Election Night in Portland: the aftermath

By Brandon Hartley of Portland, Oregon, a self-described "writer/photographer/pop culture junkie" who also writes the blog, Welcome to Blog.

I left work at eight on Election Night, right as it was becoming obvious that the evening belonged to Bush. Near my workplace lay the Beaverton branch of the John Kerry campaign. Cars were leaving and volunteers were saying their goodbyes. Despite Ohio still being up in the air, morale was clearly low.

But what was the mood like on the other side of the spectrum? With the winner still undecided, were area W fans waiting with bated breath? I headed downtown to the Marriott on Front Avenue, where the Oregon Republican Party was holding its Election Night shindig. Instead of a few stragglers, there was a long line in the lobby. A sign out front pushed away late arrivals. The ballroom downstairs was filled to capacity.

I thought about waiting but I wasn't welcome here.

Two organizers wielding walkie-talkies eyed me and my lack of a tie and GOP buttons warily. Journalists and entire families clad in business suits made up the line - the kids madly banging Bush approved noise balloons, the sort of things handed out at sporting events. Later that night, I would wander back and find the Lars Larson Mobile parked in the breezeway.

I crossed the river and into another world entirely. Outside the Portland Convention Center, four teens were arguing with a guy sporting huge sideburns. They were waving Bush paraphernalia, eager to celebrate their candidate's impending victory in hostile territory. Families clad in Gortex and sweatshirts were heading for a MAX stop down MLK Boulevard. Later that night, I would find the teen's signs shredded alongside empty beer bottles.

Upstairs in the main ballroom, the full service bars flanking the entrance were enjoying heavy business. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the wall, a woman selling t-shirts was looking exhausted and bored. Small children were everywhere, darting under tables and running in circles, treating this Serious Political Event like a playground. Most of the room's eyes were on a bearded man giving a speech. "We will not rest until every vote is counted." His comments would be echoed by vice presidential candidate John Edwards 45 minutes later.

The dwindling crowd milled, nursing their drinks and looking at the floor until the top of the hour hit. Then they cast aside their frowns, rose to their feet and tried to break out a batch of optimism for the local press core. A six-figure lead in Ohio? Bah! Kerry could still win this thing.

A line of blue balloons overhead fell as the crowd reluctantly cheered. Then it started. POP! POP! POP! It began somewhere in the front of the crowd. Someone was unleashing a night's worth of pent-up frustration. The virus spread quickly.

To hell with the cameras and putting on a brave face for whoever might be watching. Old ladies rammed their heels into the floor, grinding their teeth. Children flopped on top of this sea of blue like moshers. Grimacing men in business attire jumped around as if attached to pogo sticks. 20-somethings in ponchos, their unwashed hair held back in ponytails, strangled the air out of them. A man in an ancient, peach suit slaughtered the balloons methodically with the metal tip of an old umbrella, imitating a British supervillian in a forgotten comic book. A woman in a barbershop quartet hat killed dozens like a grandmother systematically hugging her grandchildren to death.

Journalists, businessmen, fathers, soccer moms, sons, grandparents, activists, undergrads, high school students, everyone was on a party-sponsored killing spree. Four years of anger and longing was unleashed in ten minutes on blue rubber, each pop sounding like a gunshot, one for every fact and figure the electorate had ignored.

And they kept going. And going. And going. In this ballroom as the local press tried to squeeze a positive spin out of this frenzy. I guess this is what happens when you get a group of normal, mostly middle-aged people together, fill them full of hope, alcohol and four years of contempt and then pull the rug out from under them.

Sometime later, out in the hallway, a young woman screamed:

"WE WILL CHANGE THIS COUNTRY! WE WILL CHANGE THIS COUNTRY! THIS ISN'T OVER YET! WE CAN DO IT! WE CAN DO IT!"

Read an expanded version of this essay at Welcome to Blog.

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