Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I was there

AlmaI had planned to throw a pizza party on Election Night, but on Monday two of my coworkers volunteered their plus-one passes to the rally in Grant Park. I spent my lunch hour finding a babysitter, retracting my party invitations and logging onto CNN and Huffington Post for the latest news.

I voted early Tuesday morning and spent the day at work giddy with excitement and the caffeine from my free cup of Starbucks coffee. My downtown office closed early so I was able to spend time with my kids before begging our neighbor's teenager to come over soon so we could make it to the rally. We'd planned on meeting my friends at 8:00 since the gates were scheduled to open at 8:30, but the rally organizers started letting supporters in a little after six.

Josh and I jogged to the El and made it downtown around 7:30. Finding Casey, who is 6 feet tall, is usually a cinch, but we struggled, text-messaging and calling, through the tightly packed throngs before finally meeting up near the front of the line.

Security wasn't as tight as we'd heard it might be. Although we were asked to have them out and ready, IDs weren't given more than a cursory glance as we moved from one gate to the next.

AlmaaAt 8:30 we were in Grant Park. The mood was celebratory as we'd just heard Pennsylvania had gone blue. When the news from Ohio came in, spirits lifted even higher. Strangers were updating each other with news feeds from their iPhones and admiring each others' Obama apparel. The jumbotron was tuned to CNN and as the crowd watched, cheering as projections came in for Obama and jeering states that went for McCain.

At 10 o'clock Chicago time the polling places in California, Oregon and Washington closed and Barack Obama was declared our next president. The crowd went wild, hugging, kissing, clapping and crying before quieting down to listen to John McCain's concession speech.

I haven't recited the Pledge of Allegiance since the fourth grade, but at 10:30 PM I was saying those familiar, sober words alongside 200,000 others on a crisp, beautiful evening in my favorite city. There were tears in my eyes, but they were tears of joy.

I've never felt so proud to be an American.

Alma_3_3Since we'd promised our babysitter we'd be home before midnight, Josh and I left Grant Park midway through Obama's speech. We could still hear his inspiring worlds as we walked toward Michigan Avenue, passing the opportunistic vendors of bootleg "Obama, Commander in Chief" and "Yes He Did" t-shirts, buttons and posters.

As we headed for the El, I felt like I was leaving the frustration and turmoil of the Bush years behind and entering a new era.

I felt hope.