President Obama’s announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden triggered a massive emotional release in Washington, where a spontaneous celebration erupted on Pennsylvania Avenue, along the White House fence.
A mostly young crowd ecstatically waved flags, cheered and sang the National Anthem, its numbers growing from dozens to hundreds and beyond as midnight passed. Crowds chanted “USA!” and one participant carried a sign reading, “Never Forget.” The rally spilled into Lafayette Park, across from the White House, as the night wore on.
People sprinted from around the downtown Washington area to join in the jubilation, which took on the air of a city celebrating a professional sports championship. Participants and commentators could not avoid the comparison to the scene 10 years ago, when the same streets were gripped in fear as the Sept. 11 attacks unfolded.
Cameras flashed incessantly as members of the crowd tried to capture the historic moment and the electricity of the crowd. Young men scaled trees just beyond the fence to get a better view.
“I was watching on CNN, and just the excitement -- I couldn’t miss it,” said Derek Guizado, 25, a Georgetown law student originally from Los Alamitos, Calif., who wore an Obama shirt designed by artist Shepard Fairey, circa 2008. “I had to come down here for this. This is such a big moment.”
Of Obama, he said: “This is such a huge moment in his presidency. It just shows how we’re still making gains abroad even if it’s not in the news anymore.”
Paul Slaughter, 26, a Georgetown law student from Andrews, Texas, said: “I’m here celebrating the excitement of the moment.”
“It would be exaggerating to think that things are going to change a whole lot, but it’s good to be a part of the moment,” he said. “And hopefully it will give us some momentum.”
A similar crowd gathered spontaneously near the White House after Obama’s election in 2008, and some of those who took part Monday morning viewed the death of Osama Bin Laden as favorable for the president.
“Since the last election, many people have been down,” said Sarah Hallinan, 20, a student at Catholic University of America, from Stonington, Conn. “But now that this happened, support will increase for Obama.”
Andrew Shaw, 19, of Riverside, Calif., is a student at George Washington University. When he heard the news, he pulled the California flag off his wall and joined classmates who were running to the White House.
“It’s a huge landmark in American history, and I’m glad to be here for it,” Shaw said.
Catherine Toth, 49, of Cleveland opened a small bottle of champagne from her hotel room at the Park Hyatt: “I’m so grateful. I have a lot of family and friends involved in the fight.”
“It’s epic,” agreed Michele Mulholland France, 49, a native Washingtonian and friend of Toth. “It is so joyful to be here tonight versus what we experienced on Sept. 11. It’s really cathartic. It’s truly beautiful to get to the next milestone.
“We know it’s not the end -- it’s very premature to say it is,” she continued. “But to have this moment of joy....”
Adam Streeter, 19, from the East Bay, CA, held up a sign saying “Bring our troops home now” as the crowd around him cheered and again sang the national anthem.
He felt compelled to come when he saw the patriotic fervor.
“Our reaction is, ‘OK, bin Laden’s dead. At what point is this over? When do we bring our troops home?’ So I think our sign is more a question than a statement. We’re asking when is it enough, what are the costs we’re willing to pay?”