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Presidential Debate Viewing
Apollo Theater
September 26, 2008

Written by Meg van Huygen

Hundreds packed the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem on Friday, September 26th, for a free screening of 2008’s first presidential debate. The screening was preceded by a panel of local political pundits, who preached to their own choir pretty unanimously in favor of Senator Obama and against Senator McCain, followed by a rendition of the national anthem by R&B singer Acantha Lang. During her preamble, the panel’s moderator declared the session “purely informational, for you to make your own decision,” whereupon several individuals in the front of the house began chanting Obama’s name. “I’m not surprised,” quipped the moderator.

The debate itself was punctuated throughout with lusty cheers for Senator Obama, with some rising from their seats to engage in "Arsenio Hall Show"-style woofing, while Senator McCain was generally booed and reviled. Mentions of McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, were similarly met. It was difficult not to draw a comparison to the theater’s famed Amateur Night, so rowdy was the theater—the crowd basically stopped short only of doing the Wave in Obama’s name. However, despite the chaos, people seemed to focus on the positive, and spirits were high. Particular enthusiasm was displayed in response to Obama’s pro-education and anti-war agendas.

Following the debate, soul singer Kyle Rifkin closed down the Apollo, performing an impassioned version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to an audience more or less crazed with adrenaline. Attendees were then invited to register to vote in the lobby, where some elaborate and fascinating political paraphernalia was displayed, including pennants, homemade signs, T-shirts depicting Obama made up of metal studs, and even wristwatches featuring the senator’s face. Not a single McCain shirt was to be found

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