensed it was safe to be optimistic again.
The band, rocking before an enormous screen that showed pundits and the shifting map, seemed uncertain whether the cheers were for them or for the national results, but who cared? Everything Obama needed was coming to pass. while McCain’s hopes appeared to be dashed. It was nearly impossible to move through the crowds as cheers and boos intermittently drowned out the music. A twentysomething woman behind me surveyed the street scene and said, “Oh wow! I’m gonna take a picture so I can show all my friends that there are actually Democrats in Texas!” Indeed: She’s from Scranton, Joe Biden’s hometown.
As the electoral results flashed up on one of the large projection screens, one young woman, who had obviously had a few celebratory rounds, yelled, "Take my picture!! Take my picture!!" As her friend started snapping shots with his camera, she jumped up and down, cheered, then fell into the projection screen and landed on her ass.
David Spence of Good Space weaved past people snapping photos. Wearing a red-striped tie, he nearly wept as he talked of volunteering at the poll at Kessler Park United Methodist. “It brings tears to your eyes to be an American,” he said, describing how he helped drive an elderly Vietnamese voter home after the man miraculously made it to the polling place. despite what appeared to be cataract-fueled bewilderment. “Seventy-two percent of eligible voters cast ballots there,” Spence said.
Nearby, David and Doneda Bailey had been camped out with their 8-month-old, David Jr., since around 6 p.m. Their son’s godmother, Danika Franks, said she was trying to control her emotions until the results were unquestionably clear. “This is fantastic,” she said. “It’s the best way to bring in change, with other supporters. I think he’s gonna take this for sure, but I’m not gonna let all the emotion out until I know for sure.”
Franks, an emergency medicine resident at Parkland Hospital, and fellow resident Candice McNeil were crossing their fingers not only for Barack Obama but for passage of the Parkland bond package. “We need that at Parkland,” McNeil said, displaying a bright red Obama T-shirt. Preliminary results from Ohio flashed on the screen across the street: Obama was winning 55 to 44 percent. The crowd went wild.
Bailey, despite his concerns from prior defeats, began to get excited. “I’m waiting with eager anticipation,” he said.
Within the hour, the on-screen map told a clear tale, and the waiting had given way to an array of emotions: relief and jubilation, gratitude and sheer joy, even mild disbelief. CNN had called the election for Barack Obama.
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State Sen. Royce West and other local Democratic officials took the stage and led the crowd in triumphal cheers of “Yes, We Can!” and “Yes, We Did!” The crowd erupted, screaming and wailing and hugging one another. One woman was so overcome with emotion that she literally had to be carried by a friend. “Thank God! Thank God!” she screamed, falling into the other woman’s arms.
The masses gathered round the screens inside the galleries and outside on the sidewalk to watch John McCain concede the race. And then stillness fell over the crowd as they waited for Obama to speak.
In the street and inside shops and cafes, at bars like Tillman’s Roadhouse, people hung on the president-elect’s every word and punctuating glance. Yet the question that he addressed in his speech, and that now hung over the crowd, was a somber one. It pointed toward a daunting and uncertain future: What now?
As soon as the speech ended, though, the victors turned back to the questions at hand -- ordering one last celebratory beer, getting home, going to bed. Some one hundred die-hard revelers kept the party going well past midnight. They danced on Bishop Street to the last band of the evening, a country duo. It was an odd Texas scene and entirely appropriate: Musicians in cowboy hats strumming guitars with American flags behind them, closing with “We Shall Overcome” while a diverse hodgepodge of ecstatic citizens twirled around before the stage and thrust blue Obama-Biden signs into the air. --Megan Feldman and Daniel Rodrigue