WASHINGTON, D.C. -- How did it feel to be a Black American voting for Barack Obama on Election Day 2008? Outside the polling station at the corner of 15th and R Streets in D.C.'s Logan Circle neighborhood, one woman scotch-taped a photograph of her parents to a life-size cardboard cutout of Obama, then had her picture taken standing next to it. It was the only way she could think of to share this historic moment with her deceased mother and father.
Minutes later, a preschool class stopped by to have their picture taken with the Flat Obama. Pretending to vote, the little tykes cast 15 ballots for Obama, and one for John McCain.
"An Obama win would mean so much to Black children," said Thomas Penny, hotel general manager and volunteer at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church polling station. "It would prove they can compete with anyone, that it's cool to stay in school."
"While voting, I imagined the two Obama girls doing the Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn next year," said Julianne Malveaux, president, Bennett College for Women. "Young Black girls everywhere would be affirmed...lifted up."
Fourth-grader Dominique Lewis told OffTheBus, "Senator Obama makes me feel like I can DO more." Too young to vote, she happily accompanied her grandmother to the Metropolitan Baptist Church polling station located at 12th and R Streets in Shaw. Lewis dressed for the historic occasion in a pink sweatshirt covered with hearts.
"It felt truly wonderful to vote for Obama. All praises!" said Stanley Jackson, a trim 61-year-old who was a "pretty good" boxer in his youth. Jackson is not yet a grandfather, but he voted today so he could tell his future grandchildren, "I was there. I voted for the brother who became the first Black president of the United States." Jackson told OffTheBus he is confident the Democratic candidate will win. "Obama is a shoe-in because everybody wants change."
Malveaux isn't emotionally ready to agree that Obama is a shoe-in. Years ago, when she was a junior professor in California and not making much money, she donated $1,000 to the campaign of Tom Bradley, a Black American who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the election. "I so wanted it to happen," she told OffTheBus. Bradley was defeated in an election result so surprising, it has become known as the Bradley Effect -- a reminder that racism is often hidden from pollsters.
What if John McCain wins the presidency? "I'd be extremely disappointed. I'd probably cry," said Sandra Wood, who voted for Obama. This honorary grandma -- "Everyone in the neighborhood calls me grandma, even my own daughter!" -- was excited by the size of the crowd this morning waiting to get into the polling station at the Shiloh Family Life Center in Shaw. "Mothers carrying babies...people of all ages...it was great."
The Obama campaign targeted young voters in particular. Soft spoken college student Shannon Jennings told OffTheBus that she rode a bus all the way across town to vote for Obama, and it felt good. "I liked filling in the arrow next to Obama's name. Not because he's Black, but because he's for change. He has a different world view. McCain was pushing fear on us, but Obama didn't do that."
"Obama symbolizes a different way of dealing with the world, and the world is excited about that," agreed Penny. He told OffTheBus that Black America is "intoxicated" with Obama's candidacy, but he's afraid the community will feel like it has arrived and not do any more work. "Things won't change overnight. We need this same energy level next year if we're going to transform lives."
By all accounts, the citizens of Washington, D.C. turned out in high numbers to vote for Obama on Election Day. According to one volunteer conducting an exit poll, Obama was getting over 90 percent of the vote. "Obama's numbers are great. If McCain wins, I will feel the election was stolen from us," said Malveaux. "I'm scared of theft, scared of what it would mean for our country."
At the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, 700 people had voted by 10 a.m., a significant increase over past elections. Lines were long in the morning, but voting during the rainy afternoon was a walk in, walk out, affair. All across D.C., poll workers reported that touchscreen voting machines were humming along, with no drama. Tech support was available at the sites with electronic voting.
After casting a ballot for Obama, Lawrence Blair, who is 73 and suffering from chronic lung disease, grabbed a handful of "I Voted" stickers to"fix up his wheelchair" as a rolling billboard.
These Obama supporters all wore the same facial expression on Election Day 2008, a look familiar to any parent who has ever attended an elementary school play or a high school athletic event: quiet pride, combined with the good sense not to jump up and down with excitement.