I was there. I was there and I totally didn’t cry. Amazing, considering I’ll cry at, for, or about anything. Video of a lion in an African reserve reunited with the young Brits who saved him as a baby? Hand me that box of tissues. That part of “The Joy Luck Club” where the dead mom says “Waverly took best-quality crab. You took worst, because you have best-quality heart.”? I’m sobbing into a pillow. The end of “The Killing Fields” when Pran tells Sydney there’s nothing to forgive even though he’d spent the last few years trying not to get killed by the Khmer Rouge? If anyone needs me, I’ll be lying on the floor, heaving and hollering.
And yet when CNN called it at 10:00 PM Grant Park time, that Senator Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, I didn’t cry. I jumped. I screamed. I hugged. I laughed. I danced. Couples hugged and kissed like it was their first date/wedding day/anniversary all over again. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, friends, neighbors. The folks in the crowd who held onto huge PVC pipes, the tops of which were attached American flags, stood proud as their friends broke into song.
All night, people were in a party mood. Even after standing in a field for hours, listening to the same songs played on the PA all night. AT&T cell service was shot, so my attempts to tweet or get news from the mobile version of the New York Times web site on my iPhone were doomed. Many folks seemed to be having the same connectivity issues so we connected another way. We talked. We shared soda and pizza. I told everybody I could smell hot dogs even though I couldn’t actually see them. Faith is belief in things unseen, and for me it extends to encased meats.
For the most part, I could see the big screen showing CNN though I wished (as ever) so that I could see the stage. People cheered when states were called for Barack, booed when they weren’t. Tony took it upon himself to trash talk every state that went for McCain. Tasneem cracked that for someone who said he doesn’t like attention, Tony was pretty good at attracting it.
Every time the CNN Projection animation came on, people would start getting excited but then as soon as the special 3-D CNN hologram showed a state for McCain, we’d all grumble. The hologram interviews with folks not at CNN studios were a bit Star Wars like, kinda goofy. And seriously — will.i.am. gets interviewed by Anderson Cooper? Why him? Okay, he wrote that song. Fine.
Huge cheers went throughout the crowd when Pennsylvania and Ohio were called for Obama. I remember seeing a couple early in the evening – they were wearing blue “Buckeyes for Barack” t-shirts and I remember thinking that if Obama won OH, those kids would probably get mad love. There was so much love. Maybe a little too much, as I got an e-mail from Kathy the day after saying that all manner of dudes were stepping to our friend Adrienne, starting with her Obama t-shirt. Kathy called it here first, ladies and gents, “The Obama Mack”:
“Didn’t I see you in Grant Park last night?”
“Yeeaah! Obama!” <with a leer at Ms. A’s Obama shirt>
“Didya vote yesterday?” [what do you think, fool?]
PS: The “Missed Connections” section of the Chicago Craigslist is full of Obama MC’s. Check it out.
When the anchors said they’d be announcing breaking news at the top of the hour, meaning 10:00 pm Central, cheers went up. People did the wave. People kept on dancing. Tony kept on joking. I tried to send updates to Twitter and take crappy pictures on my phone.
At 9:59:50, we started screaming “10! 9! 8! 7! 6! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1!”. At 10:00, CNN broke the news: “BARACK OBAMA ELECTED PRESIDENT” and everybody lost it. The crowd went wild. It was 10:00 at night in Chicago, but (and I’m not ashamed to type this) it was a new motherfucking day.
(h/t to Chicagocarless.com for finding the video)
So all that was left to do was wait for Senators Obama and Biden to hit the stage and greet the adoring masses/constituents. The dude who’d been doing the mic check all night — “1 2 3 4 5 6. 1 2 3 4 5 6. Obama” (big cheer from crowd) — hit it one more time. “1 2 3 4 5 6. 1 2 3 4 5 6. Last sound check for the next president of the United States.” I wish i could have seen dude’s face because the crowd positively roared when he said that.
We waited some more, watching the big screen as it showed folks in the crowd. The image of Jesse Jackson crying prompted Tony to call him a player hater, and everybody cheered. Oprah cried in a pretty green dress, and everyone was all “Who was that dude she was with?” I think she said on her program yesterday that she had no idea. When we saw our friends Will and Robin, we hollered. Oh, and Will? He is the newly elected state rep for the 26th district. Yeah, that’s how I roll. Jealous? Bwa!
So there was a prayer, which I didn’t follow too well because all I could hear was the sound of all these helicopters hovering overhead. The anthem came together at the end, though the lady who sang it was a bit off-key at first. Probably overcome with emotion, as I would be. An introduction by a veteran. And then President-elect Barack Obama with the next first family. Michelle wearing a red and black Narciso Rodriguez that I personally loved. Malia in red, Sasha in black, and both adorable as ever.
Barack gave his speech, which I can’t for the life of me remember. And who says I have to? Isn’t this what YouTube is for? His speech was awesome, and then Michelle and the Girls, Mrs. Marian Robinson, Joe and Jill Biden, all the Bidens (including Joe’s 91 year old mama!), friends and family flooded the stage to hug, wave, hug some more.
I remember thinking about what President Bartlet would say on “The West Wing” whenever his staff was enjoying a victory of one sort or another. He would take a moment to praise them, usually with a long speech filled with sometimes inane facts before saying “Okay.
Back to work. Break’s over.” Maybe I’m not remembering this well or accurately, but I’m pretty sure that’s what President Bartlet would do.
After the speech, walking back through the streets of downtown Chicago, the air filled with the sound of carhorns and people yelling, those helicopters and police sirens, I had the words of President Bartlet ringing in my ears alongside the speech of President-elect Obama stuck in my head.
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves — if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
Not like a record on a broken record player but a reminder, an insistence. We’ve got victories and milestones to celebrate, but we’ve also got so many problems and issues to face together.