Theresa Bruskin

Grins and tears of joy at Chicago’s Grant Park

VIEW a photo gallery of reactions to Obama’s win in Chicago.

CHICAGO – In a shout heard around the world and back, hundreds of thousands of Obama supporters crowded into Grant Park and greeted the news that would change the world forever – the United States had elected its first black president.

The faces Barack Obama’s campaign made so familiar over the past many months – the young and old, black and white – erupted into grins and tears, all full of hope and each memorable.

“The world will light up,” Jason Garrett, 27, said, his eyes glued to one of many Jumbotrons through which CNN declared the election for Obama only moments before.

The excitement escalated throughout the night, as thousands of revelers poured into the area of the park reserved for those unable to secure tickets to the event. Most brought cameras, many brought signs and all brought a palpable sense of anticipation.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, and that’s why I brought my son,” Trent Hammock, 46, said. He and Trey, 13, claimed a spot close to a screen at about 7:30 p.m. and didn’t move all night.

“We’ll never get the chance to do this again,” he said.

Malika D. Donald watched from behind a gate, removed from the celebration because she was working security, keeping people from getting too close to the Jumbotron. But as the news sunk in, she let her excitement show.

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said.

Chants of “Obama, Obama” and “Yes we can” filled the park all night as the crowds watched the electoral map turn blue. Each state’s results brought a cheer. Children waved signs, and grown adults danced in the street.

By the end of the night, there were people hanging from trees and perched atop the army of portable toilets brought in for the event. Security loosened after a while, and people flowed in by the hundreds.

When John McCain took the stage in Phoenix to concede to Obama, many in the crowd booed and leered, but some chastised them.

“It’s over, it doesn’t matter,” one woman said to people around her.

Downtown Chicago became a circus at about 3 p.m. as the droves of Obama supporters, police officers and campaign vendors settled in for the evening. A car decked out in Obama posters drew cheers as it drove down Michigan Avenue, even as a crowd gathered around Ronnie Woowoo, dressed in a Cubs uniform with “Obama” emblazoned on the back.

One lone McCain supporter stood on the street corner shouting, “Don’t be ashamed, vote McCain.”

The line to enter the event was several hundred people strong by that point. Supporters carrying blankets snapped photographs of each other posed with a cardboard cutout of the man they were waiting to see speak.

Earlier in the day, before the chaos began, the attitude in downtown Chicago was one of excitement. The big day had finally arrived and the city was ready.

By mid-morning, around the time Obama voted across town, the typical morning rush had ended. Poll workers said it was busy but manageable – one polling place had about 400 ballots cast by about 10:30 a.m. About 250,000 people voted early.

“Everyone has been very serious about casting their ballots. This is the election to end all elections,” said Reginald Stith, 54, a poll worker at the police station on South State Street. “They don’t seem to mind waiting in line. Even mothers with children who don’t have to wait in line don’t seem to mind waiting to do their patriotic duty.”

Across town, more than 2,700 high school students in red and blue T-shirts spent yesterday serving as judges at polling places as part of the student judge program at Mikva Challenge, a nonpartisan organization that “prioritizes the development of civic leadership in under-served Chicago high school youth.”

Mikva Challenge staff member Rich Feffer said the number of students in the program has doubled every year.

Richard McGuire, one of 200 students recruited from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, said he participated because he “thought it to be cool to work an election, and see how it’s run.”

“Plus, we’re getting paid,” the 16-year-old junior said. For $200, he worked as a Democratic judge, helping voters use the touch-screen machines to cast their ballots. He said he can’t wait to vote.

“We need to find a candidate who will set us on the right path and get us out of this recession,” he said.

Contact metro editor Theresa Bruskin at [email protected].