We got a brand new president. Attending the Election Night festivities in Grant Park in downtown Chicago was pretty much the most exciting thing I've ever been a part of. A year later, I still remember the palpable tension in the air that day. I was worried that the buzz about Obama was giving me false hope, that I was getting a skewed vision of reality because I lived in Chicago, in Hyde Park, in a little Obama bubble. I spent the day on the edge of my seat, literally and metaphorically. It was nerve-wracking. I remember getting up at 6am to wait in line for three hours to vote. I was so very very tired but excited to be there. I remember going to the Walgreens on 55th street, affectionately known around these parts as the "Obama Walgreens" (called that because it looks like an Obama fan club exploded in there. For example, there you can purchase, among other things, a toothbrush with Obama's face on it) to buy an Obama/Biden t-shirt. While we were standing in line to purchase our shirts, the cashier got on the intercom and joked "A customer would like to know where he can purchase a McCain/Palin t-shirt" and the entire store burst into laughter, boos, and chants of "Obama for President!" I remember going to class for four hours and literally not being able to sit still. I had my laptop open to CNN, Huffington Post, Gallup, and a myriad of other websites checking stats all day long. It was impossible to pay attention and learn anything. The prof for my 4pm class finally took pity on us and let everyone leave early. I remember the clusterfuck of trying to get downtown with our group and making sure that everyone had a ticket and their allotted "guest" so that we could all get in to the park.
Once we got into the park, it was just madness. There were astronomically long lines to get through several different and increasingly intense security lines. We were allowed to bring in a camera and personal effects but no food or water or anything that looked even remotely dangerous. We went through one checkpoint where they checked our tickets and made sure everyone was allowed and accounted for. We were funneled in to another long set of lines where they checked our tickets again. A third line fed us through airport-style metal detectors and past secret service officers who personally checked every purse, bag, and backpack that was going into the park. The security was intense. I've never felt so safe. Everyone was so very calm and rational. There was no pushing, no anger or frustration. We were all patiently waiting and watching. While standing in lines we kept receiving texts and news from the outside world. Polls have closed in New York. He took North Carolina. Florida is looking good. The excitement was mounting. The crowd parted, literally parted, for an elderly man with a walker and a girl on crutches to pass. I have never seen people act so civil and calm. I had friends who said that they didn't want to go to Grant Park because they were scared of what might happen if he didn't win. What about riots? It could be dangerous. I'd rather watch it from home. To that I simply responded "But what if he does win?"
Let me tell you, it was totally worth it. It was worth it to get the news at exactly 10pm when CNN called California and to hear the loudest and most jubilant celebratory yelling and commotion you could possibly imagine. That incredible crowd scene in Grant Park that CNN kept panning? That was me. I was there. It was incredible in every respect of the word. It was amazing to see elderly African American ladies with tears streaming down their faces because they just didn't believe this day would come. To see white college students hi-fiving African American men who looked like they might belong to the Black Panthers. To see people of all different races and social classes celebrating our common victory. To SEE Obama and hear his acceptance speech IN PERSON. Fist pumps and back-clapping abounded. There was not a dry eye in the park.
I remember walking back to the Metra through the streets of Chicago. They had shut down Michigan Avenue and people were just streaming down the four lane street. There was whooping, hollering, laughing and cheering. Everyone was so civil and so happy. I remember thinking "this can't be real. It was so easy. He won." I woke up the next day half convinced that I had dreamed it all. A year later, it still seems like the best dream ever.