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Robert J. Elisberg

Robert J. Elisberg

Posted: November 4, 2008 11:09 PM

"Politics of Change" Just Changed More Than You Think


There is a famous phrase, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Well, tonight, there is a twist on that - because the more things stayed the same, the more things changed. Hold on a moment, I will explain.

Politics like symbols. This evening, a night of The Politics of Change - a night unlike any in the history of America - has brought with it a significant symbol, but it's not the one that is getting all the deserved attention. Because tonight, as 100,000 Chicagoans gathered all day in anticipation of hearing Barack Obama speak at Grant Park, a very different symbol of Politics of Change was never more poignant.

Back in 1968, America was a divided nation, in the midst of a war that was ripping apart the country. There were race riots throughout the country. The Democratic Party gathered in Chicago for its convention to pick its leader. At the same time, many thousands of protesters came to the city, to voice their anger at the wildly unpopular war.

The protesters applied for various permits to meet and begin their marches through the city to the convention site of the International Amphitheatre. Only one permit was given, however, and the masses gathered there, around the landmark band shell just outside the Loop, not far from the Hilton Hotel.

The Chicago Police force under Mayor Richard J. Daley and 6,000 National Guardsman were mobilized. More growing crowd headed for that band shell in the park and settled in for the night.

By Wednesday, August 28, an estimated 15,000 protestors had now gathered in the park. Listening to speeches. And then, they headed out to march to the International Amphitheatre. But they only had been give permits to rally - not march. Soon, all order fell apart, and a battle with police and the National Guard broke out. Protesters were clubbed, maced, arrested. Law officers attacked. It was a battle of chaos, showing viscerally a divided nation, the horror of it all was caught on television. And in its midst, a chant was born - "The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching."

The park where that began was Grant Park.

Tonight, 40 years later, 100,000 celebrants gathered at that same park. The band shell where the war protestors gathered is the one prepared for Barack Obama to speak from, in anticipation of his being elected President of the United States. And once again, the whole world is watching.

The same city. The same party. The same park. Yet another controversial war. A black man standing in the middle of a question of race. And heading the city of Chicago is a mayor named Richard M. Daley.

But none of it is really the same.

If you want to see the politics of change, there it is. If you want to see what a community organizer does, there it is. Except that in this case, the community is the United States of America.

There is still division in the country. But there is also far more healing. Despite the vocal, bitter anger of a small segment of the far right, the nation is not split down the middle. Democrats have a massive majority in the House. Democrats have a huge majority in the Senate. And Democrats will have the majority of one in the White House.

But know that Barack Obama did not run his campaign on a "Southern Strategy," or a strategy that attempted to divide the nation, in order to win. He ran a 50 state strategy. He ran a campaign that began with a speech that proclaimed, "We aren't Red States. We aren't Blue States. We are the United States of America."

And that is how he won. And that is the politics of change.

There are 100,000 people gathered in Grant Party peacefully celebrating the Democratic Party and honoring the United States of America.

And once again, the whole world is watching.