**UPDATED** with a new video from my friend Paul (see below!)
The day started early. I got up, got dressed, and walked to my polling place to vote.
It was a beautiful Autumn day. It was warm and the sun was shining. It had to be 70 degrees already at 9:30 in the morning. Perfect day to vote. There was something special in the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I just knew that this was going to be an historic, amazing day.
When I got to the polling place, as expected, there was quite a long line. I figured I’d wait an hour, maybe an an hour and a half. So I put on the iPod and waited.
After a few minutes, one of the judges came out and asked if there was anyone there voting for Precinct 14. I wasn’t sure, so I gave her my address and she went to check. When she came back, she informed me that I was in Precinct 14 and that my line was inside. INSIDE! That meant a short line. So I followed her in, and sure enough, I walked right up to the table. Sweet!
I got my ballot and filled it out, making sure to be extra careful when I drew in the arrow for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. I completed the ballot, gave it to the judge, got my receipt and I was on my way.
I was going to go with a friend to a bar to watch the election results, but just before I left for work, I found out that he got a chance to go to the Obama Rally with someone else, so I was feeling left out. I had registered for a ticket over a week ago, but I never heard anything, so I figured I wasn’t going to get one. So I made a tentative plan to go to the overflow rally — or, as I called it, the “steerage section,” after work. It was better than nothing, and I’d still get the experience of being there.
As I left for work, I decided not to bring my camera with me. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen that night, and I didn’t want to lug my camera around if I had no reason to use it.
Work was pretty slow – everyone had the election on their minds, but we still had work to do. I was feeling kind of bummed because I had no plans for that night to watch the election results.
At about 1:45PM I checked my home Email, and I saw a letter from “Democratic Party” that was titled, “Your Printable Election Night Ticket.” I jumped out of my chair. “OH MY GOD! I got a ticket!” I started singing “I Got A Golden Ticket” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I couldn’t help it. I was so excited! I clicked on the Email, printed it out, and from there the day went super-fast.
I Emailed some friends and found that they, too, were going to the rally, so I planned to meet up with them and we’d all walk over.
We met up, ate at Jimmy John’s, and walked to Grant Park en masse. Along the way we met up with other friends and they joined us. It felt like this impromptu parade through downtown Chicago. All along the way we met other Obama supporters in T-shirts, buttons and other paraphenalia, and we grew more and more excited.
As we neared Michigan Ave. and Congress Parkway, the official entrance to the rally, we could see how huge the crowds were growing. We had no idea just how huge it really was.
There were numerous security checkpoints. The first was at the entrance, where they checked tickets and IDs. The next was, I guess, and Electronics checkpoint. All electronics had to be turned on and visible. Once through there, we were herded into holding areas, and kept in groups of maybe 200 or so at a time. Finally, after 3 or 4 checkpoints, we made it to the metal detectors.
Once past the detectors, we were in. And we high-tailed it to the rally area. We picked our spot on one of the softball diamonds and stood firm. We guessed we were about a football field’s length away from the stage or more. We could clearly see the actual stage when we got there, but surely that would change as time went on.
The crowd kept filtering in, and a palpable sense of excitement was in the air. Straight ahead, next to the stage, was a massive Jumbotron screen, where coverage from CNN was playing. As states were announced, the crowd erupted in cheers or loud boos. But clearly we could tell that Obama was already well in the lead.
Suddenly I heard a woman’s voice shout, “RICK! RICK!” I turned, and I saw my friend Amanda approaching me. How she found me in that enormous crowd I will NEVER know, but I was SO happy to see her! We hugged and she told me she was there alone, so she stayed with the rest of our group throughout the night. I had invited my friend Garrett to come along with me as my “plus one.” Garrett recently moved to Chicago to go to Architectural school at IIT, so I figured this would be a wonderful chance of a lifetime for him to enjoy this historic moment.
The crowd grew even more enormous. There were people as far as the eye could see. And we were all there to witness history- together. We struck up conversations with complete strangers, trading stories and expressing our excitement over what was to come hopefully very soon.
And then, it came. At 10:00 PM Central time, Wolf Blitzer was on the screen, counting down the seconds before the West coast polls closed. And when they did, it was announced that Barack Obama was elected President.
The pandemonium was amazing. Cheering, crying, hugging, screaming, jumping, clapping, fist-jabbing and chanting “YES WE DID!” and “O-BA-MA!” It was the most exhilirating experience of my life.
This video is from my friend, Paul Mumberger. Watch it… and live that moment with us. It was AMAZING:
Then, of course, it came time to hear from Obama himself. When he arrived it was just amazing. And his speech was so wonderful. And as I looked around the field, I could see people hugging, crying, and holding their heads in amazement. We all had to be thinking the same thing: This is HISTORY. This is a life-changing, WORLD-changing moment, and we are HERE to witness it. Nothing like this has ever happened before, and nothing will ever happen like it again. It was hard to contain the tears of joy.
After the speech, we began to file out of Grant Park. But the excitement of the crowd never diminished. We walked toward Michigan Avenue, which had been closed off completely to traffic, so everyone walked down the street. It was a parade of joy. Black, white, hispanic, and all colors. Families, men, women, gay, straight, lesbian, bi and trans. Young and old. Some in wheelchairs. Some with babies and small children. Every single person was cheering and smiling. The noise echoed from the ground to the buildings above us. And as they went down side streets to catch trains and buses, the canyons reflected the cheers and chants. It was the biggest, loudest, most amazing parade, and everyone was featured. This was our time and our celebration. And celebrate, we did.
Chicago witnessed an historic moment that night. We were witnesses to Change. And change is a powerful and beautiful thing. O Happy Day!