A friend of mine is/was balls deep in the Obama campaign. She had been calling people in battleground states and even went to Indiana to canvas and get voters out to the poles. I've been a skeptic about politics all my life, but this is the first time I have been able to really get behind a candidate. My stance has always been for the American voter to inform themselves of the issues and make a decision based on their own will. Unfortunately, many people don't give a shit, watch too much TV, or vote how their minister tells them to vote. At any rate, she felt that she would share with me a chance to go to the Election night rally in Grant Park where Barack Obama would give his acceptance or concession speech. I accepted.
The sign up was quick and easy. A message was sent telling me that I would be emailed a ticket the Monday before the rally. The anticipation was building for a chance to see history. I say to see history not because I was so cocksure that Obama would win for sure, but the fact that if he lost there would most certainly would be a riot. Riots aren't really my thing, so I was hoping like the majority of America that we would elect the right person for the job. You could call it hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
Tuesday rolls around and there is a ton of anticipation. I had voted early in Chicago so it was a waiting game until the poles closed. The exit poles were not being disclosed but I kept CNN.com open anyway. The day took sixty hours to end. The gates to Grant Park were to open at 8:30pm, but word on the street was that people had been lining up since the day before. Even in this shitty economy, I some how envied all the unemployed that had this option. 6:30pm rolls around and there is two hours worth of work I have to cram into thirty minutes to get out on time. I've never been so productive in my life.
Getting down stairs at 7:15 I meet up with my girlfriend who has brought a feast of Arby's for us to cram in our faces on the way to the rally. Nothing classier than mashing a box of curly fries and a beefy cheddar melt in your talk hole while you walk down Michigan Avenue. On the way there we encounter a nice sign on the street by the art institute.
With our bellies sufficiently full and tickets in hand we are met at the first mass herd of people a the security check point.
7:25: We are in a group that is so large we can't see the back of it and only know where the front is by the mounted horse police. There is a speaker that keeps blaring what you are not allowed to have. No stroller, blankets, lawn chairs, banners, signs, food, beverage, backpacks, and pets. I fear for the person trying to smuggle in their hamster at this momentous occasion for they will not be permitted. This reminder is kicking in my ear drums for a good thirty minutes. There are three visible helicopters roaming the sky above the park we are looking to gain entry to. A couple that I am physically pushed up against speculates that Barack himself is in one of the choppers and will make an entrance to the park by air. Being in the crowd nuts to butts, we start to have a dialogue about the most effective way to make this happen. We determine that he will sky-dive out of the chopper in a white leather suit and land onto the stage. Once on stage he will rip off his helmet and break into a choreographed song and dance number. When the first pyrotechnics go off, Joe Biden will enter by motorcycle by jumping though a flaming wall, where he will dismount and give a high-five to his President. None of this happened, but it was a good way to pass the time.
8:11: We make it out of the group and onto the ramp to Congress Parkway. At the end of this ramp is supposedly the first security checkpoint. We stand in a less crowded, but just as unorganized bunch. There is no security checkpoint here, only a staging area for the actual security checkpoint. We are then ushered after ten minutes into the first security screening. I notice that the line is moving extremely fast and take this as a good sign. When I get to the check point the guy says "If you don't have a bag for me to search then just keep moving." So we keep moving. Where? To the next security check point.
8:30: Approaching the second checkpoint with ticket and ID in hand the guy takes both, makes sure the names match, and lets us through. Finally! We did it!! We made it. What's that sir? Another security checkpoint?
8:44: The metal detectors were there and there were people going through. However we were briskly re-routed to the over-flow area. Seems that Mayor Daley decided that it was illegal to have tickets for an event on public lands unless the campaign was renting it. They were not. Mayor Daley again letting the future President know who is in charge of Chicago. Fourteen minutes after the gates were scheduled to open (they opened much earlier) it was too full to accommodate any more ticket holders. Nards. Fucking Nards. Thanks Dick Daley.
From here we head to the overflow area trying to scope a spot that we could see the stage. The trouble is that Grant park is extremely flat and the stage was only about 6 feet off the ground. In addition there were camera cranes that parked right in the sight line of most everyone. Two giant screens were set up so we could watch the speech, but as of now they were playing CNN. There was a moment when it seemed that only sober politicos were in attendance, but then my faith in humanity was restored when some fall-down-drunk college kids started chanting old LBJ slogans. Can't blame them for being excited and drunk. If it wasn't for my prior knowledge of the metal detectors I may have brought a flask.
The crowd was so packed that you could barely see the screens. When a CNN projection was made people went silent. Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi, were announced for McCain in a span of 15 minutes. The boos flowed from every mouth. I even let an audible groan even though those states were expected to go with him anyway. Then it occurred to me that we were just watching TV in space larger than a stadium with less space per person as a train car at rush hour. This could have easily been accomplished from my apartment with food and beverages surrounding me. I was starting to second guess my decision to trek down for this, and the country music they were playing during commercial breaks on CNN wasn't helping either.
9:59: Virginia goes for Obama. People seriously lose their shit. Fist pumping and roars are all I could make out. Again the mob scene has gotten the best of me and I'm getting nutty as well. It comes back to me in an instant why I came down to the rally. We are all here with the hope of a better America, and we have a chance to see the culmination of the work that dedicated people have put in. The screaming and yelling is still going when an announcement is made on the TV that another projection is in....
10:00: Obama is the new President of the United States. The cheers were heard over three miles away. No joke.
10:01: The majority of the faces in the crowd have tears on them. The majority of the arms in the crowd are around someone. The majority of the lungs in the crowd are finally taking a deep breath. It's as if everyone in the crowd has just received news that their parents were not going to be raped to death by a bear. Relief and excitement don't hold the power of how this crowd was feeling.
10:19: McCain gets up for his concession speech. There is initially a large boo when he gets on the screen but then it quiets when he begins to talk. Many people begin cheering with him when he states he wants to work together with the new President, "his President". However any mention of Palin is like sticking hot pokers in everyone's pee hole. That woman scares the hell out of everyone around me. I don't blame them for being scared.
10:34: After waiting a bit and enduring more country music, the invocation by a Bishop is commenced. I don't consider myself religious or every plan on being so, but I'll thank whatever god you want me to right now. I'm just too happy to have Obama take over the Presidency. I notice that I'm not alone in my lack of head bowing and hand folding. We've come a long way in getting over our irrational fears of race and gender, but religion is still holding strong.
10:37: Jim Frazier leads us in the pledge of allegiance. I don't know why we are doing the pledge of allegiance. But we do it anyway. It also becomes clear that I haven't spoken these words since grade school.
10:38: National anthem is sung. The singer must have gotten the words confused with another version of the United States National Anthem. A great moment is when the singer gives us a gem of "... through the perilous times.." instead of perilous night. Everyone is wondering when we are going to hear the speech. Not that it was the main reason most people came out, but... no that's exactly why.
Now we are treated to twenty minutes of somebody's mix tape. This mix tape contains more country and some 60s tunes. I'm getting worried that the DJ is a plant in this celebration to bring it down a notch. When "Sweet Home Chicago" comes on I'm pretty sure that will be the last song before we hear the speech. I love being right.
10:58: Obama's Speech.
11:17: The speech is over, and everyone is moved. I was moved. Strangers hugging strangers.
11:21: Everyone is making a break for the exits. The exits consist of the streets in Chicago. I have never seen so many people jammed into the streets before. Where cars are permitted there are people honking horns and leaning out of them. There are people with megaphones yelling, dancing, running around aimlessly. It was indeed a party atmosphere. My girlfriend and I walk six blocks up to catch a train at the beginning of the loop so we can get a seat. Still have to have an exit strategy.
The rally was a piece of history I will never forget and I think it will only grow in importance as I get older. We left feeling excited about the results and eager for inauguration day. With so much going on its hard to determine what exactly impacted me most. The unity of so many different types of people was awe inspiring. People that on the train you would not think twice about talking to were in your arms in this time of celebration. Many emotions were in abundance, but the one that hit me most was Americans being proud to be American again.