The weather foretold it in Chicago. Rare is it to feel the warmth of southerly winds on an early November night in this city. Rarer still was the occasion of welcoming a president who means so much to the people he has set out to serve.
The gates were said to open at 8:30 p.m., but organizers let the crowd of ticket holders in early. Looking around at the faces of those men and women, some with children already sleepy, making their way down to Grant Park’s Hutchinson Field, one could spy a cautious kind of hope. A spark fired within. But, the full blown excitement was yet to be uncorked.
On this election night, merchants took full advantage to sell all and any Barack Obama merchandise, from the rhinestone studded to the more traditional. Most favored were items bearing “President Barack Obama.”
Chicago, the city that has defiantly cheered its beloved and beleaguered sports teams to victory and faced an unequal share of bitter defeat couldn’t help but feel minor trepidation about an Obama win. “We’ll believe it when we see it” may easily have been overheard throughout. Though some wild optimists among us with more healthy levels of skepticism knew the best was saved for last.
Down past the three checkpoints, and out on the field cheers erupted from the crowd, most of whom had already stood for nearly hours by then. Returns were announced on the two giant screens erected in the field. Shoulder to shoulder, people turned to their neighbor to chat them up with nervous laughter in an effort to take their minds off the tension.
The many young people managed the wait in the company of their friends and a box of Connie’s pizza. The older ones in attendance: they wouldn’t dare think of tiring out now. They had waited this long. Most notable of all roars followed Obama’s win of Ohio. That felt good. This was the one we had never gotten over. For good reason.
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania already occupied the list of electoral votes by the time Ohio joined. When Virginia jumped into the group, it was a done deal. We knew no one could or would steal it from us now. All who had held their breaths were relieved.
Shortly thereafter, the announcement was broadcast and the wildest and most joyous pandemonium began. The words “Barack Obama Elected 44th President” ran along the bottom of the jumbotron. Several older ladies clasped their hands in prayer and relief. Shouts of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” peppered in between the raucous screams and hollers. Over 6 minutes of continuous cheers ensued as the television pundits and analysts weighed in onscreen.
When after prayer, The Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem was sung, Obama took the stage with the rest of the new First family, he quickly reaffirmed the thoughts of the hundreds of thousands who came to celebrate with him in Chicago. The victory belonged to us. This “victory of ideals” proved to be far more important to the spirit of unity than any issue driven agenda.
As Obama recounted the trials of the numerous volunteers and voters the election brought forth and the decades in the life of 106 year old voter, Ann Nixon Cooper, whose life had seen America’s darkest times and most unstoppable determination, tears streamed over the good fortune of our nation’s newest turn of events.
Sent out into the night, a new era waiting to begin, the procession of people poured forth onto Michigan Avenue jubilant. Many fell silent, smiling, arms linked with their friends and family, strains of music from Grant Park filling the air. The crowd stretched all the way down to Roosevelt Road on the south and as far as could be seen to the north.
Soon horns blared, loud roars of “Obama!” “Obama!” erupted time and again. Cameras clicked and Chicago lit with flashbulbs as Americans captured their own moment in history on this one for the history books made in the city of Chicago.