Friday, November 7, 2008

Hampshire College Students Celebrate Election

The elections are over, and oddly enough, almost all of us on campus, whether faculty, staff, or student, report a feeling of exhaustion and distraction lasting several days--not entirely unpleasant, and certainly not a hangover in the literal or figurative sense.

Echoing the practices of the 1960s and earlier, the students were literally dancing in the streets (or at any rate, the open spaces and thoroughfares of the campus). One of the most striking things was that the spontaneous student celebration unknowingly encompassed so many historical practices--from the banging on pots and pans (here, mere exuberance of the type that we all practiced as children, though historically often as not a sign of mockery or dissent, from the early modern charivari to the Latin American political demonstration), ringing of the graduation bell (echoing the French Revolutionary tocsin that summoned the people to arms, but here reminding me more of the martial and then celebratory tintinnabulation in Prokofiev's score of "Alexander Nevsky"). The streaking was a bizarre throwback to the 1970s. Most surprising of all was the spontaneous singing of the national anthem. When was the last time that happened here? (sad commentary on several things). I see that similar spontaneous displays of patriotism emerged elsewhere in the country (though some have pointedly asked why they did not appear earlier and other other circumstances). Can anything else be better evidence of a potentially transformative moment in our history and culture? As the late philosopher Richard Rorty reminded us almost a decade and a-half ago, it is--or should be--a simple and sadly obvious truth that the left cannot hope to bring about real change in America if it defines itself as anti-American. Too often, the left just thinks in abstractions and talks in slogans, and is then surprised when things turn out disappointingly. (As any number of overeducated, trendily pseudo-radical colleagues kept saying to me in 2000 and 2004: "But I don't know anyone who voted for George Bush." Response: Well, maybe you should leave the cocoon of the Happy Valley, get out into the real world, and talk to some real people. You might learn something--at least better tactics.) Part of the strategical and moral genius of reformers such as Martin Luther King lay in the decision to define the call for justice as the embodiment of Americanism. (In their different ways, Edward Blum and Shelby Steele warn us, however, not to allow the enthusiasm of the current moment to trump rational analysis and realistic hopes.)

I myself missed these festivities (one is grateful for YouTube) because I was occupied elsewhere, namely, hoisting a few pints (as George Mosse used to say, e.g. with regard to eating curried rats: "it's all part of being a cultural historian") at Rafters Sports Bar: not "Rafter's" (after all, the place doesn't belong to some guy named Rafter--as opposed, for example, to the locally celebrated Judie's), a bizarre construction that I would expect of a first-year student rather than a seasoned newspaper reporter, especially one who has long lived in this town and should know the names of local establishments. In any case, the reporter was there with us and would have seen the sign when he entered the establishment--and unlike the rest of us, he was not even drinking; so no excuses there (sorry, Scott; all in good fun).

Rafters was the place where supporters of both Aaron Hayden's campaign for Select Board and Barack Obama's presidential campaign watched election returns, so we were able to celebrate two major victories in one evening (ironically or otherwise, the local Democratic Party gathering for State Senator Stan Rosenberg and US Representative John Olver, at Hickory Ridge Country Club, petered out early, prodding some well-wishers to return to Rafters for final national election results). By the end of the evening, most guests had also left Rafters to watch the remainder of the coverage at home. I stayed on, along with Jim and Penny Pitts (of Delta Organic Farm), former Hampshire colleague Anne McNeal, and former Select Board member Eddy Goldberg, to watch the Obama victory speech and subsequent coverage.  Those present invariably described it as a moving occasion.

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