Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=103883
Story Retrieval Date: 3/7/2014 3:13:23 PM CST
Chicago threw the nation a whale of a party Tuesday night to celebrate the election of Barack Obama. Young and old, black, Latino and white, voters and non-voters gathered in and around Grant Park. Here's what the scene was like there and elsewhere around the city
‘Did everybody vote?’
Patricia Hill, executive director of the African-American Police League, was reflecting on the election and its potential impact on African-Americans.
“Blacks can vote for a black man or a black woman,” the retired Chicago police officer says, referring to Barack Obama and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney.
“One would have to have lived under a rock to not understand the significance of that.”
“It took [African-Americans] 500 years to get to this point, where there is an African-American on the ballot with a major party,” Hill says. “It will probably take another 500 [years] to straighten out everything else. No one can wave a magic wand and make social ills disappear.”
Hill, an adjunct professor at Northeastern Illinois University, says her class on the police and its relationship with minority communities will meet at its normal time on election night.
“My first question will be, ‘Did everybody vote?’”
Election? What election?
As crowds enter the gates of Grant Park, 17-year-old student Wyatt Greff sells sandwiches at the entrance with two friends. Among the many enthusiasts, he is one of the few unmoved by the election. “It’s not something I know about,” Graff says. “I’m only here to sell sandwiches to people who are hungry and to make money.”
Stories for her grandchildren
People smile, take pictures and chat with strangers as they walk past the corner of State Street and Jackson Street toward the rally just before 7 pm.
Brenda Bell of Beverly’s attitude matches her upbeat surroundings. She says when she left work that day, she overheard a janitor say that McCain was leading in electoral votes.
“No way, no sir, we are claiming victory,” Bell says she told the janitor.
But the Chicago Public Schools community organizer says coming to the rally wasn’t a given for her.
“If it was up to me, I would be at home in Beverly, but this is a history-making event and I have grandchildren and I want to tell all of them this story.”
Entering the maelstrom
Near the Indian statues of the Bowman and the Spearman at the intersection of East Congress Parkway and S. Michigan Avenue there’s an initial entrance where you have to show your ticket. It’s 7:30 and officials are already letting people in even though they said that they would not let anyone enter before 8:30 p.m.
I have gone through two checkpoints already and the third is coming up. At the first, they check to see if you have a ticket and at the second they check to see if you have a bag they need to look through. Finally, you reach a huge crowd on S. Columbus Drive, milling around while waiting to go through metal detectors.
Tons of people are on their cell phones and iPhones, updating attendees in real-time. Cheering breaks out when states are called for Obama.
'I hope he doesn’t change'
Tyrone Boulware and Daniel Davis, who didn’t have tickets for the official party, attempt to break from the crazed mass and access the park from a different avenue. Even away from the crowd, Boulware’s words are interrupted by ruptures of enthusiasm. The only intelligible sound among them is “Obama.”
“Obama’s for change, but I just hope he himself doesn’t change,” Boulware says.
The 51-year-old disabled veteran said he hopes Obama sticks to his priorities.
“He talks about getting out of Iraq but there are just other things to do first,” he said.
The paparazzi love her
Marilyn Bajorak is Britney Spears for the night, or so it seems with the crowd of cameras snapping away at her concession stand. Dressed in red, white and blue with her partner in crime, Bajorak is selling soda, Gatorade and water rally goers. But unlike her celebrity counterpart, she’s not having much luck in sales. “We’re hoping to get closer,” she said. “We brought a radio.”
Not everyone at Grant Park Tuesday night supports Barack Obama, Trimain Young, 27, from Cabrini-Green came to protest the event as a member of the Revolutionary Club, a group that calls for major societal change to solve problems like poverty and discrimination.
"We basically think we need Communism," Young says.
Young sees no hope for change from Obama in what he sees as a hypocritical system.
"I don't knock him as a man," Young said, "but he's a member of the system. I don't see how he's different than Thomas Jefferson. "
Hoping for an ‘attitude shift’
A faint crackle and then “Obama took Pennsylvania.” Ryan Flesher, a 40-year-old painter, is receiving election updates on a transistor radio.
“We live without a TV, and we use our radio everyday, which is locked on NPR,” he said. “Everything is either online or radio.”
Flesher said he is planning on receiving the news that Obama won on his radio tonight. He hopes for what he calls an attitude shift.
“This country was founded on good ideals, and we want to return to that,” he added.
If the result is what he hopes for, Flesher said: “People will cry. People will scream. We’re going to unveil our banner that says ‘happier days are here.’”
Heading to Afghanistan
The crowd was rushing past Ryan Gabe, 24, as he chatted on his cell phone on the corner of Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. Gabe, an army mechanic, said he will probably be deployed to Afghanistan in the next year.
“This is going to be my commander-in-chief,” he said. “Obama’s going to make it better for us and he is going to bring us home.”
'We’re here for as long as it takes'
Over in the non-ticketed area at Grant Park, Kathy Soto sits on a blanket with two friends.
“Everybody out here is like one organism it’s so powerful,” Soto says. “All of Chicago is here for their guy. Everyone is patient. We’re in no rush. We’re here for as long as it takes. I just wanted to be part of this history.”
Jessica Schwarzkops, 28, also saw the rally as a historical moment. Did she think the crowd would get crazy if Obama won?
“I think it will be crazy if he loses,” she says
Obama a perfect fit
The economy may be suffering by capitalism is alive and well at Grant Park. Entrepreneurs are selling Obama t-shirts, bottled water and Gatorade every other block. They are shouting out, “Straight from Obama’s fridge, I have his bottled water.”
A group of girls from DePaul University is selling t-shirts for WarmBlankets.org, a charity that tries to find homes for orphans. Sima Gandhi, 18, from Libertyville, says, “I like his policy on the environment and abortion rights.”
Laura Devlin, a mother from DuPage County, is here with her daughter Kate Smock, 15, and her friend Paige Collins, 16. The children are too young to vote, but both teens have Obama t-shirts on. Collins says, “I don’t want Palin anywhere running me.”
Hillary voter for Obama
Gilbert Negron, 33, came to Grant Park Tuesday night to celebrate the success of the candidate who inspired him to cast his first ballot.
Negron says his voting experience for Barack Obama wasn't too bad -- just an hour wait at his Norwood Park polling station on Tuesday morning.
"I can relate with him as a minority. He represents us as minorities," Negron says. "Being in the Oval Office right now is a feat, and I think he'll do a good job. He will be good for the Latino community."
Negron sat on a bench waiting for friends outside Grant Park, with his aunt, Iris Aquino, 60, a former Hillary Clinton supporter.
"She was my choice," Aquino said. "I supported Obama after she spoke.
Once she gave her support to Obama."
Security jam session
As people jam together to fit through the door, security personnel yell at those who don’t have their tickets displayed. The crowd is impatient, but chanting, “O-bama.” Red, white and blue light up the skyline as the mob waits to pass through more security.
Cheering for Pennsylvania and Ohio
When Pennsylvania and Ohio are called for Obama, the crowd erupts into applause. People understand the significance of those battleground states. More cheering over the announcement of a Democrat picking up a Senate seat – any Senate seat.
It’s a family affair
Lots of families made the trek to Grant Park. They sit on blankets, focusing on the returns. Jennifer Damon, of Wicker Park, has her daughter, Keira because it’s a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I brought my daughter because it is a change to teach her about the importance of voting,” the 30-year-old says. “She’s almost 3 and we will have pictures and videos to show her, so she can see when either Obama or McCain becomes president.”
'Louder, louder' chants crowd
Security is so, so tight. It took about an hour to pass through the three checkpoints.
They have CNN on a big Jumbotron and there’s tons of cheering every time a new state goes up. The crowd chants, “Louder, louder, louder,” trying to get the TV volume turned up higher.
The crowd is chanting, “Obama, Obama,” right after they called Ohio on CNN. People are pumping their fists in the air.
In the media tents, still photographers are setting up at least 100 cameras.
‘I’ve never seen so many people’
Pengfei Zhang, 26, came to the U.S. last August from Sian, in Northern China.
Zhang, who is studying to receive a masters in marketing at the Illinois Institute of Technology, is rooting for Barack Obama for president.
"I've never seen so many people. It's like China," he said.
Let’s hear you now
As many pundits predicted, the Obama win in Ohio is announced. A loud roar erupts from the crowd, its volume swelling as it moves from the large TV screens installed at the edge of the field. “It’s not over yet,” cautions Chicago resident Tim Valentine. “But it’s a good sign,” added his friend, Alfie Walsh.
“If he takes Pennsylvania and Florida, too, it will be over,” said Tim.
'So many have died for this opportunity'
Douglas Green was 10 years old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He says voting on Tuesday was his chance to live up to King’s dream of a better America.
Green did not reveal who he was voting for, but did say he thought that Barack Obama is the candidate of change.
“[Obama] knows the trials and tribulations I’ve gone through.” Green says. “He’s for the little man.”
“So many have died for us to have this opportunity, and it’s not just black people,” Green says. “The weather is nice today and it’s a sign for people to wake up and be heard by voting.”
Green, 50, works as a bank protection officer for Wackenhut Corporation. He says he went to the polls concerned about the future of his Englewood neighborhood.
“This community has lost hope,” he says. “People don’t have jobs here and there are probably a few police [officers] here that actually care.”
Green spent Tuesday at his normal post, a guard outside the Bank of America at 69th & Ashland, encouraging bank-goers to vote.
“I’m just reminding people today,” says Green. “I don’t want to tell people who to vote for. I just want to make sure they know how important this moment is.”
Next time she'll vote
Zahira Hassary and Fatima Alami sit in lawn chairs on a quiet spot of grass outside the Obama rally, as rowdy crowds streamed by on the sidewalk. The women, both with their hair covered in scarves, eat sunflower seeds as their sons, ages 2 and 3, run back forth in front of them.
"We came to watch, to bring the kids and let them play," Hassary says, adding that they didn't plan to go inside the park because it was too crowded.
Neither woman voted, only Hassary, 32, was eligible. She became a citizen eight months ago.
Hassary and Alami, stay-at-home mothers from Lincolnwood, say they and their friends support Obama.
"He has good ideas, and is better than the other," says Alami, 22.
She plans to become a citizen next year and start voting.
A battle cry for Obama
Tim Bayler has already shed tears four times today and he expects the waterworks to come again before the rally is over.
The self-described election baby has been around polls and voting for as long as he can remember.
“One of my earliest childhood memories is waiting outside the church with my brothers and getting held by George McGovern.”
When it comes to Obama, Bayler is particularly emotional. “This country still has a long way to go and this is a step in the right direction,” says the avid Obama campaign volunteer, who headed for the rally after spending the day in Indiana.
“If Obama wins, I will definitely cry,” he says.
No blue states or red states
Henry Stephens, a Waukegan resident who has served in the military, looks out at the flags waving above the excited crowd. “What we shed our blood for” is how Stephens describes the raw patriotism in the atmosphere.
“Barack said it best,” he adds. “‘There aren’t blue states or red states. There are only the United States of America.’”
Father proud son can vote for a black man
As the time neared 9:30 p.m. and more states were called for Obama, the crowd has a relaxed, anticipatory mood. They seem to feel victory is inevitable and they are only waiting to enjoy it.
Harold Raddle Sr., 42, and Harold Raddle Jr., 19, got tickets through Raddle Sr.’s wife, who campaigned for Obama. Raddle Sr. said having Obama elected would be the second-most exciting thing that has ever happened to him. The first is the birth of his son.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am that the first time my son was able to vote he was able to vote for an African-American,” Raddle Sr. said.
But Obama doesn’t just appeal to blacks, he said.
“When you look at this crowd, you’re seeing every shade represented in a melting pot,” Raddle Sr. says. “I can’t think of anyone else I would want to share this with than with my son.”
A diverse crowd
The crowd is more diverse than Rauquel Saucedo expected, she says. She thought there would be more blacks in attendance.
Saucedo is standing at the back of the crowd, away from her friends. Saucedo, who is about five feet tall, says she wants to be able to see Obama.
“This election has opened my eyes to where we need to go as a country,” she says. “He has made me believe that the country is maturing and people are opening up their eyes to new things.”
A first time for everything
In the middle of Grant Park people are chanting, “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye,” when McCain comes on the screen and CNN give new projections.
Robyn Williams, 20, from the South Side, said she got to the park at 6 p.m. with her boyfriend, Charles Jackson, 20, and her nephew Jarryd Gentile, 18. It was the first time that any of them had voted in a presidential election. Williams waited in line for 30 minutes this morning to vote.
Williams describes the atmosphere as “overwhelming.”
“It’s like you’ve known everyone for forever,” she says. ”Every one is very friendly.”
Brad Blumenthal, 48, a computer programmer from Lincolnwood whose background is, “Texas by birth, Chicago by choice,” says “Winning the election is just the start.” He thinks Obama’s number one priority should be restoring America’s international reputation.
Arizonans for Obama
Scott and Diane Gardner are at the Obama rally from out of state, but not just any state: They are from Arizona.
“Living in McCain’s home state, it’s an especially hot topic at work, and we debate with our relatives all the time,” Diane says.
The couple is standing at the north entrance of the park, silhouetted by the backlight of “U.S.A.” spelled on a building.
Scott, a field director for the Alzheimer’s Association, clad in an Obama shirt, says he hopes to see changes in the economy and foreign relations.
Diane, an assistant CIO for the city of Mason, Ariz., adds that the rally is a mark of the change she and Scott hope to see elsewhere.
“Looking around, we’re not as opposite as we think we are,” she said.
Jumping for joy
Near the end of the line by the Field Museum, Carol Kennedy, an African-American woman from the South Side, is wearing a light-blue wind breaker and waiting to get into Grant Park. She says she had never helped with a campaign before, but she volunteered for Obama’s.
“Now every time I get paid I send him money.”
Her friend, Amy Santa Caterina, is jumping up and down and shaking her fists, “We are excited!! This is history. We got Ohio.”
Kennedy could feel the crowd’s excitement, “This has got to be the most exciting city in the world at this time.”
TX 4 Obama
Two lone Texans stand at the edge of the crowd holding a “TX 4 Obama” poster. Escaping political minority status in their home state, Tucker Miller and Shayne Ellis arrived in Chicago last night to observe “history in the making.”
“[Obama] would be something different for Texas,” says the African-American Miller. “It would be a great change.”
Ellis and Miller say they have come to see Americans united for a great cause. The two truck drivers harbor no doubts that Obama will win. Hugging their posters, they’ve come to celebrate.
Spreading cheer at the right pace
Even strangers here greet each other like long-lost family.
It’s this “peacefulness” and “happiness” in the air that Linda Adams says makes tonight truly memorable. “People should take advantage of this more,” she said.
Adams is a Pace bus driver transporting disabled passengers to and from Grant Park. Adams says traffic in general on this Election Day has been “moving.”
“It’s been packed, but very controlled,” she says. Time for Adams to leave for her next route, but she takes one final look at the crowd, at her extended family. “You see this on television, but to actually be here, it’s a movement.”
Chasing the spotlight
Shine a light and Obama supporters come running. Two cameramen walk five steps and are drowned amid cries of “Obama! Obama!” and “Yes we did! Yes we did!”
Minutes later they stop filming and walk another 10 steps, only to be overrun again. This time the crowd spontaneously bursts into a rowdy rendition of “Hit the Road Jack.”