Friday, November 7, 2008

Notable East Bay residents hail Obama era's dawn

As America awoke to a new chapter of history Wednesday, some notable East Bay residents offered their views on what the Obama victory and presidency might mean.

Poet, essayist and novelist Ishmael Reed, 70, of Oakland, said he was in a Mexican restaurant with a largely black clientele Tuesday night when television networks began announcing Obama's win.

"There was spontaneous cheering, a real outpouring of joy and emotion," he said. "I drove to downtown Oakland and people were honking horns and cheering, and I told my spouse and daughter that this must've been what it was like in the South when the Emancipation Proclamation had been declared."

But Reed said the initial enthusiasm may wane for some.

"A lot of people are going to be disillusioned because Obama is a centrist, even conservative in some areas," he said. "I don't expect drastic and radical changes under his administration. But I think it has great symbolic value that might trickle down to the black and Hispanic younger generation. I hope it gets through to the kids who shoot it out on my streets."

Reed said Obama seems emblematic of the "new black aesthetic" described in Trey Ellis' landmark essay almost two decades ago.

"Obama's the leader of a post-race generation," he said. "I look at this sort of like a Nelson Mandela-type administration of reconciliation, but the economic power will still be in the hands of whites. Obama got more money from Wall Street than AdvertisementMcCain, and those people are not socialists no matter what Mrs. Palin says.

"Some of these people who were cheering last night, who were dancing in the streets all over the world, are in for a big surprise."

R&B-soul singer-songwriter Goapele, 31, of Oakland, said she felt as if she was in a state of shock as she watched Obama's speech Tuesday night. "I was trying to tell myself, 'OK, so this really happened, this can't be taken away.' This is partly because what's happened in the past — there were elections where there were false alarms of hope.

"It was hard to really believe it, and then this morning I woke up early just thinking about it and feeling really thankful. It wasn't until I heard his speech playing for the third time that I felt happy and relieved and emotional," she said. "For the first time, I actually feel like my government might reflect some of who I am, and I think a lot of people who have never felt that way are feeling that way now. "... A lot of us will just feel more empowered and like who we are in this country actually matters, and start to take some more ownership in the decisions that are made."

Former NFL Pro-Bowler and Oakland Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski, 42, of Oakland, said he's "inspired; I'm motivated; I'm excited. It just goes to show that America is truly the greatest country on Earth.

"Now, I think it's going to take the whole country, and it's going to take a leader like him and everybody to rally behind him to make the changes that I think have to be made," he said. "At the end of the day, his message really resonated with people — Democrats, Republicans, it didn't matter. It resonated with people. "... Now is when the real work begins."

Famed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, 63, of Alameda, was visiting her daughter in Washington, D.C. "I've seen people smiling all day. You just want to say congratulations to everybody."

"I'm so excited I can hardly stand it," she said. "I felt even yesterday, looking at the numbers of people who went to the polls, that our reputation has to have gone up a lot in the world. I felt that it indicated how important this whole event is to the United States, how much people have come out to try to get this wonderful man elected. And, now, I'm just thrilled."

Slam poet and hip-hop theater artist Aya de Leon, 41, of Oakland, said it's "very much a victory for the hip-hop generation. This couldn't have happened 10 years ago or 20 years ago. We live in a country that hasn't overcome all of its racism by any means, but there's a different level of comfort among the younger generation of voters, who are coming of age with the leadership of people of color.

"I was skeptical of this nation's ability to see quality over color "... and yet the people have spoken," she said. "I think there's still a feeling of disbelief and disorientation. This just forces me and forces all of us to really open up to a greater level of possibility, not just about race but about the kind of nation we can be. And I'm one of the people who believes strongly there was significant and outcome-changing voter fraud in both the 2000 and 2004 elections, so I woke up this morning feeling like I live in a democracy again, and that was a very good feeling.

"Hopefully, an awakened electorate stays awake," de Leon said. "Just because the guy we wanted to win won doesn't mean it's time to go back to sleep."

2003 Einstein Medal winner and 2006 Nobel laureate in physics George Smoot, 63, of Berkeley, was giving a midterm exam from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, stuck in a room without any wireless access so he couldn't keep up with election returns. Afterward, as he watched television while working with his graduate assistants, he could hear sounds of celebration echoing across campus and downtown Berkeley.

Smoot said it's "important to have a president who understands he has to try to heal the divisiveness that's been going on in Washington. I find myself reinspired and re-energized to think that the United States can overcome its problems."

Some of his enthusiasm has rubbed off from his students. "They all have this tremendous sense of hope, which takes me back to the time when John Kennedy was getting elected," he said. "I had gotten cynical in the last 10 years, and now I find myself feeling idealistic again."

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