On November 4, 2008, I was at Grant Park as the polls were closing across America and Barack Obama was announced our new president. As a Democrat (and an Obama voter) - this pleased me. A lot. The next morning I sent an email to a few of my relatives, recounting what the experience was like to me. I stumbled upon it this weekend, and I decided to put it up on my little corner of the internet. Not because I am a die-hard Obamaholic (although, I am certainly still a supporter), but because I like the archival purpose that this blog has in my life, and I want to remember how it felt that night: special, inspiring, and like something important was happening.
Here is the un-edited email from 11/5/08:
I thought I’d share my experience of being in Grant Park last night… if you were watching CNN, then you saw what a crazy, inspiring, unforgettable experience it was.
I brought my friend Melissa as my guest (each ticket was for the ticket holder plus one guest) and we got to Grant Park around 6:30. We had been told that doors wouldn’t be opening until 8:30, so I thought we’d just get in line and wait. That wasn’t what happened though - the line started moving through almost immediately after we got there. To say that there was a line is kind of misleading - it was more like a moving mass of people. There were uniformed police officers EVERYWHERE. They must have outsourced and brought in cops from all of the suburbs as well… there were literally hundreds. At one point one of the officers said “ladies, if you move over to the right there’s no line” so we hustled over that way and were able to move up in the line significantly; this maneuver literally saved us an hour of waiting in line! It took until 8PM to get through security, because there were SO many levels. First we went through a level where they matched our names and IDs to the ticket. (They gave me a hard time because my ID says Katharine and my ticket said Kate, but ultimately let me through). Then we went through a security checkpoint where they searched our purses & bags. Then, finally, we went through Metal Detectors. As an interesting side note, the metal detectors were on loan from O’Hare Airport, and were manned by TSA (airport) employees! It was very similar to going through airport security.
Once we got through security we were in. That first moment of seeing the field and all of the people with news crews and lights was really overwhelming. I was so excited to be there! There were Obama vendors all around the field selling t-shirts, buttons, “Obama Water”, etc. I bought a button that says “I was there when history was made 11/04/08”. We wandered around for a while, taking it all in. There were 37 news crews (at least that’s what we counted!) around the perimeter of the field, and several more throughout. We found a spot about 30 feet from a jumbotron and hung out. It was standing room only, so I was glad I had worn comfortable shoes, because we didn’t move from that spot until we left. We were just a few feet away from the ABC News camera crew and the CNN camera crew, which was kind of cool.
They had 2 jumbotrons (huge tv screens like you’d see at a sporting event) that were on either side of the stage… we were on the left side as you’re facing the podium. The jumbotrons had CNN election coverage on, so the crowd was kept VERY up to date on what was happening. It was pretty cool - every time CNN said that they had a “CNN Projection” the crowd would go silent.. then when they announced that a state went Obama there were cheers. Other times someone nearby would get a phone call and shout out something like “We’ve got Pennsylvania” and then it would spread like wildfire around the crowd. There was a huge level of camaraderie.
We made friends with all of the people that were standing around us. One woman, Shawn, was a volunteer who had moved to Battle Creek, MIfor 2 ½ months to work on the campaign. She was there with her 10 year old niece. This other woman was there alone. She had lived in Floridafor 5 months with her daughter as campaign volunteers. Both of those states ultimately went to Obama and it was so cool to see those women when the states they had worked in went their way… they were laughing and crying and just so joyful.
One of my personal favorite moments of the night came when CNN projected that Obama would win Iowa. We had been waiting to find out since the polls closed, and had known that Iowa was leaning Obama but nothing was set in stone. The people that were standing nears us knew thatMelissa & I were both from Iowa and knew that we were waiting for Iowa to be announced, so when it was announced that Iowa went Obama and the crowd started cheering, those people around us started hugging us and giving us high fives and telling us congratulations. Melissa and I just looked at each other and started jumping up and down…I was SO proud of my home state, and of my Iowa relatives!!
As more and more states started getting turned “blue” on the map, the mood got more and more lively. When they announced that Virginia was projected for Obama, there was an audible gasp from the crowd… it was like “Oh my god… is this really happening?”
One of the best moments of my life (and I’m really not exaggerating) is when CNN projected that Barack Obama would win the nomination. I cannot adequately explain how it felt in that moment to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of his supporters. To say that the crowd went wild is an understatement. Men and women were crying, people were hugging strangers, the cheers were so loud. It was unbelievable. I will never forget it.. It is one of the highlights of my life so far. To look around and see the faces of his supporters… I was overwhelmed.
When Barack finally came out to speak (around 11PM) the crowd started cheering “yes we can” and “yes we did!” and it was a really special moment. I read somewhere that he spoke from inside a bullet proof casing around the podium, but from where I stood, we couldn’t see it. When he walked out, I couldn’t see the stage or the jumbotron because everyone was jumping up and down and screaming and taking pictures and hugging each other and laughing and crying. Anyway, I’m sure you all watched his speech, so I won’t go in to that, except to say that it was definitely a highlight.