GUEST BLOGGER: The View from Grant Park

Hi, all - A first here on mymagicbean...we have a guest blogger today! My good friend Laura put together a wonderful recollection of election day in Chicago. I hope you all enjoy it!!!!

It’s been a week since the rally and I’m still at a loss as to how to even begin writing about it. I found out about a week prior that my friend Beth had gotten on the list to attend the “official” rally in Grant Park and that I would be her plus-one for the event. We were beyond excited, emailing and texting for days leading up to the night. I woke up that morning before my alarm went off, something that only happens on extraordinary days. I donned my ancient Virginia tshirt in the hopes that it would help my home state swing blue this time. All day at work, my boss and I were checking news sites online trying to find out ANYthing from the exit polls. I am pretty sure neither of us was productive in any way regarding work.

We finally called it quits a little before five (in fact, our entire building was encouraged to leave beginning at noon to help deal with the tide of people rushing into town) and headed to Pizano’s – by far the best pizza joint inside the loop. We fueled up with pizza, cocktails and a little bit of CNN, not sure what conditions would be like inside the rally – Would our cell phones work? Would there be news on the jumbotrons? Would there BE jumbotrons? Pizano’s was packed – far busier than I’ve ever seen any restaurant in the loop after 5 pm. CNN was on every tv and the crowd was buzzing. People chatted with one another across tables, sharing overheard stats and predictions. No one was a stranger that night.

We headed over to Michigan Avenue, carried along by the throngs of people all heading to Grant Park. It was balmy for November in Chicago, too warm for anything more than a sweater and jeans. Street vendors selling buttons and tshirts and others just handing out souvenirs were on every corner, something very unusual for Chicago as street vendors are not officially permitted and rarely tolerated. Our favorite shirt was the one for sale by TimeOut Chicago that screamed (in size 82 font) “I WAS THERE WHEN CHANGE HAPPEN GRANT PARK 2008.” Niiiice. I picked up a blingy Obama shirt and pulled it on over my Virginia shirt.

Art Institute lit up red, white & blue on Michigan Ave

Everyone around us was cheering, laughing, carrying signs, checking their phones. People were milling around in the middle of Michigan Avenue, normally one of the busiest streets in downtown Chicago. I noticed a single person in the crowd with a “Republican” shirt on it. It had a big red X across Obama’s face. I don’t think anyone else even noticed her; certainly no one was giving her a hard time. We walked on, admiring the signs, lights and positive mood of the crowd. I’ve attended Taste of Chicago, the various races and Lollapalooza several times, all held in the same general area, and never have the crowds been friendlier, more polite or easier to navigate.

Outside the 1st Checkpoint

Beth and I lined up to enter the rally area and got through the first checkpoint pretty quickly. The second checkpoint went quickly as well, it was barely a cursory check that our ticket was real and matched Beth’s license. We thought we were home-free and lined up for the third checkpoint – the metal detectors. That one took a while but we barely noticed as we were having a great time chatting, texting with friends not there, getting updates and cheering with the people around us. Each time someone got an update, a cheer would burst out from the crowd around them, radiating outward as the news was passed along.

Beth & Laura in the thick of the crowd

As soon as we were through the metal detectors – both a walk-through and wand for each and every person entering – we rushed onto the field to secure a spot. We worked our way to the middle of the crowd as best we could. It was already packed but we ended up about a football field to the right of the main podium. I could see the dais when I stood on my toes and craned my neck. My camera, held straight up in the air, had a better view. Poor Beth, all of 5’2”, didn’t have a chance. We could see the jumbotron clearly though, and celebrated with the crowd as states were announced for Obama, which was happening by the time we hit the field. My phone was dead by then, so we were getting texts on Beth’s phone from friends and family near and far. They were a little behind our updates from CNN displayed on the giant screens, but we still whooped and hollered with each duplicate announcement. Several people in the crowd had brought electoral maps so we knew instantly how “important” each announcement was. When states went to McCain, there were brief boos, but most people shrugged it off pretty quickly – easy to do since the only ones that were announced as Red were expected to go that way anyhow.

The crowd went wild when the hologram of Will.i.am was beamed into the CNN studio. We all laughed that every other news station must be kicking themselves. I mean, c’mon, who else thought to freaking beam people in from across the country? And of all people, Will.i.am? It was just too funny. We also went crazy each time the video cameras panned over the crowd. There was a GINORMOUS boom rigged up to get deep & low into the crowd and it was used frequently. We were right in front of one of the media stands and the cameras there were getting shots of the activity.

The Crowd

The crowd itself was striking. Not just because of the incredible positive energy, something I’ve found to be extremely rare anytime a massive number of people get together, but because of the diversity. White people, black people, brown people, yellow people… Everyone was there together, all getting along and laughing together. It’s not something I’ve seen very many times in my life. The group was not predominantly one color or type of person. There were very clearly people from all walks of life, middle-aged professionals in suits and working class Joes in jeans and hoodies. Young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight … That night it really, truly did not matter who you are or where you come from. We were all there supporting the same cause, cheering for the same man, dreaming the same dream. The reasons that brought each of us there may have been unique, but they all pointed to the same end: Obama for President!

I can’t remember the order that states were announced, aside from the vague northeast to southwest trend. I do remember everyone going especially nuts when New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio were announced. The general chant was “YES WE CAN!” mixed with “OBAMA” and the name of whatever state had just been announced. Beth and I kept watching the crowd grow from simply filling most of the field to extending all the way across the bridges back to the first checkpoints. I think the final estimates were at approximately 250,000 people in the park that night.

Cooper Anderson kept bringing Virginia up, which I was most excited about, and each time the crowd would go (relatively) silent, waiting to hear what he had to say about it. Each time, we heard “too close to call” and I was (relatively) dying with anticipation. I spoke briefly on the phone with my mom (in Chesterfield, VA) and she mentioned that the local news in Richmond was reporting that people in NoVa and VaBeach were still in line to vote. This was around 9:45pm Central time and, more than a little deflated, I gave up hope that Virginia would be called that night.

Virginia announced Blue for Obama!

But minutes later, Coop brought Virginia back up on the jumbotron and marked it blue. The crowd roared with approval and I think I was the loudest one in the park. Before I was done hugging everyone around me, jumping up and down, shaking my Baracka (www.barackas.com) and, yes, crying a little bit, IT was announced: Obama had won it all. I would say all hell broke loose, but it certainly wasn’t anything resembling hell. It was pure joy in Grant Park. Hollering, crying, hugging, jumping joy. It was awesome.

I remember being in a Pro-life march in DC many years ago in high school. My family always has been and probably always will be pro-life and this was one of the most exciting days of my life thus far. Clinton was president and I was just determined we were going to convince him to change his policies on abortion. The naïveté of youth, eh? The crowd that day was massive, the biggest I’d ever seen in person or been part of. We started out near the Lincoln Memorial and walked to the Capitol. I thought we were being terribly effective – surely so many people coming together for a cause could make a difference? There were quite a few vulgar and somewhat violent opponents on the edges of our group. Several times, a twirling ring of them would break into our masses and separate groups from one another. Kids were separated from parents, old people were knocked down. I had never been so angry in my life. We made the news that night, but not a difference. Looking back, I realize that the main problem the marchers had that day was that we weren’t listening. No one was listening. Everyone was so busy shoving their message in the other side’s faces that no progress was made for either group. I’m still pro-life at heart, but I’ve learned to listen and understand that my beliefs are mine and important, but no more so than anyone else’s.

When McCain came on the jumbotron to concede the race to Obama, people listened. Sure, there were plenty of snide comments and jeers at some of his comments (“You’re not MY friend, Mr. McCain!”), but for the most part, the crowd was attentive and listened to his speech. We were appreciative that he silenced the boos from the crowd at his gathering. We cheered that he recognized Obama’s ability to inspire hope among us all. Were touched that he mentioned the passing of Obama’s grandmother. Were encouraged that he called his supporters to join us, Obama’s supporters, in fixing the many problems we face as a country. Soon after McCain’s speech, the jumbotrons played a montage from what I think was the Obama infomercial. Very “American” and it got the crowd pumped up.

It was around then that I got a text from Obama himself, saying thanks for the support and recognizing that this victory couldn’t have happened without me (and, I’m assuming, the other millions who campaigned and voted for Obama).

After that, the screens switched over to the main podium and Philip Cousins came out to say a prayer. It was nice, but people were way too excited to really calm down for a prayer. Everyone continued to cheer and snap photos. Then “some guy” (seriously, I have googled this to death and cannot find his name anywhere) came out and led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance. I haven’t said that with a group since I was a teacher back in Virginia! Kim Stratton (who???) came on afterward and tried to sing our National Anthem. I didn’t notice that she mangled it because I was singing along with the rest of the crowd. We couldn’t even hear her!

Finally, the moment arrived – Obama took the stage and gave his speech. It was too thrilling to comprehend, I’m so grateful for all the video & text posts to remind me of what was said. There were parts that stuck out – the mention of a puppy, his promise to be honest about the challenges we face, the story about a woman over 100 years old who has seen so much of our country’s history, how far we’ve come and how much we’ve changed, and the call to all of us that this is just the beginning and that we have a long, hard road ahead of us.


The crowd roared and celebrated, cheering for the new POTUS and that we were all there to celebrate with him. Michelle, Malia and Sasha came out, all looking adorable in their coordinating outfits of red & black. By then, the crowd was getting cheered-out and started to leave. Beth and I stuck around for a little while, people-watching and continuing to celebrate, when we realized we were exhausted. The temps had cooled off quite a bit and I couldn’t stop coughing. We headed out with the crowd to Michigan Avenue and walked for a bit, enjoying the revelry in the still-closed streets. In this part of the city, the Red line El is underground. You go down a huge flight of stairs, swipe your pass, down another flight of stairs and you’re on the platform. That night, the lines were up both flights of stairs and continued down the block. We decided to take the bus home.

We climbed on the first 22Clark bus that came along and managed to score seats. Beth departed at Delware St and I dozed as the bus headed north to Ravenswood. I had been texting with my (republican) friend Moes and we met up at Gio’s, the corner bar near my apartment. By then, I was really pooped and was ready for bed, but I had a Goose Island Matilda and swapped stories about the night with Moes. He’d been on Michigan Avenue as well, in the Hilton at the Young Republican party. He said it was a pretty lame sausage fest and left soon after Ohio went to Obama. That was when he knew it was over for McCain. We enjoyed our beers, the company at Gio’s and then I headed home to bed. What a great night! I woke up with a sinus infection, which I’m still battling, but it was totally worth it. Yes we did!


Ellobie said...

Thanks for hosting, Michelle! Poor Beth ended up sick as well - with strep throat.

What a fantastic night!

Ellobie said...

Ooo, and awesome:

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