Tired as hell, in the middle of moving apartments, with strep throat on its way to wreak havoc with my sleeping schedule and two different sets of midterms to grade, the decision to make my way downtown not knowing what time I would be back was an easy one: it's not often you can be witness to history in the making.
What follows is a bunch of scattered notes and thoughts from the night of November 4, 2008.
We (the WTB and myself) headed down to the Congress Hotel on Michigan and Congress, which is situated right opposite Grant Park. A few of my friends from U of C had a room at the hotel, from where we could get a bird's eye view of the massive throngs of people in the area. Here's a picture my friend Sarah took from the room.
You will notice people basically walking east on Congress Parkway toward Grant Park. To get a better idea of the geography of the area, here's a map.
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This throng of people were basically the petty commoners, who did not have official tickets to attend the event. The picture above excludes the much bigger crowd to the south, that was making its way to the "proper" event. From my understanding, the Democratic Party provided only 60,000 tickets (with invitations to bring a friend or something). Those who had the tickets got to stand in the general vicinity of Obama. Those who didn't (like us) got to stand in front of the many giant screens placed all around Grant Park. The people you see in the picture above were all, like us, petty commoners. Sans-culottes, if you will. The picture below shows the line(s) to get into the main event, again taken by my friend Sarah who actually had a ticket.
When we made our way onto Congress Pkwy (the WTB, Lindsey, and myself) to find a good spot close to one of those big screen TVs, some breaking news was on the way. In particular, we were on the main walkway when we heard a LOUD roar. "Well, looks like they called it," I said. Sure enough, it was at that precise moment that CNN made its now-famous call. I couldn't get a great picture of the crowd in front of me, but I tried my best. It's come out a little shaky, but it'll have to do.
From the direction this picture is taken, we headed a little bit forward (i.e. east) and a little bit to the right (i.e. south) and nestled into a pretty good spot where we could watch and hear the rest of CNN's coverage for the night.
The air was filled with, at various times, expectancy, hope, confidence, jubilation, and - of course - pot.
A couple of commendations. First of all, to the massive crowds who had gathered for the night. There had to be around 500,000 people all told in the area. Yet everyone was well behaved, there was surprisingly little alcohol-related nonsense (to the extent that I thought, incorrectly as it turned out, that the police had forced bars and liquor stores to stop business at some pre-determined hour), and everyone was simply in good spirits (as you might expect). But good spirits can sometimes lead to widespread destruction, and the crowd didn't fall into that trap.
Second, to the city of Chicago and the law enforcement agencies. Security measures were almost non-existent, and yet no one felt unsafe. Everything was run smoothly. The CTA ran as many trains as needed (particularly important at the end of the night). Basically nothing went wrong, when there was the potential for so much to go wrong. So kudos to the city.
There were so many feel-good moments just standing there that I cannot recall them all. I saw a woman simply breaking down and crying on her boyfriend's/husband's shoulder. I saw a single mom approach a stranger (alright, me) to ask to lift her daughter on her shoulders so the little girl could actually see the big screen TV. I saw more smiles, hugs, and random jumping and down than I've ever seen in my life. It was just an uplifting experience to be around so many people who were so happy at the same time. Again, this picture isn't perfect, but you will notice, I am sure, the couple in the center of the frame making out to their heart's content and the general euphoria the crowd feels.
The difference in reactions to the two crowds - the one in Chicago, and the one in Phoenix - to McCain's concession speech was so telling. When McCain spoke and congratulated Obama, the crowd in Phoenix booed. "Fucking rednecks," someone (alright, me) said. The Chicago crowd, on the other hand, graciously applauded on all of McCain's applause lines.
Now, of course, that distinction had something to do with the differences in moods between the crowds. But I contend it also had something to do with the makeup of the crowds, whereby the Phoenix crowd had been trained to think (by the McCain-Palin-Schmidt campaign) that an Obama presidency was the telltale sign of the apolocalypse itself. McCain looked so pathetic trying to calm them down and be gracious. Hey, asshole...you're the one who let the dogs out. Now live with it.
Before Obama came out, the big screens were showing shots of people in the main non-sans-culottes crowd. Oprah always got a big cheer. So did Jesse Jackson (and his crying engendered a lot of awwwws). I even saw a girl who I am sure is in the class I TA on Mondays. Seriously. Small world and all that.
When the Man Himself came out around 11pm local time - after a soaking-up-the-moment delay marked by random patriotic songs - I turned to Lindsey and asked "What's the over/under on the number of times he has to say "thank you" to get everyone to shut up?" I went with 25, Lindsey had 14. Given that he said some variant of the words "thank you" and "thank you so much" a full thirty two times during his convention speech during the summer, I thought I was I on pretty safe ground. Except, uh, I wasn't. Dude didn't say it even once; instead, he began with the words "Hello, Chicago!" and simply dived into his speech. Unbelievable. Thanks to this Muslim Terrorist Marxist Leninist Child Rapist's ingratitude, I am now poorer by $10.
The two loudest crowds I've ever been around have both been at cricket matches. The first was at the Pakistan-England match in Karachi during the World Cup of 1996. Chasing a smallish target, the crowd erupted every time Pakistan lost a wicket, mainly because they wanted to see local hero Javed Miandad bat in what was his swansong. Every wicket was greeted with cheers of "Ja-ved, Ja-ved!". The walls of the National Stadium shook that day.
The second outrageously loud crowd was also at Karachi, during a spell by Shoaib Akhtar against New Zealand in 2002 (for some reason, I can't find the scorecard from Cricinfo). If my memory serves me correctly, he either took for 6-12 or 6-19 in one of the most devastating spells of quick bowling you'll ever see. The crowd would rise to a crescendo as Shoaib ran in, and with the length of his run-up, it was quite the crescendo.
The point is this: the volume of the entire crowd at Grant Park when Obama walked out was to the volume of those cricket crowds what the winter in Chicago is to the winter in Karachi. I've never heard anything like it, and I'm pretty sure I'll never hear it again. Watching the same thing on YouTube simply doesn't transmit what a roaring crowd sounds like. It was such a powerful moment.
Anyway, here's a picture taken by Sarah of Obama speaking. Again, it's kind of blurry, but what're you going to do?
While he was speaking, I turned to the WTB and asked her if we (Pakistan) would ever have someone capable of bringing out crowds like this. Of course, as soon as I asked the question, I thought of BB, who brought out 150,000 people on the streets of Karachi the day she returned to Pakistan last fall. And then I thought of her dad, who was so inspirational that he got millions of people to vote for his daughter simply based on their shared name. Though I suppose the true test of ZAB's inspirational qualities will be if he can get this dipshit elected.
The crowd(s) streaming home:
Yes, he did.