I'm about to head downtown to meet my friend Amber for dinner and then meet with a Fiction class and an alumni group from Columbia. I'll be in a building on Michigan Avenue overlooking Grant Park. That significance is not lost on me. A week ago tonight, history was being made right there.
And I'm sure when I get down there I will regret not braving the crowds and ignoring my lack of ticket to go to the rally for President-Elect Obama (oh those words still feel so good, don't they?). I missed my opportunity to be part of history in my own city. I know I celebrated in the way that was best for me, avoiding any possible crowd-induced panic attacks and I still enjoyed and lived through that historic night. It was nice to be a part of history in a positive way for once. There were only two other times in my life where I distinctly remember thinking, "Kids will read about this in history books and I experienced it first hand": September 11 and the protest against the Iraq War that I attended in 2003. But now, something amazing has happened during my lifetime. We elected our first African-American president.
Still I wish I was in Grant Park last Tuesday and I'm sure many of you do as well, so I asked my friends who attended to share their thoughts and photos with me. I wanted to create a blog where we could all experience what they experienced. So I will let them take over.
From Sheryl Johnston, whose husband Bob took the photos I've used:
"All I can say is that I've never seen so many people of all ages, races, cultures, and walks of life coming together to celebrate their mutual choice of President. We all cheered, cried,danced, hugged in celebration of this important step for CHANGE. Afterwards, we joined in the impromptu parade on Michigan Avenue, where more dancing,
singing, cheering took place."
From Aaron Golding: "I'm sure you saw some of the footage on the TV. It's was probably as amazing as you imagined. People were crying, hugging, dancing, singing. The roar of the crowd when it was announced was deafening. Way to go Obama!"
From Germania Solorzano: "I think the alarming amount of stimuli going on was interesting. I was standing in the unticketed section, trying to watch CNN on the Jumbotron. I was too short to see anything. The crowd would cheer and I would ask my 6 foot 3 inch godson, "What's happening?" and he would shout down at me..." We won Ohio." My neck hurt from trying to peer up and through the spaces between very large people. I called my mother in Nicaragua. She was also watching CNN and she began telling me the numbers. Later, the whole crowd got fidgety, because we could hear singing starting in the ticketed section, but CNN wasn't showing Chicago yet. There was a feeling of group anticipation, and like everyone was worried about what they were missing out on...until the channel was changed. Obama's speech was wonderful, but the whole time I was worried for his safety. I'm glad the elections are over. Too much nailbiting."
From Diana Tenuto:
"My experience of being at the Barack Obama Rally in Grant Park on Election Night, 11/4/2008, to be a part of and also witness history:
I was given the opportunity to go to the rally thanks to my mother Barbara. Due to a knee replacement it is hard for her to walk far so we decided to go with a wheelchair. We had no idea what to expect, but just knew we HAD TO GO!!!
There are no words to describe how proud of the city of Chicago I am. The night of the rally was unbelievable! Those that had tickets were able to go in well before 8:30. The crowd was so well-behaved, no fighting or shouting. Everyone was peacefully waiting to get in and sharing stories and anxiousness as we waited. For us in a wheelchair, we thought the journey would be difficult, but we were able to walk up Congress from the LaSalle Blue Line stop without any problems and straight onto Columbus. There was a little wait there, but only because they had a few checkpoints for the ticket holders. Once we got through those (and everyone was really great with us being in the wheelchair) we followed the crowd the wrong way and missed the metal detectors. Oops...
So we turned around and that is when we saw the ENORMOUS LINE. I wanted to cry. This is when I started to have doubts....but all of a sudden we were greeted by two of Chicago's finest and they escorted us through the crowd up to the front where we were then greeted by a secret service agent (yes, a secret service agent!!!). He brought us up to the metal detectors, frisked us and sent us along. This alone probably saved us about an hour and a half of waiting, which we were very grateful for. When we entered Hutchison Field, we saw that they had a platform for wheelchairs that was towards the back, but above ground. We went there because it gave us a better view being up off the ground. With my mom having her video camera, we knew we could zoom in at anytime.
Immediately we noticed that CNN was broadcasting live the jumbotron and they often broadcasted live from Chicago. We were able to be constantly informed of updates and projections and each time Obama won another state, the crowd's reaction was so cool. There were strangers hugging each other, everyone shouting for joy….it was just truly amazing. It was just the first on many moments of unity amongst all of us Obama supporters.
During this exciting election night, my husband Scott was on business in our nation's capital, and my mother and I were receiving updates via text message from him and my brother Alan who was at home (pouting that his older sister got to go with mom rather than him). Alan was updating us as well by watching all the news networks back at home in Elmhurst. At about the same time that Virginia was announced it went for Obama, my brother Alan sent me a text saying, "they're gonna call it soon, I think." My mother had the video camera on for the cheers for Virginia when across the screen on CNN were the words, "Barack Obama Elected President of the United States." The crowd was the chosen background by CNN and you can only imagine how excited everyone was! I don’t think anyone expected it to be decided so soon. Everyone went nuts. Tears of joy streamed down my face as my mother and I hugged each other and strangers around us. It is impossible for me to reflect on this still without giving myself the chills. My husband (who was following the election in DC) had told me that right before they announced Obama won, he had seen that California went for Obama. Those of us at the rally, following the news on CNN did not know this, but we didn’t care – HE WON!!!
It was about an hour or so of pure excitement as we waited to hear from our new president-elect. I know the whole country was going nuts, no one around us could use their phones, everyone was getting, “all circuits are busy” messages.
Nothing could prepare me for when President-elect Obama came out on the stage...I'm tearing up just thinking about it again. His family walking out mirrored to me footage I’ve seen of John F. Kennedy’s family in the 1960’s. Seeing him in person and hearing him speak will forever be with me and the words he said are forever etched in my mind.
…and it still hasn't hit me......but I can say that inside my heart I already feel the relief for our country. My mother told me over two years ago that he was someone special, and she couldn’t have been more right. We’re in good hands now. I feel relief and comfort knowing that Obama holds the key to our nation’s future.
This election will always be special to me. My husband spent the night in our nation’s capital and my mother and I were in Grant Park. WE WERE THERE!!! These are great moments to cherish and tell our grandchildren and great-grandchildren about someday."
Last, but not least, my friend Stacy Jill Jacobs wrote her own blog entry about the night, which you can read here. And she sent me this picture from Newsweek. She and her girlfriend are in the photo!
If you were at Grant Park that night, please leave your thoughts, but really, everyone feel free to discuss how you celebrated last Tuesday!