Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 4th, 2008: Part Three

I think that I took my first breath of that evening after CNN called Ohio for Obama. It was pretty well known among the crowd at Grant Park that - as long as that projection remained valid - Obama was going to be elected. With one swift move, the drama that had surrounded the outcomes in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana had dissipated. They were now all completely and totally irrelevant. Maybe this ought to tell us something about the nature of the Electoral College. Either way, having lost both Pennsylvania and Ohio, McCain's path to the White House had now been blocked.

By this time, also, R.A. and I were starting to get quite cold. Our butts were wet from the grass, and our legs were starting to get cramped. Or at least mine were. Anyways, the point is that we decided that now was as good of a time as any to go for a walk. The crowd that we had been a part of had begun to disperse a bit, and so we wandered towards the south side of Grant Park, closer to where the ticket-holders had been roped off from the rest of non-ticket-holding proles.

As we neared the area where Obama would be giving what was becoming more and more likely his victory speech, the atmosphere became more and more festival-like. There were wall-sized portraits of the candidate along the walk-ways, vendors hocking Obama and "I Was There" t-shirts (Viva la Capitalisme!), and local youth hanging from the trees trying to get a fleeting glimpse of the still-distant stage. Eventually, we hit that point in the crowd/ potential gigantic mosh-pit where we could no longer push our way forward, and had to settle with standing on our tip-toes and peering over the shoulders of the people in front of us at the news-cameras and enormous video screens.

I remember that, at about this point, my cell phone rang. I picked up, but, at that same moment, CNN called Virginia for Obama. It was impossible to talk or to hear anything over that noise. As I was shouting in vain over the phone, the decibel level rose by several degrees. The polls on the West Coast had just closed: Obama was officially the winner.

I feel like I have spent my fair share of time in large crowds. I've been to protests, concerts, sports events. I even spent hours in a crowd of several tens of thousands of people in Rome waiting for the Pope to come out and bless us all so we could go home. (The last Pope, not the German one now; he gives me the willies.) But this experience was completely different. Hundreds of thousands of people- packed into a relatively small space - all erupting at once with joy and jubilation. People were crying and hugging and high-fiving and dancing. Some of the dancing was pretty hilarious. But it was a strange atmosphere, very calm and a little aphrodisiacal, made even more so, I think, by Obama's cool-headed and somber speech.

It felt a lot like a rock concert or festival, at least in terms of the magnitude of energy. But even those events have a kind of pent-up (youthful) agression to them, however upbeat and optimistic they might try to be. At Grant Park, there was a good deal of anxiety and trepidation, at least at first, along with a whole lot of silent, black helicopters, spy planes, mounted cops, and hidden snipers. But at the end, after Obama said good-night, loitered on the stage for a bit with his family and the Bidens, and then disappeared, there was just a feeling of relief and tired euphoria. Smileyness, maybe.

And then there was this moment of, "What next?" Everybody just kind of turned and walked home. It wasn't a "march," per se, but there was just such large amount of mass that, as we left the park, we occupied all of Michigan Avenue and State Street, halting traffic throughout most of downtown Chicago for a good long time - it felt like hours, but probably wasn't. There was some sporadic cheering and chanting and quite a bit of honking of horns and high-fiving car passengers. R.A. took some pictures, and then we went to a weird little bar/ diner on State Street for some drinks, and to wait for the crowds to thin out enough so that we could get on the Red Line and go home. Inside, there was that same feeling of exhausted glee.

When we got back to Roscoe Village, I immediately checked the results online, and was pleased to see that Obama had won Indiana.

1 comment:

Alicia said...

That was pretty much the same "what next" that happened in grant park after lollapalooza. afterwards you have an event-hangover and you can't do anything to cure it.