These are the days of tears and laughter. Up mid-afternoon after filing for UK media at 7am, light pushing past the curtains. After the result was declared last night and Barack Obama gave his speech, we all headed down to the White House, where a street party had been brewing since McCain had commenced his concession speech. The city which had given Obama a 93% to 7% victory was going wild. Along the broad avenues — spokes in a wheel, an expression of the enlightenment worship of the pure form of the circle, written down in town planning — people were hanging out of cars shooting, sounding their horns. Cops stood at each intersection, inscrutable.

People hugged each other spontaneously in the street, shook hands, slapped palms, black and white and brown and yellow. Everyone was gentle with each other, everyone was kind. Even the occasional disconsolate Republican — you could see them , the young men and women who work at thinktanks, the boys in blue suits and red ties, the girls in black dresses and pearls, walking, no marching, hand-in-hand, eyes fixed ahead, desperate for a cab to levitate them out of this hell-hole.

If they had any sense they’ve already put together the survival kit — the stack of DVDs, a half dozen big books you wanted to read, the single malt and the smooth merlot, a few lines of china white, maybe a holiday in some awful all-in resort at Hilton Head. Pull the cable out the back of the TV, smack the laptop sharply against the wall, and swim into the embracing waters of the timeless imaginary. Emerge a week or two later when President-elect Obama — PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA! — has already announced his core staff, outlined a bunch of policies, set the course for the next year. A fortnight or so of chasing the dragon and Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft, and you can emerge at least partially restored to face at least the next four years ahead.

God knows the left has done it often enough.

Outside the White House last night there were the young, there were old black women, in pan-Africa scarves and Sunday-best hats dancing a war-jig, there were old hippies, there were gay couples holding each other singing the Star Spangled Banner, there were drums and songs, and a sign hung on the wire fence with a photo of the Obamas’ daughters, saying “Mali and Sasha, welcome home” — and think about that for a while and what it means.

At 2am I ran into Alex Kelly, an old comrade I’d first met at S11, that moment in 2000 when Melbourne rose up and challenged the World Economic Forum, the most-effective — Seattle included — challenge to these series of slick elite meetings to date in the anti-globalisation movement. S11 — September 11th 2000 — was swallowed in history by what happened a year later.

But it felt like a direct line from there to here. As the anti-globalisation movement had, as it always would, fallen apart, I had gone West to London, and Alex had gone north and taken up the harder yards of working in, with, at the frontier of, indigenous Australia, out of, I think, a sense of absolute responsibility to battles close to home, battles most of us simply couldn’t hack.

Seeing her there felt like the completion of a passage, through dangerous waters, over a decade, and I hugged her tight enough to break her ribcage. It was the relief of possibility, of renewed hope.

On TV, in the streets, people kept breaking into tears. Colin Powell, on a TV interview could barely continue, Jack Garretty an old newsman on CNN who lost his wife eight weeks ago, had to turn his face sideways and spit out a conclusion to his segment before he fell apart. Condoleezza Rice teared up. Even Dubya in a White House lawn speech seemed struck by the moment.

I lost it this morning, after filing the last article and radio interview, and staggering down to the lobby for a coffee and some ice. DeShaya, a young black woman who’d been on the desk when I’d checked in, was on there for the graveyard shift. We’d traded insults over my routinely screwed up reservation — this is the US after all — and then bitched together about the inadequacies of the booking company. She was at the end of her 12-hour shift because thats how you work in Bush’s America — and I was at the end of it all, and mutually wreathed in exhaustion and relief, we just held hands and wept for a minute or so, in happiness, in relief, in the victory of something larger than both of us, that contained both of us.

But I wouldn’t mention it if it were unusual. All over the city, the Rome of the twentieth century, the Capitol monument and the Dome on the horizon wherever you look, people were doing the same.

Tears and smiles, in the street, in the Starbucks, in the metro station. No-one is ashamed of their emotions, of this release, of this vulnerability to others in a city where, othertimes and even now, you would want to watch your back.

Let’s be clear about what this victory means, and why it means so much. It is not simply the victory of a black man as President. A Colin Powell becoming the new Republican Eisenhower of 2008 would not arouse a hundredth of this enthusiasm. Nor is it a victory of the left. A Dennis Kucinich, by some bizarre cosmic accident, becoming President would not arouse this level of passion.

What makes it powerful is that it is a victory of the global left in the incarnation of a black American, that it is a double blow to power and skin-privilege. Will President Obama be a programmatically radical leader? Of course not. But will he be a shivering neurotic Jesus-freak sycophant like Tony Blair? No, equally.

His achievement before anything has occurred is this: that every vector of power — money, race, media — has been defeated in the US, the declining but still regnant capitol of the world. That what won was the idea of wisdom, judgement, intelligence, prudence and audacity, conservatism and radicalism, a measuring up to the demands of the world. That, as opposed to past Democratic campaigns, this was not a party machine insider — a Tennessee grandee or a billionairess’s husband — presenting themselves as the least-worst option.

It was someone who, by his own account, had come through the world of the radical left, of radical black action, to the realisation that any change in America had to come not against its traditions, but within them, and who therefore drew on the strengths of every residual radical and progressive notion of this one-time revolutionary society. It was an achievement, but it was also a channelling in to a deeper moment of historical shift.

In the USA this has been greeted, even by conservatives, as a historic transcendent moment. Why? I am reminded of the Jorge Luis Borges essay about Buenos Aires during 1940, when it looked like the Nazis — who had a lot of support in Argentina out of hatred of British imperialism – would win. Borges, a resolute anti-Nazi, was visited by an Axis supporter.

“France has fallen,” he said, “nothing can stop them now!” And then Borges notes:”I realised he was as terrified as I was”.

In other words — and am I not breaking Godwin’s law — there are moments in politics when, on one side, no-one really wants to win. That was the curse of the McCain campaign. Deep down they knew that McCain’s moment was 2000, and that it had passes. But they kept going, against a historical moment which, deep deep down, most of them — and that may well include John McCain himself — wanted to happen, and, deep deep down, did not want to stand in the way of.

For those of us who committed ourselves to the left, whatever that means, these are great days not because of what Obama will do, but because of what he will not do — because he will normalise progressive, moderate, multilateral, modernised politics in the US and in the western world, and that is the context in which we will work.

If you want to see some graciousness in that moment, read (sections of) the US conservative press. If you want to read bitterness and incomprehension about it, read Albrechtsen and Sheridan in The Oz today.

For the rest of us it is tears and laughter, laughter and tears. For all the people I’ve marched with, argued with, whatever, this is a moment. I have no compunction at all about feeling part of this in however distant a manner. For the right, globally, you will have to reinvent yourselves. You are the Whigs in the 1850s. You are about to cease to exist.

Tears and laughter and laughter and tears.