College Street is quiet on Tuesday nights. So crying and screaming from a window hailed my ear as I approached Phelps Gate one Tuesday night not long ago.
“Twenty! Nineteen! Eighteen!” they shouted. Fifteen seconds later: “Three! Two! One!”
More screams. More crying. Hysterics. CNN had just called the election.
About half a dozen election night revelers ran into Old Campus. A few other rooms full of shouting watchers had the same idea; two dozen more Yalies ran towards each other near Connecticut Hall. Windows flew open, heads stuck out and more students ran downstairs.
The crowd neared 60, and they started chanting. Clever chanters, Yalies: “Four new years!” “Yes, we did!” They repeated themselves, looking for new things to say, not wanting the moment to end. “Yes, we did! Yes, we did!”
Then another: “U-S-A!” A flag was produced. It was run around Old Campus, chased by seven or eight half-naked freshmen boys. People smiled and hugged. They took pictures. Beer was poured. Then more hugs: friends, at first, then strangers, then whole groups of people hugging. “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Into the middle of the hugging mass ran our naked, patriotic freshmen. Without regaining their breath, they began to sing.
“Oh say can you” — huff, puff — “see! By the dawn’s early light. What so” — puff, huff — “proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming” — huff, huff, wheeze.
People noticed something special. The panting stopped.
“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there.”
The flag was in fact there, draped around some kid’s shoulders. We all joined in.
“Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave? O’er the land of the free and home of the brave.”
More weeping. I wept, too. At the end of Election Day, exhausted from celebrating the civic sacrament of voting and voicing and canvassing and phonebanking and rallying I looked at the flags and the bunting and the “I voted” stickers and I wept. I’ve always found Election Day moving. One glance at the international news reminds you how people settle disputes in most countries.
Free and brave in an unfree and frightening world, we sang about Old Glory. I sang with Americans who love this country to bits, this country that gave them everything, and had been kicking and screaming and arguing until they were blue in the face that the country was going the wrong way, begging their countrymen to see it their way. And they had won.
The Stars and Stripes represent our freedom to vote for our leaders and end the day alive. We had used that freedom to do what we thought would perpetuate it. Right or wrong, we were going to sing about it.
Had the other guy won, another group would have sung. But there was a shared spirit that night. How we voted was less important than that we voted. Election Day should be all of us singing together, each side singing louder, hoping it can win the day with its harmonies and trills on the basic tune that is the land of the free and the home of the brave.
A thousand miles away in my hometown, my senator was about to ask for “a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.” But at Connecticut Hall, the spirit of patriotism was not new. The same concern for our nation pulled us from our rooms last Tuesday pulled others from their rooms on an awful Tuesday morning in September seven years ago. It is the spirit that strengthens our voices for every cry of “For country and for Yale!” That is the spirit with which we commune when we vote, and the spirit we invoke when we sing our national anthem.
Having sung the anthem, someone played McCain’s concession speech out loud. “Let’s go watch Obama accept so he can inspire me.” Some asked Obama to put the spirit into us, and if he has done that, he has done our nation a great service. But for most of us, the spirit was never gone.
Michael Pomeranz is a senior in Silliman College.