CNN says there were 250,000 people in Grant Park Tuesday night. It sure seemed like more.
The park was a labyrinth of bodies. People were perched on every possible surface and crowded into every space. We found another Jumbotron and thousands-strong crowd at every turn.
What could have been a security nightmare turned out to be without major incident. The number and arrangement of screens meant that everyone had a good view, and each crowd had a personality. At the biggest screen gathered the college crowd, complete with beachballs to bat across the masses. At some of the smaller screens, one crowd would be made up of families with picnic blankets, another sitting close together in the trampled grass.
Photographers shoved everyone out of their way to get closer to the most photogenic-looking people. Some blatantly staged photos.
To say that everyone was in good spirits would be the understatement of the century. There are no words for the jubilation that increased beyond measure throughout the night. One woman ran in circles with her arms open, screaming after hearing that Barack Obama won Ohio.
Preparation is key when covering an event like that one, but there was nothing we could have done to be ready for the pressure-cooker of emotions we were thrown in the middle of.
As the election’s result surfaced, it became clear that the people gathered were so emotionally invested in Obama’s candidacy that they could no longer withhold it. Tears flowed endlessly and prayers were mumbled as they threw their hands into the air and embraced each other.
“It was my first time voting,” one young woman yelled through her tears at anyone who would listen.
The crowd was deafening, and we could barely hear ourselves speak. I lost phone and Internet service, so I could neither get in touch with Gavin Jackson, the photographer with me, when I lost him nor call the newsroom to tell them what was going on. At one point, just as Obama took the stage, I sat in the dirt under a tree to write my story while hundreds of people ran past to get closer to a big screen.
We realized a few weeks ago what would happen in Chicago election night would be huge. With it being only six hours away, we couldn’t justify not going. There were some setbacks – we were denied media credentials and a ticket to the main event where Obama appeared – but it worked out for the best.
There were two stories in Chicago Tuesday night: Barack Obama, and the crowd we were a part of. Everyone could watch Obama on TV, but it was the hundreds of thousands gathered at the other end of the park whose stories we wanted to tell.
They were the ones who elected the first black president of the United States, and they were the ones who had invested the most in him from the start.
As the crowd filed out, they danced and sang, hugged and kissed, cried and smiled. Some went to put their children to bed. Some headed to the bars. We had been up since 6 a.m. and had walked five miles to visit more than eight (we lost count) polling places. So we just sat and stared at each other, then ventured out for some food.
One woman there turned to everyone she saw and said: “Things are going to get better now. Now, everything will be OK.”
And that, more than anything, sums up the mood in Chicago that night.
Theresa Bruskin is a junior newspaper journalism major and metro editor at the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]