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Notes From ESSENCE's Election Viewing Party

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The Obamas
The Obamas
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Where did you watch the returns last night?

I watched with an intimate gathering hosted by ESSENCE magazine at the beautiful Akwaaba House in Washington, D.C., a few blocks from the White House — one eye on the stylish black professionals around me, and one eye on my Twitter feed.  

Steps away, when the networks called the race for Obama, people scaled trees and screamed “USA! USA! USA!,” reenacting the nearly tribal pull to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW when revelers personally gave George W. Bush an eviction notice in 2008, and when Obama strolled into the Oval Office, announcing that Osama Bin Laden was dead.

The economist and former Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux and I were invited to lead a discussion of the folks gathered around two large television screens posting the returns. But as the Prosecco flowed, it was clear that our “expert analysis” was not needed. Maybe it was the screams, almost guttural, that erupted when Pennsylvania was called for Obama, or when it was reported that the progressive icon Elizabeth Warren had bested Scott Brown in the Senate race. Or when folks did their own media analysis-meets 50 yard dash — toggling between the mansion’s front parlor showing our girl Rachel Maddow and to another screen at the back broadcasting Karl Rove’s gloriously epic meltdown on Fox

Why listen to a couple of PhDs prattle on when you can engage in DIY media analysis — and burn a few calories taboot?

What ESSENCE did provide, as did so many party promoters, house party hosts, and even historic places like U Street and Harlem last night, is something else. Social media is nice, but what the times demand is a physical space watch the theatre of politics and to share in history.

That’s what I found, when I organized four debate watch parties for the Interactivity Foundation around D.C. — all of which had the feel of so many great boxing parties. Or in New Orleans, where my friend DJ Soul Sister somehow bested her legendary 2008 Election Victory party last night, by joining with Kermit Ruffins and nearly a thousand folks spilling on to the streets of New Orleans to celebrate our 44th President.  

There has been a lot of talk about “that hopey-changey stuff” so articulately described by that failed Alaska governor. But last night was an occasion to remember the fundamental changes to our society since Obama has risen to politics. Some of them are on the policy end — one Twitterer celebrated being able to buy insurance for kids, and “not just the one who has cancer.”

But another, equally important change that I hope endures long after the beautiful Obama family leaves the White House, is the idea that democracy is ours, we are invited, and we are included. And that calls for a celebration.  

Natalie Hopkinson is the Washington-based author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter.

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