Mabel Hampton and her wife, Lillian Foster, c. 1950s
In an old Melbourne pub with Democrats Abroad, watching the returns, 2008
On a bright lit morning, I sit gathering in all the words of embodied hope, the pure joy of having lived long enough to see this day, yes, Obama, yes, to the best of America, yes to the courage of a people who never stopped pushing at the ugly barriers of racial restrictions, who did not not let state violence on so many levels, expressed in a myriad of soul crunching ways, deter them
from their path of resistance, yes to all of us who struggled to make our country another kind of place--and I know all of you who knew Mabel Hampton know that this was the day she lived for, and that she must be with us today. Oh what a man, she would say, my what a man!
Di, Daniel, Joel, Mitch, Declan and I joined over 200 ex-pat Americans crammed into a 19th century Melbourne pub named for a famous Maori Chief to join Democrats Abroad for a day of election returns watching. Far from Times Square, we were found ourselves, exiles from California, Rhode Island, Florida, New Jersey and New York in this small corner of the world, screaming our hearts out every time the numbers changed in our man's favor. I was far from the old school gymnasium on 92nd street on the Upper West Side where I had voted for over 30 years, far from what many consider the center of the world, sitting with new Australian friends whom I had dragged into my history--which now is all of our histories.
We pulled the shades over the windows to block out the full morning sun as we watched that American night so far away, drawn together by our isolation and our need to focus on the screen, to see through separation into the real heart of things, a people reclaiming a national dream made up of many histories and one desire--the return of a political and national dignity
for all of us.
Throughout the hours, I sat taking in the Australianess of this American night--the big glasses of beer, the endless platters of fish and chips cooked pub style, nothing fancy and plenty more chips then fish. We were a group of what they call the "battlers" here, plain people, a little lost perhaps, some wearing funny American hats, others, older, like myself, sitting hour after hour, hardly breathing at times, friends traipsing down the stairs to bring back lemon/lime and bitters so we would not have to fight our way down the old staircase.
There were other gatherings around town, we found out, in the higher priced sections of town where you needed an invitation to get in--but not at the Maori Chief. Everyone was welcomed and little by little all three floors of the old place filled up, heads turned up to TV screens that usually were dedicated to the soft tones of test cricket or the quick moving displays of physical courage known as Aussie Rules Footy. Soon the tv cameras showed up to document this strange gathering of fans of another kind. A room of strangers except for our place of birth gradually became an island of political intimacy, knees touching knees, arms around each other's chairs, new friends shouting drinks for each other--no one got drunk and lemonade as well as beer flowed freely--heads turning to each other to ask what did they say--our voices drowning out the CNN endless talking, to ask did he get Florida yet--and then some remembering together about that famous night when we went to sleep thinking Gore had won Florida to discover the country had been stolen over night--not this night, not this our day.
Finally, as I was speaking to Marge on the phone, the whole room rose as one, arms upstretched, cheers so loud I could hear nothing--that little square of numbers had reached the magic number and one version of the past had died and Chicago, once the scene of a red-necked nation turning on its own youth, filled the screen, thousands of Americans with so many histories, turning to the new one being born. You were there Mabel and Lillian, you and your communities all over this country had brought this night, our day, into being.