I guess I hadn't dared to truly hope - even just as the polls were closing on election night I wasn't a true believer.
Not the kind of hope that I saw at Tuesday night's Hutchinson Field rally where President-elect Barack Obama held court for only about 200,000 of his loyal admirers.
The kind of hope that weeks ago spurred young and old, black and white, men and women, to place massive orders for T-shirts of various sizes, colors, and designs then haul those shirts - and baseball caps and buttons - in large heavy boxes to the corners lining Grant Park to cash in on a piece of history at what was arguably the center of the universe last night. They were the true believers.
Along with them were the true believers who made up the crowd that President Obama called out to in his acceptance speech:
"Rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."
The people streaming down the sidewalks on that gorgeous summer-like night like it was the Taste of Chicago, the World Cup, and a victorious Bears game all mixed together believed - they'd practically declared victory at 7:15pm and were just waiting for the big hoot-n-holler.
The reporters and photographers packed in the press pool - from all over the world, speaking languages I could neither understand nor identify - some literally sitting on the grassy ground with their laptops and smart phones revved up to chronicle every (by 9pm-ish) anti-climactic moment leading up to the big speech ... they believed.
But I was incredulous. Me - the Queen of the Colorblind. I drank it all in, cracking wise about the "inevitability narrative" I'd been witnessing on the jumbo TV for several hours. I understood, but I didn't really believe.
Then, after the prayers, and the pledge, and the singing of our national anthem (a bit wobbly, I thought), when the announcer said, "Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the next first family of the United States," and the first Black President of the United States strode out onto the stage in front of a hushed press and an alternately roaring and quietly awe-struck crowd to say "Hello Chicago!" it hit me that it was for real - all the believers actually succeeded in believing this Presidency into being.
He started talking and we were all listening, processing, taking notes ... there was so much to scribble down and drink in:
·"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
·"We are and always will be the United States of America"
·"I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand."
·"Above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you."
That was inspiring and all, but then it happened. Obama said:
"America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century...what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can."
And with that, there, at the center of the universe, bearing witness to the most important historical event of my lifetime - I believed, too
Esther J. Cepeda is a Chicago columnist who spent the last two-years being "fair and balanced."
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