Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"nothing like watching CNN with 125,000 of my best friends"

It's hard to describe being in Grant Park last night for Barack Obama's victory rally. Apparently there were 125,000 people (likely many more) in and around the area, and we knew there was going to be a crowd, but as Jazz said last night, it was really hard to fathom just what that many people would be like until we actually experienced it. The event was not for the claustrophobic.

As I said yesterday, the grad student and her friend were saving our spots in line. It was publicized that they'd open the gates at 8:30 p.m., but actually started letting people in much earlier, when I was still at work and Jazz was still at Obama headquarters. So we grabbed something from the deli and headed down Michigan Avenue.

Right away I felt the anticipation collecting in a bubble above everyone walking south together toward Grant Park. We saw what looked like a whole lot of people in front of the Congress Hotel, but that was nothing compared with everyone in the neverending line into Hutchinson Field.

There were several checkpoints. As soon as the field came to view, we joined a bunch of people running toward it, which ended up being a gigantic up-and-downhill detour that put us way behind a tightly packed mass of people waiting to go through metal detectors. And that line was BRUTAL—for good part of it, an older woman with a big blond bouffant was leaning on H and I. At one point we were about five feet from Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers, who posed for somebody's iPhone with a lowkey thumbs up. Jazz led us into open pockets, but really there wasn't much to do but stand and wait. And wait and stand. And wait.

When we gained entry, the rally was broadcasting CNN on the jumbotron. We made our way to a spot with an okay view of the screen, the tent and the podium and a fantastic view of the back of an 8-foot-tall man in a brown corduroy jacket. But no one else wanted to stand behind him, so we had plenty of breathing/stretching room.

During the wait, people were restless and at times concerned (especially about Virginia); some were reporting results from their handheld gadgets. But as time passed, it became clear which way this election was going to go and the energy started to build. The uproar was probably at its peak when CNN called the election: People were hugging each other, cheering and wiping their eyes. And the buzz was infectious. The overhead cameras pointed at us several times during the evening, so if you were watching any television coverage of the masses in Grant Park, you probably saw a sliver or two of us.

A Bishop said a prayer, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and this woman sang the National Anthem—unfortunately she used some incorrect words, so the crowd joined in to help her out. It's amazing that someone asked to sing at an event like this wouldn't drill the lyrics into her memory, but I'm sure she was very nervous up there.

When the President-elect finally took the podium, he looked as exhausted as my feet felt. Barack Obama had everyone's rapt attention. There were chants of "Yes we can," "Yes, we did," and a whole lot of cheering, but the vibe in there was mostly that of solemn pride in the historic moment brought about by a lot of individuals who got up off their couches and did something about their dissatisfaction:
"If there is anyone who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

I'd say the best part of the evening was actually leaving Grant Park, and not just because my body was screaming to sit down. Michigan Avenue was PACKED—the city had closed it from Illinois St. down to Cermak, and I could never have imagined the street so completely full of people. Not only that, but the streets going west were also completely jammed, and cheers traveled up and down in waves. The fools in cars trying to crawl up the underground parking ramp realized before too long that, for those hours after the rally, the streets were owned by the pedestrians (for once!). They weren't going anywhere, so some of them climbed out of their vehicles and joined in the festivities.

The nearly one-mile trek from Congress Parkway to our condo took about 45 minutes, but we were lazily strolling along past the flag-waving, hooting, honking, dancing on the medians—one red-headed guy with a pretty good operatic voice was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs to applause.

And there didn't seem to be any troublemakers (it probably helped that nobody was drunkenly obnoxious). For the most part, the police were standing by and taking it all in, too. I left my brother a message saying that being on Michigan Avenue right then, with all those people so happy to just be there, felt as though all the sports teams in Chicago won the championship on the same night.

It's amazing what can happen when you get a whole lot of people together to make something happen. I just hope the momentum of this election is not lost in the future when we realize that our nation's problems are not going to be a fast or easy fix. The new guy is going to need even more support to get the job done in the next four years. But something about being there amid all that energy made me feel a teensy bit little less scared about what's to come than I had been the day before.


The crowd as it leaves Hutchinson Field on November 4, 2008.

See more pictures people took during the rally here.

14 comments:

Lia said...

I thought of you last night as I listened to the reports of the rally. Knowing you were there made me feel a teeny bit closer to being present as history was being made.

Anonymous said...

Great report. Should go right into the Cadiz Hall of Fame.

What an historic moment - and you were there!

cadiz12 said...

more pics (and maybe something else) to come!

Noelle said...

That's a great re-cap! I wish I could have been there, or in any major city last night.

omar said...

We looked for you guys on TV all night, but didn't see you. :)

I was also following you guys on Twitter. So thanks!

Teej said...

Awesome. I'm so glad that you guys got to experience that event in person, Cadiz.

Anonymous said...

Your right it is very much like when the Chicago White Sox Won the World Series 2005. It also had a lasting effect, every time we talked about it we would get goose bumps for the following year. I know that we will get great reslults from Obama in the next 4 years.

Librarian Girl said...

I totally thought of you when I was watching CNN!

velocibadgergirl said...

I looked at looked for you in the crowd once I saw your Twitters last night, but alas, never saw you.

I'm simultaneously jealous that you were there and just pumped that someone I sort of know was there :D

Sphincter said...

OMG. Wah-frickin'-HOO! Thanks for the firsthand report!

SupaCoo said...

I got the tingles reading this!!

Mr. Toast said...

You were there in person to experience one of the most historic moments of our lifetime! Totally awesome!!

Eclectic Bride said...

Dude, if a sports team had won, someone would have been setting something on fire...

Rozanne said...

Thanks for the excellent first-hand report! I lived in Chicago for most of my life (moved away in 2001)--I can't imagine most of Michigan Avenue closed down! How great.