At 5:30 a.m. on Election Day, 75 people were waiting in line to cast ballots at Integrity Hall in Bond Hill. By 6:30 a.m., when the polls opened, 180 people were waiting, and the flow of traffic was steady all day long at the site where precincts 7C and 7F set up shop for the 2008 election.
By 11 p.m. about 25 people were sitting around talking or dancing to the music of a DJ. Just 25 people in a room with that DJ, a TV and a snack table with corn chips and sheet cake with red, white and blue frosting, watching in amazement as the first biracial person was elected president of the United States.
“His life is the perfect example of inclusion,” said Ken Ghee, a psychology professor at the University of Cincinnati. “His color is a merging of Caucasian, African, Hawaiian. That ‘one drop of black blood makes you black’ thing is the kind of rigid dogma people are trying to change. He transcends all of that. Barack can help change that paradigm.”
The small group sporting a variety of Obama T-shirts gabbed and laughed like they were at a block party. If they felt any tension or concern about the historic election, it didn’t show. But hamming it up for photographers came to an immediate halt as Sen. John McCain’s face appeared on the TV screen.
As he gave his concession speech, the room listened and nodded “Mmm hmm” and “Yes” to calls for a focus on unity.
“Sen. Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed,” McCain said. “No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.
“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”
McCain quelled boos. Obama led cheers.
“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,” Obama said. “This victory alone is not the change we seek — it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
“So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers. In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.”
The entirely African-American crowd in Bond Hill cheered and clapped and stared at the TV, hanging on every word. Describing the moment as “surreal,” one Obama volunteer said, “This is the people’s victory.”
“The three cornerstones of Obama’s campaign are hope, integrity and unity,” said Anna Ghee, assistant professor at Xavier University in the department of psychology. “That hope is about becoming our better selves, living up to the name of this country. United – that’s the first name of this country.”
Anna, married to Ken, later sat in front of the TV joining in the “Yes we can” chant with the crowd in Chicago at Obama’s victory speech. Whether smiling or somber, everyone there agreed with Obama: “This is our moment.”