On the day of President Obama’s healthcare summit, I took a break from the political hubbub and saw a new documentary about the day of his election, 11/4/08.
Two years ago, filmmaker Jeff Deutchman (full disclosure, a friend from college) asked his friends across the globe, from Dubai to Alaska, to record the hours from 8 am until 4 am on Election Day. The resulting “participatory democracy” captures the nervous anticipation, frenzied excitement and euphoric celebration that marked that historic day. “It’s like being in a dream,” says a young Obama field organizer in St. Louis after the results come through. Perhaps if our politicians remembered why they were sent to Washington, they’d do a better job once they got there.
Given the events of the past year, it’s easy to be cynical now, as the infectious idealism of the Obama generation gives way to inertia and intransigence inside the Beltway. Some of the skepticism voiced about Obama in the film–“are you worried that if he gets elected it will be tough to live up to everyone’s hopes?” one man asks–seems prescient, while starry-eyed slogans like “In Obama We Trust,” are painful to relive.
But just because Obama hasn’t always lived up to many people’s lofty expectations thus far doesn’t mean they were wrong to expect a lot of him. “I haven’t voted for twenty years, but I see the dream,” says a man in New Orleans. “Obama.” Watching the film you’re reminded how it felt for so much of the country to have such hope. As polls close, a sixty-year-old black woman from St. Louis tells a story about how, as a little girl, she remembered the senseless murder of Emmett Till in 1955. “If you only knew how much this means to me,” she tearfully tells a room of Obama volunteers, referring to the prospect of electing the first black president. We often lose sight today of what a milestone that was.
The movement of 11/4/08 was a thrilling one. The story of 11/5/08 and beyond, with all its maddening twists and turns, has yet to be told.
Deutchman’s film will be playing at SXSW in Austin this month and hopefully at a theater near you soon. Here’s the trailer.