Crying for Obama

12/14/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book opens with a celebratory scene. Thousands of witches and wizards are crawling out of the woodwork and out of hiding -- taking to the muggle (ordinary non-wizarding) streets to celebrate the death and defeat of Voldemort (the fallen wizard-turned-bad Lucifer character). But they aren't just celebrating the death of Voldemort, they are celebrating the death of their fears and anxieties built up over the last years of Voldemort's horrific reign. They are celebrating the freedom from this anxiety and they are celebrating the dawn of a new time.

On the morning of November 5th, I came out of my house feeling like one of Rowling's wizards crawling out of darkness and into the light. I was facing a new world. There was a slight chill and sense of magic in the air as I walked past people smiling at one another -- largely and freely, as if we were all exhaling deeply for the first time in months, or years. We all shared knowingly in the miracle that had just occurred.

Last night and this morning, as I watched Obama's acceptance speech and as I read different opinion pieces and reactions, I kept crying uncontrollably. And when I thought I had finished crying over one aspect of Obama's win, I would cry over something else. These tears of elation, wonder, and overwhelming emotion would not stop... and I know I am not alone in this. I realized that part of the crying has to do with this deep exhale, or letting go. Barack Obama is not just the first black American president; he is not just a promise of hope. His win is an acknowledgment that America wants to change. It is a break from one past and a move towards a new and different future. As Bill Maher told Larry King, "America can reboot."

Eight years ago, I participated in my first presidential election. I voted absentee from Ghana where I was in a study abroad immersion program at the University of Ghana, Legon. I remember going to sleep the night of the election on November 7th, 2000 after the news stations there had announced that Al Gore had won. Around 6:00 a.m., I awoke to high-pitched screams echoing throughout my dormitory. I ran out to the hallway and asked a Ghanaian student what people were screaming and crying about. She turned to me and said that Bush had won. And then she said something that I will never forget, "Americans don't understand. When the United States sneezes, Africa catches a cold." Even though it was probably 90° outside, I had the chills and my stomach clenched slightly. I would not understand how true that statement was until the next eight years of Bush's foreign policy unfolded before my eyes.

Four years ago, I was in my first year of graduate school during the Kerry-Bush electoral race. I sat in solitude in my new apartment, watching as the election results came in. I believed that four years prior to this night, that U.S. voters had not rightfully chosen George W. Bush as its president. I felt we had gotten him through problematic politics and polling fraud. Sitting there that day in 2004, though, the American people spoke and chose Bush over Kerry by 32 electoral votes. I mourned in private, and that fist in the pit of my stomach clenched itself a little tighter.

Why are we crying today then? We are crying because many of us feared we would never see this day in our lives. We are crying because grandmas who were born into segregation and fought for the right to vote not just as women, but also as black Americans voted for our next president. We are crying because the American populous is saying that our way of doing things these past eight years is no longer okay. Today, we are crying tears of joy for the future and tears of remembrance for the past because we now realize we can loosen the grip on our stomachs, the clenching of our fists, and furrowing of our brows. And as we let go little by little, we can breathe a little easier and we can walk a little lighter--with the knowing smile of wizards shared amongst neighbors, family, and strangers. I am not naive in thinking that Obama can fix everything at hand. No one could. But today is a day to celebrate. We are in an amazing moment in time. Right now. And tears are the only way for me to sum this up joy and wonder.

Read more reaction from HuffPost bloggers to Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election
Ellen C. Caldwell is an art critic and art historian earning her PhD at UCSB. Her areas of research include the social history of contemporary art and visual culture.