You are in South America. It’s a hot summer night in the humedest of cities. There are streets full of clubs, and clubs full of people. We’ll enter one, chosen not completely at random. It is packed. I mean hold onto your purse or someone will steal your wallet packed. I mean just walking from the door to the line for beer almost feels like a sexual experience packed. And it is sweaty in the way only a dark room on a humid summer night, crammed full of exuberant young people in their twenties can be. Condensation forms on your forehead almost as soon as you cross the threshold of the doorway, and within ten minutes, drops of moisture slip down your back.
Something is different about this night though, than any other summer night at any other bar. A palpable sense of comradery pricks the air. The exuberance of the youthful crowd is more evident than usual and the excitement in the ambiance speaks of something deeper than the possibility of a good hookup on the dance floor. Every eager face smiles at you as you wind your way through the crowd murmuring your “permisos” and your “perdons” and trying not to step on any toes.
Moreover, everyone is facing in one general direction, away from the bar, and no music is playing. It’s also Tuesday. What a strange club this is. That, or they’re all facing the wall onto which the 2008 US election results are being projected, live from CNN in English. Yup, that would explain why this night is different from all other nights. That would explain the way that everyone seems to be able to completely ignore how incredibly uncomfortable and sweaty it is, the mixture of eagerness excitement and nervousness on everyone’s faces, and the beautiful unspoken companionship emanating from every young person in the room.
As more and more results come streaming in and are broadcasted onto the wall, and as more and more of them carry good news, the electric energy in the room grows exponentially. Everyone wants to know what state you are from and then to congratulate on having simply been born there. Every time a new state is won, every time more progress is made, with every step, no matter how small, the entire mass erupts into cheers. As each time zone in the US closes its polls, the crowd shouts a countdown worth of New Year’s even in Times Square.
And then there’s this moment when everyone knows that the battle is over and that we have won. 8pm Pacific time is ten seconds away, and you count down those seconds with all the air your lungs can pull in. When you reach zero the room absolutely explodes with emotion and you feel like you could hug or kiss any stranger nearby and they would return the embrace. People scream, cry, leap onto tables. Your friends jump into your arms and everyone is hugging. It is one of the most beautiful moments you have ever experienced, and you think you can maybe begin to understand what kind of emotion fuels the student political movements of the continent from which you are witnessing your own country’s revolution.
In case you had forgotten that you were in a Spanish speaking country (which is quite likely considering you’ve spent hours surrounded by only your own compatriots) the disparate voices around you suddenly combine into choruses of “Obama presidente,” “Si Se Puede,” and “Olé olé olé olé”. All of the activist cries of the global southwest. And you actually feel like the kind of pride you feel in your own nation at this moment is worthy of these exclamations.
In an unexpected act of coordination, the crowd quiets itself to listen to the concession speech, and then the acceptance speech. Standing next to a guy named Dave you met five minutes ago, you decide that this speech is one that requires a firm hand holding, and you inform Dave of this decision. Maybe he agrees, maybe he’s humoring you, maybe he’s drunk and mistakenly thinks that holding hands in unified support of your new president will lead him somewhere else. Whatever his motives, Dave obliges. You grip his hand hard as you watch history in the making on a huge screen, in a sweaty club in Latin America, surrounded by anonymous and hopeful peers who, if only for a moment, are unified in an overwhelming sense of pride in the moment and excitement for the future.