Obama wins, campus erupts

By Peter Wright

At 10 p.m. on Nov. 4, Macal-ester’s campus erupted when the television news networks declared Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the new president-elect. Students flooded the campus in a several hour-long celebration of the election of a new leader to the White House and a culmination of two years of campaigning.Election Day started early for many students. As doors to the polls opened at 7 a.m., volunteers were already in place to raise the visibility of the election, part of a massive “Get Out the Vote” campaign organized separately by MacDems and the Macalester chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group.

Those volunteers continued working throughout the day, many skipping class, as voters from the college and the neighborhood streamed into the Macalester Plymouth Church to cast their ballots.

By 8 p.m., after 1,507 people had voted in Macalester’s precinct, the steady pulse of voting and volunteering that marked the day gave way to energized anticipation as students waited for the results.

“It’s a really good vibe coming from campus, and everybody’s really involved,” Anna Waggener ’12 said.

Waggener, one of the students who skipped class Tuesday to volunteer, was talking over the booming television and settling crowd that remained at the MacDems watch party inside Kagin after the announcement of Obama’s victory. At its peak, about 300 people gathered in the Kagin ballroom to watch the results, but many others came and went as the evening wore on.

The highly partisan crowd cheered as new states were painted blue on the presidential results map, and moaned when they were awarded to McCain. They applauded results favoring Democrats outside of Minnesota, and, with laptops out, many could be heard continually checking the latest numbers in their home states.

From early on, it was clear that Obama would be the winner, but the crowd held back until it was called by ABC News when polls closed on the Pacific Coast.

“As the results were coming in last night, I got this rush of emotion where I was happy but still being cautiously optimistic,” said Westenley Alcenat ’10, one of the founders of Mac for Obama.

As soon as it was announced that Obama would be the president-elect, the crowd jumped from their chairs into a frenzy of screaming and hugs. Cries of disbelief and tears of joy came from almost everyone in the room, as they reveled in the Democratic victory.

“Two years!” Alcenat shouted to the crowd, reflecting on the amount of work it took get his candidate into office. He was joined by chants of “yes we did” as the crowd made a slight alteration to Obama’s now famous tag line.

Some students rushed into the Kagin celebration from dorm lounges where they had been watching the results, and others rushed outside, instantly forming a massive crowd on the lawn in front of Dupre Hall. The mob of several hundred people, some with signs and one with a cardboard cut-out of Obama taken from the MacDems celebration, chanted and cheered for a quarter of an hour before they began to disperse.

After the main crowd broke up, celebrations continued across campus until well past 1 a.m. Groups rang the bell in front of Weyerhaeuser every few minutes, and cars along Grand Avenue honked their horns in celebration. Some opted for more visual displays of their excitement, streaking across the lawn in front of the Campus Center.

Down to the Wire

Two hours before the polls closed, Alex Schneeman ’11 knocked on the door of a home just west of Macalester. The man who opened the door recognized Schneeman’s clipboard and political paraphernalia immediately.

“I’ve already voted,” he said, “and you’re the fourth one today.”

Schneeman, an intern for Democratic Senate hopeful Al Franken, was working with MacDems on a final doorknocking campaign to make sure that everyone they could reach in Macalester’s precinct had voted. He was one of 96 volunteers who worked with MacDems on Election Day.

“I haven’t actually talked to anybody today who hasn’t voted or isn’t planning to,” Schneeman said.

Several volunteers started the final push with a literature drop through campus at midnight and ended their efforts only when the polls had closed 20 hours later.

It’s “historic in the sense that this campaign was driven by volunteers,” Alcenat, who helped to organize volunteers on Election Day, said.

In addition to the MacDems volunteers, who were mainly focused on campaigning within the Twin Cities, MPIRG also sent out teams of volunteers, dispatching them from their base in the Wallace Formal Lounge. Among other things, MPIRG volunteers manned a voting information booth near the polls.

Students who voted were met with rewards all over campus and even into the neighborhood. MacDems sponsored a bouncy castle in front of the Campus Center and MPIRG gave out balloon animals. Café Mac offered a free cookie from the Grille to voters and the nearby Starbucks was giving out free coffee.

As central as volunteering was to the success of Obama’s campaign, Alcenat stressed that under Obama’s presidency, college students in particular will be asked to sacrifice more and volunteer more within their communities and abroad.

“People should use this opportunity to get more involved in community service [and] community action,” he said.

Although Election Day has ended, he said, the energy that came with it should be kept alive with community involvement.

A Bittersweet Evening

While many were still reveling in Obama’s success, others sat, nervously watching the results on the projector screens in Kagin, waiting to see what would happen with the big race in Minnesota: the contest for Republican incumbent Norm Coleman’s Senate seat.

Every few times the election scroll cycled on local ABC affiliate KSTP, different results showed up for the Franken supporters. At one moment Franken would be ahead by about 1,000 votes, only to be passed by Coleman with 2,000 votes, who would then lose ground to Franken again. At one point before the final numbers came in, Coleman was winning by only 78 votes. The roller coaster tallying kept Franken supporters on the edge of their seats.

“It’s scary, but I still have to keep hope because he’s my man,” Franken intern Sophie Netland ’11 said, pausing to take note of the latest results.

Netland, who came to Macalester from Duluth, said that she was overjoyed to see Obama win, but she was still hoping for Franken would pull solidly ahead. As nerve-racking as the election night was, she wasn’t particularly surprised by the tight race, calling Minnesota a “quirky” state.

(As of press time early Thursday morning, Coleman was leading Franken by 477 votes with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to The New York Times.)

The MacDems party in Kagin was not the only place where students gathered to take in election results. Many gathered around TVs in dorm lounges, particularly in the first-year dorms, and several gathered for a watch-party organized by MPIRG in the Wallace Formal Lounge.

Christina Eichorn ’11 opted for a quieter route, checking results from the election away from the mob scene. Eichorn is an active member of MacGOP, the conservative student organization on campus. Although she voted for McCain in California, she said that was glad for the Obama supporters.

Recalling a story of how sad the campus was following the 2004 election, Eichorn said that she was actually happy to hear the cheering crowd outside, rather than having to deal with a campus-wide depression if Obama had lost.

“I would much rather hear people getting drunk and happy because of Obama,” she said.

Eichorn said that although she has yet to hear John McCain’s entire concession speech, the parts she has heard were some of the “saddest things” she’s ever heard.

McCain’s speech also seemed to move the crowd watching inside Kagin. As he appeared on screen, the Macalester audience fell silent, as
ide from a few scoffs at the mention of Sarah Palin. When he finished his speech, the Democratic supporters in Kagin applauded him.

Eichorn said that reactions around campus to her and the other seven or eight members of MacGOP have been positive. She said that she hopes for the best under an Obama presidency, adding that she thinks people will unify now that the election is over.

“To me, being an American is the strongest association I can make with anybody else,” Eichorn said.