An American in Zürich on Election Night

On Tuesday night, I watched the election results in a friend's apartment here in Zürich, Switzerland. The party started late at night because of the time difference. Exit poll data didn't start coming out until around 11pm. It was a small party: two Americans, two Germans, an Irish, my Mexican wife Karla, and myself.

Being an American living abroad, I think this election had more impact on me than usual. Everyday I poured over the news. It became somewhat of an obsession. The race between John McCain and Barack Obama seemed to me like an archetypal battle between the old way of doing things and the new. I worried constantly that we would make the same mistake for a third time.

At 1:00 am, the first results came in. Kentucky was called for McCain. Indiana didn't seem very promising either. My heart sank. The party got a little bit less jovial. "Just wait, it's not over yet" I thought.

Back in 2004, I worked on the Academy Award winning documentary "Mighy Times: The Children's March," a film about the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Sitting in the editing suite and listening to the voices of Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy over and over, I gained a profound new respect for a struggle that African Americans have been fighting since the very beginning of this country. This election night had the potential to take a giant step forward in that struggle -- not only for African-Americans, but for the whole nation, just as MLK's "I have a dream" or Kennedy's Civil Rights Address did.

The hours went by. More results came in. States were called. Holograms were spoken to. Superfluous touch screens were used. Some of the few people left then decided to go home. When Ohio was called, we became happy again. Things were looking good.

Finally, at 5:00 am, the election was called for Barack Obama. Even though it was morning, we cracked a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Then we waited for his acceptance speech.

By the time he appeared, it was around 6:30 am. Only three of us remained. Seeing Barack Obama address the nation for the first time as President Elect was one of the most moving moments of my life. Karla and I held each other tight. When Obama thanked his children and his best friend, his wife Michelle, we held each other tighter. I was momentarily transported to an undisclosed time in the future. A future where Karla and I could tell our mixed-race children, without a shred of naivety or falsehood, that they could grow up to be President of the United States.

Back in the present, the three of us remaining had tears in our eyes. Things can be different. The status quo is not set in stone. "Change has come to America."