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Obamania comes to Sussex

US Election results draws excited crowds

East Slope Bar celebrates an Obama victory

East Slope Bar celebrates an Obama victory (photo: Daniel James Christopher Hollis)

In the early hours of last Wednesday morning a packed East Slope Bar was sent into raptures as the announcement came through that on the other side of the Atlantic, Fox News had called Ohio for Barack Obama. The state – one of the closest in the 2008 Presidential election – was a must win for John McCain as no Republican had ever become President without winning Ohio. From this point on the bar became a party as it became clear that it was only a matter of a few hours of waiting before Barack Obama would be declared the 44th President of the United States of America.

In a straw poll at the beginning of the evening it appeared that the vast majority of the bar was supporting Barack Obama. While only two or three hands went up as John McCain supporters When the name of Barack Obama was mentioned the bar erupted into a crazed state. That set the tone of the evening with every Obama victory creating wild celebration while every Mccain victory was gloomily accepted, and in some cases, even booed.

It is the first time that a black man has become President of the United States and is also the first time that a Democrat has been President since the turn of the millennium. In the past eight years there has been much criticism of US foreign policy, much of it led by student protest groups. The role of the US in the Iraq war is one area that has become particularly unpopular with students, with mass protests a regular occurrence.

But it appears that Obama means more to students than just not being George Bush, he has brought about a genuine belief in his ability to change the world. Daniel Hollis, a third year English student, summed up the atmosphere in the room when he said he felt Obama’s victory had left him “weirdly inspired. This is the first time I have ever felt truly, truly excited about a political event. He gives out a message of hope that no one here has felt about the US in the past ten years.”

Adam Klug, Co-President of the University of Sussex Politics Society who were organising the event, said “it’s amazing so many people have turned out. Its five thirty in the morning and there are still 200 people here cheering on Barack Obama. This isn’t just another election, this is a once in a generation or even once in a lifetime moment. If Bush has done anything for America, he has led to the desire for change that has created Obama. It is amazing to be watching the President-elect of the United States and to feel that this is a man who we like, trust and respect and for a bunch of Sussex students to feel this way is pretty special.”

“It’s five thirty in the morning and there are still 200 people here cheering on Barack Obama”

In what now appears an amazing prophecy, Robert F. Kennedy said in 1968 that ‘things are moving so fast in race relations a black man could be President within forty years.’ That was in 1968 and now, exactly 40 years later, Americans have elected a black man. Mr Obama used his acceptance speech to reaffirm the notion of an ‘American dream’. He said “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. It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

Back in East Slope Bar despite it by now being five a.m., the bar was still full and there was total silence as Obama began his acceptance speech. Throughout the speech there were celebrations, hugs and people crying with joy. At five thirty, when Obama finished his speech there was a huge roar and a satisfied crowd headed back to their beds.

So how much does Obama’s victory really matter to UK students? It appears a lot. Alex Brown, a Sussex undergrad, thinks it really matters what happens on the other side of the pond. He said “the main emotion is relief. Relief that the US is run by an intelligent guy, relief that some of the rampant republicanism of the past few years has come to an end. But excitement also as he [Obama] feels like someone who shares more of a vision of the world with me and with your average student.”

While it is clear that Obama’s election was not the end of the journey but the beginning, it appears that for many students the important thing is that the journey is heading in the direction they want. Mr Klug summed up much of the feeling when he said “In a desperate and divisive time in the world, a great man has come out of nowhere and has united the people.”

US Politics Scholar Robin Kolodny, who is on a term-long sabbatical at Sussex, summed up the new-found enthusiasm saying “With the Obama victory, Europeans will more likely take a kinder view of Americans’ sensibilities and that can make a big difference in improving US-UK relations. After all, Americans’ support of Bush’s foreign policies were motivated more out of fear than intolerance.”

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