It's 12:45 am on the day after everything changed. It changed around 9:45 or so last night when a giant Wolf Blitzer, floating above our heads on the mega screen at the Obama Rally in downtown Chicago, said those improbable words: "Senator Barack Obama has been elected president." Even though we were expecting to hear this sooner rather than later, it still hit us like a cold shower on a hot day: "Senator Barak Obama has been elected president." Times Square on New Year's Eve; a bottom of the ninth home run to win the World Series couldn't have coaxed out the kind of primal cheer that news ripped from our throats, this sea of strangers who suddenly became best friends. The answer to the question: "where were you when Obama got elected president?" will be one those of us who were there last night will never forget. "We were there! We were in Grant Park with Barack Obama the night history was made."
Watch this video from the moment Obama won Pennsylvania. And this one from when Obama won the election.
None of us knew history would be made exactly that way when we made our way to
Grant Park last evening. We hoped. We prayed. But we weren't sure. That was part of what made us come. Not knowing. It's also what made all the waiting and standing worthwhile (a lot of waiting and standing), especially when the not knowing turned to knowing and the knowing was exactly what we wanted to know.
Everyone Belongs at This Table
During this election season I've been struck by the diversity of the crowds at the Obama/Biden rallies, much more so than you would see at McCain/Palin rallies where darker complexions seemed out of place. There was no "out of place" with an Obama/Biden crowd because everyone had a place at this table. And while in years past the con that "true Americans" were mostly one color could get passed off as legitimate, what the Obama campaign proved is that this is no longer true (as if it ever was). The true Americans who were there with us last night represented the whole patchwork of ethnicities, ages, economic status and education that give texture and definability to the unique country we are. No one was "more so" than anyone else. Even Oprah Winfrey, whose smiling visage appeared on the jumbo screen above us when the camera made a sweep of the crowd in front of the stage, was jammed in with sweaty bodies like the rest of us. It was that kind of event. Different stokes for different folks, but we were all just folks. True Americans all.
I asked some of the people whose orbits crossed mine on various stages of our milling about what it was that brought them there. "Why," I said, "did you decide to spend the evening here when you could have been snug at home watching it on TV?" Martin Melius from Los Angeles, who works as a marketing executive for the radio personality, Steven Harvey, said: "I've never been so inspired by a presidential candidate before," which was my answer, too. The mother of a law student at the University of Illinois, whose son had attended the same school the Obama girls now attend in Hyde Park, said: "Obama is a transformative character. I think he's going to take our country to places it's never been before."
My favorite answer was from a guy my age (old, but not too old to rock n roll) named Jim Ruby. Jim is from north Chicago working in a business that probably isn't doing so well these days. He's in the mortgage business. Jim said that what turned him on to Obama was reading his book on a beach in Mexico some time back. "Here's a guy who has a vision, a plan that makes sense," he said to his wife. "He's got to be our next president."
He Really Is our Next President
And now he is. That's the incredible thing that few of us can yet get through our heads, the thing that caused us to cheer when Pennsylvania fell Obama's way; cheer a little louder when Michigan and Ohio and even Virginia fell the same way; cheer the loudest when Wolf said what he did about this skinny guy from Chicago who inspires with his charisma and calm, re-assuring presence: "Senator Barak Obama has been elected president."
It's now 2:35 on the morning after everything changed. Time to head for bed. But I'm afraid I'm not going to sleep very well. I never do when my mind is working overtime. And it's in full gear right now. I still can't believe I was there when everything changed.