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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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November 7, 2008 9:35 PM

Election Night

Posted by Rod Mar

Another in the long list of great things about my job is the chance to witness history first-hand.

Election Night in the USA on Nov. 4, 2008 provided us that chance once again.

Party lines aside and despite the numerous challenges our country faces, the United States took another step forward towards the promise our forefathers made..."that all men are created equal".

To see an African-American ascend to the presidency, to have an election that brought not one, but two women to the forefront of American politics, to see the largest turnout of young voters ever -- all combined to make this one of the most important elections in our history.

I was so grateful to have been included on our election coverage team.

My assignment was to cover a gathering of voters watching incoming returns at the First A.M.E. Church in Seattle. First A.M.E. is the oldest African-American church in the area and has a rich tradition and deep history.

For journalists, "election night pizza" is one of the oldest traditions and cliches in any newsroom. Because most everyone is working a night shift, papers often bring in food for the reporters, editors and designers. People who work in sports scoff at the tradition since they work nights all the time and can't figure out what the big deal is -- why is this night more special than any other of the nights they work a year?

When reporter Nick Perry and I arrived at the church, we quickly realized that we weren't going to be stuck with election night pizza. There was a full spread of food. Now, as journalists, we usually do not partake -- there are some ethical issues, and we are busy. But after the fifth person in ten minutes scolded us to eat, we determined that NOT eating would be rude, and that was the last impression you want to leave on your hosts anytime.

Homemade chicken, collard greens, ribs, salads, pies, cobblers lined a long table. Did I mention the pies?
Anyway, a big thank you to our hosts at the church, and apologies to our IT department for the grease and pie crumbs stuck in my laptop.

I was tipped by a television crew that their network would be calling the presidential race for Barack Obama just after 8pm Pacific time, right after the polls closed.

People were watching returns on a large screen at the front of the room. I took a position near the front and waited. A hush fell over the room as the broadcaster intoned, "we now have a major announcement..."

That was the end of the hush. People yelled, screamed, hugged, kissed, cried, shouted, and some could only stand still, stunned at the enormity of the moment.

I chose to focus my camera on Dorothy Steele, who Nick had told me was going to be a big part of his story. Her reaction was priceless. As a photojournalist, you seldom know when you "have it", in terms of an image. This time, though, I was pretty sure.

After the excitement subsided, senior pastor Reverend Carey G. Anderson led a prayer. I was much less obtrusive and much lighter on my shutter as I did not want to intrude more than I needed to upon a sacred moment.

I managed to squeeze off just a few frames as church members Doris Cope, left and Mary Ella Williams prayed with Reverend Anderson in the background.

As soon a the prayer was done, someone kicked on the music, and jubilant women danced across the stage in front of the screen.

After filing my photos, I headed back to the office. On the way, I noticed bands of people out celebrating and heard car horns honking. I called in and the editors sent me to cover the street scene.

Down near Pike Place Market, people blocked a street and chanted and yelled and danced.

King County Executive Ron Sims appeared and joined the party.

Right away I headed back to my car and quickly transmitted these images back to the paper.

Then I ran into a news crew from Vancouver, Canada, who told me that there were three times as many people up on Capitol Hill. Nice to get my local info from Canadians, eh? Big thanks to them!!!

Arriving at the intersection of Broadway and Pike Street, I found thousands choking the roads. Immediately, I looked for a high vantage point. This was more people than I'd seen anywhere else in the city, and having already shot close-ups of jubilant people, I thought an overall photo would really set the scene for readers.

Usually getting a high angle of a rally or protest involves talking my way into an office building or an apartment. But this time, it was as easy as climbing some stairs to a second story open air parking lot that looked down on the crowd. I politely budged my way through to the front, asked some people if I could squeeze in for a shot or two, and then was actually startled at the size of the throng when I saw it with my own eyes.

I made some wide shots showing the whole crowd.

Then I grabbed a longer lens and framed an Obama sign among the horde of people.

I was almost ready to leave the spot when a better sign came into view. I waited patiently until the sign-holder got into a good spot, then made a couple more frames. The face, the words and the bright border make the sign "pop" nicely against the crowd.

Then it was back to my car to transmit again -- the editors were happy and I was having the time of my life.

My office wanted me to stay with the crowd -- they wanted to make sure that no trouble occurred. So I left the telephoto in the car and waded back into the crowd with a wide-angle.

The crowd was happy and peaceful and fun. People took photo of themselves so they could say they were there.

One guy somehow had a cardboard cutout of Sarah Palin that he carried around.

After this, the images were starting to look the same, so I found a corner and hung out and watched the frenzy.

It was the first moment I'd had to really think about the night -- the history made, the joy of the people and the significance of it all. I felt a wave emotion and wished my family was with me.

All in all, a very cool night and certainly one to remember.

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