YES, WE DID!
Grant Park was destined to be the scene of another historic moment, as it was selected by Barack Obama to be the scene of a celebration on the night of the election on November 4, 2008. The decision was made before anyone knew who the winner would be in the choice between Obama and John McCain. The anxious people in the crowd at the park awaited word of which states would give their electoral votes to Obama and which would not.
It was a sea of humanity, thousands of people, yet it was a night of smiles and camaraderie. It was as though each person was aware of the common problems facing Americans, brothers and sisters awaiting word on just which Candidate would steer our country through the next tumultous years.
Each state that Obama won brought cheers of joy. When the news came that he had won California, Pennsylvania and Florida, states with large numbers of electoral votes, the cheers became a roar. People began dancing and leaping with joy. It was a moment of jubilation! The longest campaign in the history of American elections and, finally, it was over. Obama had won. He was the President Elect of the United States. He and Joe Biden had defeated John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin.
Then began the longest wait, the interminable time between the announcement and the appearance of the Presidential nominee. The band doggedly played their tunes. The night sky darkened, lit only by the city lights lending their glow to the sky.
Finally, Obama appeared, a slim, tall man, not jubilant with victory, but sober and concerned with the road ahead, the first Black President of the United States! The crowd roared with excitement, but when Obama began to speak, a hushed silence came over the crowd. He spoke simply and quietly, thanked everyone concerned, thanked his running mate, his staff, his wife and children, and the people who had dug up $5, $10, $25 to finance his campaign. He thanked those voters who had come to the polls to stand for as long as five to eight hours in order to vote. Then he spoke of the responsibility he would have in trying to correct the failing economy, create jobs, do all of the things he had promised to do during his campaign. He warned that progress might be slow, that it would not be an easy task. Again and again, he emphasized his favorite phrase, "Yes, we can!"
It was quite a touching moment, this still young, slender Black man standing alone on an enormous stage, the weight of the world descending to his shoulders, the burdens of a failing economy, two wars, terrible relations with Russia, even more terrible relations with Iran, National Security, joblessness, millions losing homes and falling into poverty and bankruptcy.....all of this fell on the shoulders of this one man like a black cloud hovering in the silvery darkness of the sky. He spoke of hope. He spoke of determination. He spoke of the responsibility of each and every one of us. There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd. Some cried openly. Some hid their tears behind uplifted hands. Some sniffled into their handkerchiefs. Some wiped tears from their eyes. They were tears of joy and tears of sympathy for this young man who had promised to deliver hope to our doorsteps and was determined to do just that!
That scene in Grant Park will be long remembered, a moment of hushed excitement. In the halls of the area newspapers, the morning editions were put together, and again, long lines formed as people scrambled to buy them. I have lived through many elections, but I have never seen a time when one could not buy a newspaper, but newspapers in Chicago were in short supply that day!
It isn't often that one can claim to have participated in a moment of historic importance. I found the excitement in Chicago to be reminiscent of D-Day, when the promise for the end of a long war was announced. Perhaps, in a way, we have been involved in a war, a war against oppression, of invented wars, of failing economy, of balloon mortgages, and all of the ugliness of these past years. We have emerged exultant. We have won the War. We have embarked on a hopeful journey of Change. We have accomplished a miracle that no one believed could happen in our country today, placed a Black man in the White House! Great day! Americans no longer bear the burden of being called racist bigots or aggressive bullies. We did it. Yes, we can....and yes, we did!