Democrats Abroad, a branch of the Democratic party that operates in over 100 countries worldwide, serves as a base for Americans and those of other nationalities to discuss politics and aid the causes of the Democratic party abroad. Apparently they also throw a sick party.
Last night the group held the "Obama Victory Party" at Palais Maillot in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Over 1,200 people RSVP'd and the line stretched alongside the Palais de Congres and around the block. Inside, the excitement and anticipation was palpable. American expatriates, study abroad students and our interested French brethren gathered to celebrate, drink 12 Euro glasses of champagne and dance to Rihanna with their necks craned painfully so as to have an eye constantly on CNN.
I keep trying to come up with a word to describe the atmosphere, but I don't think one exists. I had a permanent case of goosebumps. There were more French people than Americans there, which I found interesting and also quite telling. I asked a few of them some questions about why they considered the election so important, and they answered the usual stuff: America is a world super power, the world economy is crashing and the only way it will go back up is if America's economy goes back up, etc.
What I found most interesting in their answers, however, was the intense emphasis on race. Yes, Obama is a black man and he was elected the first African American president. Obviously this is hugely important in both the scope of history and humanity. But I don't think the primary reasons most American Democrats voted for Obama was because he is black; I think his race was in fact just an afterthought. On the contrary, it seemed as if Obama's race was of primary concern to the French, and they thought that he should be elected firstly because he was black, and secondly because he would conduct change. Stephane Blemus, a 22 year old student at Paris University X, works for the France-based group SOS Racisme, known for its work in fighting discrimination. He said he had spent "years dreaming for a black president." For Blemus, and for other liberal French students like him, it was of utmost importance that the world know a black man can be president of a nation as prominent as America.
Having recently studied France's touchy and volatile colonial history with African and Caribbean nations, I asked some people 20-40 years of age if they thought a black person could ever become president in France. The answer was a resounding yes. And, for once, I am proud that it's my country that can set an example for that.