3 Qudrat 165 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: The Moody Blues, “Nights In White Satin”
It is taking a while for it to fully register what has just happened.
Last night, I ended up going to another co-op house a few blocks down from us where they were having an election returns party. My housemates and I got there at about 8:45 p.m.
Members of the co-op were projecting websites and TV images on a large sheet hung up at the back of their dining room. I was already surprised at the makeup of the electoral map. The New York Times page said that Obama had won Pennsylvania and that Democrats had already picked up four Senate seats.
Still, I expected it to be a rather slow night, just as the 2000 and 2004 elections had been. As we switched through various channels on network TV, most of them were showing similar electoral maps, with Barack Obama having earned 206 electoral votes and John McCain 138. This remained unchanged for awhile. As the local 10:00 news came on the CBS station, we were curious as to how the news would be presented.
The newscasters shared some local election results, mentioned a couple of news stories, but then the local newscasters said they were going back to the network to announce some “momentous news.” I figured it was that Obama had won in the state of Virginia, the center of the old Confederacy and a state that hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
Katie Couric came on–however, she did not announce that CBS was projecting Obama to win in Virginia. She announced that they were projecting that he would win the election. And then all of the new anchors and pundits began talking as if it were a fait accompli. Then a new electoral map appeared which showed Barack Obama with 283 electoral votes, past the 270 needed to win. It was about 10:10 p.m. Central Standard Time.
Jaws dropped all around the room. We looked at each other, struggling to believe that it was actually happening. I thought at first that perhaps CBS was pushing the envelope with its prediction, but a few minutes later, a New York Times headline said that all of the major networks were projecting an Obama victory. Just as we continued to try to absorb what was happening, still wondering if this all could be true, John McCain came on and graciously offered a concession speech. It was about 10:30 p.m.
Up until this point, the gathering felt a little bit more like a party, but now people were riveted to the TV. Several people were fighting back tears of joy. Now this was starting to feel real, and we waited in anticipation for Obama’s acceptance speech.
It was funny for me as a former Chicagoan to watch the festivities in Grant Park. I could identify the various buildings lit up around the park, Sometimes I thought I recognized faces in the crowd–perhaps I’d seem them on subways or on the street during the many years I worked in the Loop. I guess Chicago will always be a part of me–how can it not be after I’ve lived thirty of my years there? But it’s not my home anymore, nor do I see it being my home in the future.
I left Chicago two years before Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. I don’t remember much of his political career before then–he never made that strong of an impression on me. I was highly skeptical when his name first began circulating in the media as a potential presidential contender. I am still skeptical but he has grown on me. Let there be no doubt–he is a political insider. But look at history, and one will see that it’s the political insiders that often make the huge changes. History provides the stage and people either step up to the occasion or they don’t. It remains to be seen whether Obama will be a great leader and President, but when I voted for him in the primaries and the general election, I was doing so in part because I’d calculated that he’d be more likely than others to buck the special interests that support him and make independent decisions. We’ll see if that holds true or not.
After his victory speech, everyone at the party exchanged hugs. A friend of mine went beyond that and actually dragged people into dancing with her. When I left the party and walked back to my house, I could hear other people cheering and yelling at various parties around the neighborhood. My neighborhood is the bluest neighborhood in the bluest city in what is now becoming a more solidly blue state.
Twenty-four hours later, I still have a hard time believing that it’s real.