05 November 2008

Nobama? Barack the Vote? How About Just Viewing History?

I remember when I was interning at First Congregational, I was sent on a house visit to a woman named Margaret.  Her husband had died two years prior and she was lonely, so from time to time the clergy dropped by to chat and see how she was doing.  I remember sitting in her living room as she told me about her husband and her children, her experiences going to college at Bowdoin, and how she loved to collect maps.  She also told me about how she celebrated the end of World War I.  "My mother and father were driving down a street in Maine when they heard the news on the radio," she said, "and I was only about three months old then, but my mother said that as my father drove down the road, she held me out of the window so I could feel the breeze and see the sky and said 'Look at this new world you have to live in!  See how good it is!'" Just like Margaret's parents, I got to witness history last night when I dressed in layers, chucked all my valuables, and headed to Grant Park with Kasey, Becky, and Tim to watch the outcome of the election.

As soon as we got off the El on Randolph, you could feel the buzz in the air.  Everyone had come out to see what was going to happen.  Every Chicago police officer was on duty.  Even the skyline was patriotic last night!

Conservative estimates say that there were about 75,000 people in Grant Park to watch the outcome....in the tented area alone!  There were tons more non-ticketed viewers (of which we were four) in overflow areas watching on huge TVs that had been set up.  It was standing room only...

...and we stood for about five hours, so we got really tired.  

I'll give you two guesses who the one with the flip-flops is.  And for the record, the only person who stepped on my feet all night was Kasey.

 The majestic ::dunnnnnnn:: of CNN's election headquarters announced that a new projection was on its way!  Polls in California, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon had just closed!  Obama was ahead, and learning the outcomes of each of these states would give us an idea of who might win!  We were excited!  
And then this happened...

We all thought they'd only be announcing who California had elected, but when the screen showed "Barack Obama elected President" (about three seconds into the video, hence the initial screams, the lull and immediate pandemonium), the entire park went crazy.  People were jumping up and down, screaming (obviously...I apologize for the shrillness, but I was surrounded by college-age girls...if you can hear the laughing at any point in the video, that's me), and more than anything else, they were crying.  

We were excited to have been a part of history.  We also, by the by, happened to be shown on MSNBC according to Kasey's sister, Betsy, who at one pointed texted Kasey with "omgomgOMG I JUST SAW YOU GUYS ON TV!!!!!!"  Eloquent.

Then we joined alllllllll those people (if you can find a spot of concrete in this picture, I'll give you a million dollars) walking back to the El.  Parking downtown was completely closed and there were absolutely no cars allowed.  And for good reason--the entirety of Michigan Ave. was flooded by people from top to bottom, non stop, for hours.  People were laughing and hugging and cheering the entire time.  They were also climbing on any surface above a foot to get pictures of the crowd, which was absolutely ridiculously huge.  The El ran as long as it needed to into the night to get people home which, trust me, is a big deal.  It was still full for a couple hours though, so.....

We all went to Rock Bottom and had a drink while everyone else squished like sardines into the El.  By the time we were done, the trains were nearly empty and we actually got seats.  I'm thinking that drinking was the best possible option here.

I'm not going for a political statement here.  Neither am I saying who I voted for.  I would have been happy no matter the outcome last night and I'll be honest, I really hate Obama's abortion stance--but that doesn't mean that when I get a chance to go downtown and witness the election of the first Black president, that I'm not going to take it.  And it doesn't mean that I won't be excited for other reasons than political ones.  

When I looked up on that screen and saw footage of people in Kenya after the announcement, I was flabbergasted.  To see a nation dancing in the streets not at our demise but at our decisions made me more confident about our foreign relations.  
When I turned around and just watched my fellow Americans, I saw something in their eyes that I hadn't seen in a long time--hope.  Maybe it's because I'm an eternal optimist, but I'm telling you, I have been at Christian gatherings that had less joy in the air than there was at Grant Park last night.  
More than anything, when I looked behind Kasey and saw an elderly African American woman standing still, staring at the screen with her hands to her heart, tears running down her face...it was more than I could take.  I'm all about letting bygones be bygones, and by no means do I support voting by race alone, but institutional racism is still a remnant and watching an entire people finally feel justice was worth the swollen feet and lost voice.  

The long and short of it is that I got to stand among history last night.  Whether your chant was "NOBAMA!" or "Barack the Vote!" you can't deny that witnessing something that will forever be a defining moment in American politics warrants the term "amazing."  Despite tax codes and funding, sketchy friends and expensive clothes, stances and positions, I can't help but be optimistic.  And it wasn't anything that Obama or McCain said last night that makes me feel that way; it was watching the hundreds of parents who kept their small children up late into the night, and who I watched, through bobbing heads and victory shouts, hold up their kids and whisper into their ears words that I'm not sure of, but what I imagine were something like, "Look at this new world you have to live in!  See how good it is!"

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