It's 1:12am. 19 hours ago I woke up and cast my vote like so many other Americans. Now, I sit here eating dinner (finally) and drinking water (better to not drink then to keep running to the port-a-potties) and trying not to cry.
President Elect Barack Obama.
Say it again with me, President Elect Barack Obama.
Oh, it feels good. Like an answered prayer. Like the Christmas present you aren't quite sure you'll get under the tree. Like turning on the radio in the morning and knowing that your brothers in the military are under the care of a Commander-in-Chief you trust.
This morning I checked my email, and there was a message from friends in South Africa wishing us good luck in our election. To all my friends abroad, thanks for having faith in me and my country when over the past 8 years our President has caused you to doubt. May President Elect Obama renew relationships that foster true conversation and peace.
So, what was it like today? Tense. Actually, everyone was tense Monday, and all weekend, and last week. Chicago police were out in force, walking streets, standing alert, answering questions as people tried to figure out where to go for the rally. Universities and businesses closed early so that people could get home or get to the rally. What would happen with so many people in Grant Park? Would Obama be safe when he took the stage? Yet, despite the tension, people were polite and excited all day, hoping that another 2000 election would not occur. People (including me) walked around taking photos of t-shirts, signage, anything and everything.
My students all came to class at 9am (what!?!), and I thought of my first election back in 1992 when as a freshman at university, like my students, I cast my first vote-Bill Clinton. What an exciting and tense day.
Then the evening came, and the gates to Grant Park opened. Once we passed through three security points and a bag search, the whole crowd seemed to pulse with certainty. I lost one group of friends but found another. Sitting in front of the screen, we could watch the CNN projections come in (wish we could have watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at times...). People danced and shouted and talked. When would we find out about Virginia? Florida? How many polls reported in Ohio? When would Obama come on? People in great t-shirts posing for photos. Children dancing or sleeping.
Then, the numbers started getting serious and BAM, totally unexpected, CNN projects Barack Obama the next President of the United States. There was a moment of shock, I think, when I felt like shaking my head to clear it from the fog. Really? So soon? It’s only 10:30pm. Are they sure? Then people started shouting and jumping and crying. This was really happening. I felt shock, awe, relief--so many things.
Then McCain came on the screen and the race ended. My first thought: thank goodness, no more Sarah Palin. Send her back to Alaska where she can watch Russia from her house.
The crowd danced some more, and sent furious text messages. The camera panned to Oprah in the crowd. Terry Moran (co-anchor for ABC News' Nightline) interviewed Tim about how he felt when he heard the news (they must have seen him jump for joy). Tim was right when he said that he found the faces of people amazing. So many people were crying tears of joy and hope and relief.
Then, Barack Obama came on and gave a speech that made me feel how lucky we are to have elected him, to have chosen him to try to fix messes not of his making. The crowd listened and responded and cried again. yes yes yes. Finally, hope and change and trust.
Then, the hundreds of thousands of us filed out and into the empty downtown streets. We walked up Michigan Avenue where people laughed and high-five'd each other. People sang songs and laid in the street smiling. Police sat on horses and walked the streets, and we just walked and took photos of our lovely city in its jubilation. We even had an Obama-mask man climb a light pole and wave to the crowds and a man sing "Goodbye Georgie Bush." Without much trouble, we caught a bus and sped right on home.
So, here I am. In August, I went to Springfield, and I stood with 30,000 people in the scorching heat while people grew crabby from heat and lack of water but still maintained their excitement for the Biden VP announcement. Tonight, on an unseasonably warm November Tuesday, I experienced the same sense of history as in August. However, tonight trumps it all in every way.
Here's to January 20, 2009 and an inauguration worth celebrating.
In peace and love,