Ruth Rosen: Dancing in the streets





[Ruth Rosen is Professor Emerita of History, U.C. Davis, and Visiting Professor of History, U.C. Berkeley.]

The last time Americans danced and cheered in the streets was in 1945, when the nation finally defeated its enemies in the Second World War. I have no memories of those exuberant days. But I'm an historian and I've seen plenty of pictures and read many descriptions of the joy and happiness that swept over the country.

Obama's stunning victory is the first time in 63 years that Americans once again danced and cheered in the street. Here on the Left Coast, thousands of Berkeley students danced in the city, wildly cheering his victory. In Oakland's Jack London Square and in San Francisco's Castro District, tens of thousands more gathered for joyous street parties, dancing in the street. It was a bittersweet victory because of the success of those who sought to ban same-sex marriage. That day, too, will come. Of this I'm sure.

Elsewhere, people also danced in the streets. In Chicago, a friend describes the thousands of young people who poured out of trains to join the tens of thousands already celebrating in Grant Park. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the largely African American and Caribbean population celebrated in the streets, dancing and setting off fireworks.

All across America, in these blue enclaves, celebration and joy was in the air. The morning after the election, I received emails from friends all over the world who described how the election would transform not just the United States, but the rest of the world. On the Berkeley campus, colleagues, as well as strangers, hugged each other. Smiles sprouted on students' faces. It was as though everyone were awakening from an eight year low-grade depression.

At an election night party with people of my 60s generation, a mixed-race crowd couldn't believe what we saw on television--and on our computers. As we listened to John Lewis, tears poured down our faces. None of us thought we'd lived to see this historic election. All of our adult lives we have protested racial and sexual discrimination, unnecessary wars, and fought for social and economic justice. None of us could remember wanting to dance in the streets. To feel joy, to feel pride in our new leader,and those who elected him, was a new experience.

All my life I've heard the phrase "dancing in the streets" but I've never witnessed it after a political event. May the future give us more historic reasons to rejoice and dance in the streets.


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