Sunday, November 9, 2008

Election Day 2008 in Chicago

As I do most days now since Ramona was born, I took Carlotta to school in the morning after voting. Since I had the camera with me, I took a shot of her as we walked from the bus stop to her school (walking past Wrigley Field along the way). I told Carlotta that I wouldn't be home that night, because I was going to see Barack Obama in Grant Park.

"Why are you going to see Barack Obama?", she asked.

"Because it's very important for him to be elected," I told her, and I realized that I had a deeper emotional investment in this election than I realized. It shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was.

I had gotten my ticket to the Obama Rally the night before. Delia said she could handle the kids solo (her first time doing this since Ramona was born).

The city had been putting the fear of God into all of the downtown office building tenants to encourage companies to let employees telecommute on Tuesday. Huge crowds were expected, and the light rail schedules were modified to accomodate more inbound passengers late in the day. Many people at work didn't come in on Tuesday.

My grand plans of getting lots of work done after work but before the rally crumbled as I was watching the news of the returns. So I headed out to get some dinner at a local restaurant. At around 8pm I started walking down to the rally.

As I neared Grant Park, the crowds increased, and hawkers selling Obama t-shirts, rally towels, and buttons were everywhere on the sidewalks.

Once I got to the entrance at Congress, I saw there was a line waiting to get in. After about a mile of walking, I finally reached the end of the line. I was despairing of ever getting in at this point. I couldn't see any way we were getting in before 1am if they were going to have any kind of security.
But the line started moving a little, then the pace picked up. We were walking at a good clip with few stops. Chants of "Obama! Obama!" and "Yes We Can!"rose among the crowd along the way.

The crowd was happy but mellow. Well-behaved, even. In the "Congress Hotel" photo at right, notice the man in the black jacket carrying a folded flag.

Despite the speed with which people were streaming in, there were, in fact, two security checkpoints. The first just checked to make sure you had a ticket (in that you had some piece of paper that looked something like a ticket). The picture at right is looking back just after getting through the first security checkpoint - the security folks are in the yellow jackets.

More walking. A second security checkpoint, where a cursory match of my driver's license to my ticket may have been done. I was never searched.

Some more walking, and then a sea of people. Bright lights everywhere. Jumbotron - apparently the Obama campaign favors CNN, by the way. In the picture at left, you can make out the Chicago skyline rising up above the crowd. Estimates would later put the crowd at a quarter million.

It's hard to capture the crowd adequately with these pictures - but in every direction you looked, it was more people.

Then suddenly, they called (I think) Virginia for Obama. The crowd erupted. In short order after that, McCain came on to concede. The crowd around me grew impatient as he seemed to keep talking and talking. There were a smattering of boos from the crowd when he mentioned Palin.

None of this had really sunk in yet. It was clear Obama would be coming on soon. Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed Delivered" was playing and I thought, "Wait, what just happened here?" People were dancing. The next song was "Sweet Home Chicago" and I took a deep breath and realized that we'd won.

Obama took the stage (you can see him on the Jumbotron in the picture to the left - that's as close as I got to him). His speech was not celebratory, but a bit somber. Many people began leaving after he finished, and I saw a few other faces still looking toward the stage that looked, frankly, stunned.

Walking away from Grant Park, I passed a building with lights spelling "USA". Somehow this took on a different tone for me than the with-us-or-against-us jingoism of the last eight years. It seemed... hopeful.