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Posts Tagged ‘Election’

After one week back, I can’t really say where this city is at. More uncertainty, but a guarded optimism as well. You can feel the optimism in the streets, despite the (for New York) brutally cold weather. People smile at each other, seem more gentle with each other. Black people say hello more often, like they used to do when you went to black neighborhoods when I first started coming to NYC in the 80’s. Walking into Bed-Stuy a young black girl hanging out with her friends said hello. A few years ago, there would have been malice, distrust, her friends glaring back or sniggering if you looked at them, but when I met her eyes the girl was just being open, friendly.

I talked to a friend today who was in Park Slope the night of the election. Down on the lower Slope, where the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans cling on in the not yet gentrified areas near the warehouses, the projects, huge block parties took over the streets. “You could see it in black people here – usually they’re so hard, they protect themselves so much, but after Obama won, they wore their warmth, their hope on the surface . . . ”
Walking out of the subway into Prospect Heights I noted how relaxed the crowds seemed, streaming down Washington Ave into the cold, cold night. In London a dozen people would be barking into their cell phones, stress and frustration in their voices, written all over their faces – and totally closed off from everyone around them.  Here it was just people going home after work. You felt you could sink into the crowd, become a part of it, that people would respond to you – you felt a togetherness that has been absent from New York  for some time.

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Bed-Stuy blues . . .

I left not long after Obama was nominated this summer and there weren’t many Obama posters at all – in fact I wondered if people in Bed-stuy even cared. Since then, Barack Obama has won the election, Wall street took a nosedive, and Barack Obama won the election. My friend CJ had this to say about election night:

   “The whole election was really amazing, though. Right up until Election Day none of us really dared to believe it could happen, despite the commanding lead Obama had in the polls. At best we hoped for a squeaker, with counting going on through the night. I must say, too, that the turnout at my polling place was even lower than in 2004. There was no line, no wait: just in and out. I guess all the voting age people are incarcerated or in the country illegally, or perhaps the district is just underpopulated. Then around nine pm I was in the Union Pub with some friends, and Pennsylvania went blue on the big screen, and having spent the last fortnight watching the pundits pore over the electoral map we knew (or at least I knew) that that made it almost mathematically impossible for McCain to win. Then Ohio went not long after, and everyone was screaming and jumping up and down and embracing each other. Then North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, and the Solid South crumbled.

    “In Bed Stuy everyone was honking and firing their guns in the air down in the projects just like New Years Eve. Every public place was a madhouse, and people who have probably never owned an American flag in their lives except perhaps to burn it in protest were waving all these flags like crazy. They even had those enormous ones you usually only see at car dealerships on Long Island. 

   “Then the next day there was that hung-over feeling. It was grey and drizzly, and Bed-Stuy looked every bit as trash-strewn and derelict as ever, with all the same bums on the same chairs on the same corners. I couldn’t stop crying for days, though, the emotion was so strong–and I’m normally pretty blase about these things. I noticed other people, too, would just start weeping on the subway. It was like we’d woken up one day in exile, and then woken up the next day in our own country, restored to us at last. Of course, about forty percent of the country feels the opposite way, and are busily hanging Obama in effigy, sending boxes of feces to their black neighbors, committing hate crimes, and in the case of a country store in Maine, conducting a betting pool on when Obama will be assassinated. (“Hope someone wins!” reads the sign.) And the messianistic hopes everyone has invested in Obama are just too much for any human being to fulfill. The kindly gentleman from the Community Garden up by Classon told me, as he pressed a bag of collard greens upon me, how now there was going to be peace everywhere in the world”

Three months on, Bed-Stuy doesn’t feel much different than from when I left. On the street, the new apartment houses are finished and ready for tennants – the Verizon telephone people were inside, presumably setting up telephone lines. The building on the corner of Franklin that has been derelict as long as I’ve been around is being fixed up – the windows boarded over, the brick repointed. Along Greene Ave, the hi-rises that had been started this spring or summer are still under construction, so no half-finished hulks, not yet anyway.

CJ says the word is that construction that has already been started will be finished, but there will be no more construction for some time. And the people I know here who work in the field aren’t working much. Some say the construction industry will be dead here for two years or more. What this means for Bed-Stuy, I really don’t know.

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A New Era

Whatever comes next, this a great moment for the United States of America, and for the world. 

I wish I was in New York City right now to share in it’s joy. To be part of the joy sweeping the Beautiful City even as I write this. 

God Bless President-elect Barack Obama and God Bless America.

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Tuesday the 4th . . . even on this foggy English morning you could feel the electricity in the air, fed by the headlines across the newspapers (except for the freebie Metro which warned: “Britain to suffer from downturn more than rest of EU”) – right through to the crowds massing through the Victoria Station rush hour, on the street outside.

You feel like, with all that’s been going on, this is the beginning of a new era. It may be a frightening era – all that economic bad news has to add up to something and everyone knows the crash in jobs, savings, mortgages, is going to follow the crash in the stock market. Even if Obama, the big favorite here and throughout the world beyond the US, wins, there’s no telling what will happen – or if he’ll live up to even a fraction of the expectations around him. But the most powerful country on Earth will be on a different course . . . and whoever wins, Obama or McCain, and whatever they do once in office, new forces and expectation will be unleashed in the US and around the world.

After my shift at yet another shabby art college, i walked through Hackney to Bethnal Green tube. Mostly black area, everything closed off except the two or three kebab shops per block, yellow signs glowing in the foggy dark. If the black folks on the street felt anything about the possible election of the first black president of the USA, they didn’t show it. All the pubs, and even the street was empty . . . somehow I’d expected something else.

   At Bethnal Green tube, some english guy in a yellow vest and a light beard was screaming at an African guy who kept pushing him out of the way. They were arguing on the side of the road and the traffic behind them was honking furiously and soon it transpired that the African was trying to push the white guy away to get back to his car, which was parked in the middle of the road. When he finally got in, the white guy got in front of his car, smashing the hood with his fists, screaming something about a bike – refusing to get out of the way even when the African guy gunned the engine, edged forward, almost knocked him over, then drove forward with the guy hanging on his hood. Somehow, he got around the guy – who then jumped in front of the truck behind him, leaping onto the engine manifold and clinging on while the trucker drove forward. 

   And all this while a bunch of East End boys stood in front of the pub smoking: “run ‘im over!” 

   So that’s my election night. I’d planned to be in New York for this night, but it was not to be . . .

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