As we got closer to Grant Park, a friend from Oregon called and said she just wanted me to hold my phone up when Barack spoke so she could hear him. The lines of people snaked up Michigan Avenue; by now it was 9:45 p.m. and my daughter was sure we were too late. About five minutes later, a roar went up from the people walking on Michigan Avenue. We were in the park by now trying to find the entrance. My husband called and said that Barack had 297 electoral votes.
I started to scream with joy, “He’s won” and some of the folks I screamed this to jumped for joy. Others didn’t believe me. Sarah and I had “honored guest VIP” passes thanks to a generous donor; we were directed through a bevy of black SUVs and limousines and ran into Illinois Governor Rod Blagovich. After snaking past the press tents, we faced a bank of cameras and lights. Behind us were Chicagoans of every color, age, and dress waving small American flags and dancing to the piped in music. “USA” was in lights on one of the skyscrapers and the Hancock and Sears tower were lit with red, white and blue.
Chicago loves a party and it felt like many of the other festivals I’ve been to here but somehow surreal at the same time. Having made Obama campaign phone calls starting with the Iowa caucuses, when it was just a few of us in the Chicago campaign office, drinking hot chocolate and trying to convince voters to take a chance, through the excitement of Indiana’s primary on past the long summer of smears and going door to door to register voters and then get them turned out, I just couldn’t believe in some way that we were finally seeing victory.
I think many of those in the “VIP” area felt the same way; a lot of them were young campaign interns (read” no sleep, living on chips and fast food, and little pay”).
Others, like ours, were family pairs of Boomer parents and twentysomethings. The last time we remember the kind of hope we have felt this year was when we were kids and Jack Kennedy was the President.
When they announced the next “First Family of the United States” we went nuts; and there they were; Michelle, Sasha and Malia holding hands with Barack. We could barely see through the cell phones, cameras, and flags but it didn’t matter. We were finally “here” and what an amazing feeling.
Barack’s speech made us cry; he thanked his family including his late grandmother; he thanked us, he thanked pretty much the world and he reminded us of the hard work ahead, and then it was over, like a wedding; days and weeks and years, in this case, of preparation and you can’t believe it\’s time to go home, it seemed too fast; we wanted an instant replay to savor this joy.
Strangers hugged and took pictures of each other; the crowd behind us waved flags, danced, cheered and sang.
My daughter said, “You know, I’m like Michelle, I am finally really proud of my country.” For her at 25, there have been already too many wars, the Gulf War (which she protested with me as a child), the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq. Due to hard work and her gift for languages, she has worked in Taiwan and China and volunteered for the United Nations in Thailand and she has seen her country’s reputation tarnished by too many lies and too much violence. She has also seen the effects of poverty, war, and racism not only here at home but in villages in Cambodia. So to see her wave a flag last night was wonderful. It was even more wonderful to see her be able to witness the unmitigated delight on Chicago’s streets last night; as we say in the protest movement; “Whose Streets? OUR STREETS!”
People hugged, cheered, bought souvenir “Chicago Tribune” headline pins and t-shirts with “OBAMA WINS!”
At the storefront windows of Ebony and Jet crowds took photos of giant reproductions of magazine covers of Barack and Michelle and went inside for a photo with a cardboard cutout of Barack. I have never seen Chicago’s black community in such absolute rapture and they were happy to share it with the rest of us. It has been a long time coming.