15 November 2008

At long last, Pt. 4

Finally, here is the final section of my account of the Obama rally in Grant Park on election night in America. Part 1, part 2, and part 3 ran earlier this week.

The place was still packed and buzzing when the feed switched from CNN to the acceptance speech, and it was in listening to that landmark* speech that I felt myself really sucked in to the moment instead of floating outside it, taking notes, the way I generally do with most things in life.

I've often thought that I might have caught religion if I'd gotten to attend a so-called "black church" in my formative years instead of only visiting stale, conservative Catholic churches for various events in my extended family. Listening to this speech live was as close as I think I'll ever get, with the kinetic energy in the audience, the facial and bodily reactions of those around me, the frequent spoken responses throughout, and certain of Obama's tones in the speech itself. That sense of community, of taking part in a dialogue of both words and energy rather than sitting on my couch listening to someone talk at me from my TV, absolutely enhanced the experience in every way.

But more notably, I immediately noticed that feeling of widespread admiration for a president that I haven't known since I was 10 years old.** People who don't completely agree with this man can still admire him without feeling guilty about it, I think. I won't go on about my extremely negative feelings towards Presidents Clinton and Bush (Jr.) for their habits, attitudes, and personal character, since they're beside the point of this post.
After walking around a bit more to soak in the atmosphere, J- and I decided to start the slow trek back home, but not before accepting the fence-security guards' indulgence in actually peeking over at The Cool People's Rally. Also, not before I availed myself again of the remarkably uncrowded banks of portable toilets. Given the predictably low toilet-to-person ratio, the only explanatory factor I can think of is the prohibitive price of water leaving bladders empty across the park.

We took to the streets with glee, since this time almost everyone was on the move at the same time. The poor unlicensed t-shirt vendors hawking homemade wares from cardboard boxes could barely keep up with demand for their predictable products. I can understand the desire for a keepsake from such an event, but a t-shirt, and a poorly-made one at that, isn't necessarily my first choice.

J- decided she wanted one particular shirt, though, and I could console myself with the price versus other commemorative shirts she has chosen to buy, or have bought for her (ahem). All the shirts I saw were much more competitively priced than the typical unlicensed shirts offered at concerts and other events, which pleased me, but the one J- liked so much happened to be only $5, which pleased me even more.

Of course, I later pointed out to her that the likely reason it was so cheap was that while yes, the front has an interesting and imaginative design, the back says "I WAS THERE WHEN HISTORY HAPPEN AT GRANT PARK - NOV, 4TH 2008".

I cannot adequately express how much staring at the back of this otherwise nicely-designed shirt makes me twitch with a craving for unfocused violence.

But that would make me the only one, it seems, because after seeing this, I couldn't help but notice that about 15% of the ecstatic crowd marching home alongside me was wearing the same lowest-bid shirt without a hint of the shame I felt for them.

The Chicago Police reported not a single arrest at the rally,*** which is of course incredible given the attendance and the circumstances of the event, so I'm guessing either all the city's other copy editors stayed home that night or they simply aren't quite as prone to violence as I am.
The walk to the train stop was unbelievable, for the sheer number of people filling six-lane streets for as long as they did, controlling traffic and owning the city at least for an hour or so. I tried to capture the effect in pictures to little effect (see one example below), since I had neither a helicopter nor a camera positioned strategically in the many-storey youth hostel overlooking the exit from the park, which was filled with what were presumably visitors from abroad, waving and shouting constantly from several storeys up.

A failed attempt to capture just one section of the massive crowd leaving the Obama Rally
So I'm left now with blurred pictures and crisp memories, and I can only hope this night proves to be as momentous a turning point in modern American history as it felt like at the time.

* Whatever your current opinion of our President-elect, his first speech in that role is as important as it always is, and given the tenuous state of our economy, government, and society combined with Obama's youth and the fundamental change he claims to represent, this speech, as an introduction to the coming inaugural address, was monumental one way or another.

** Granted, I was right in the middle of a distinctly unscientific sample, but I'll note that I did see several small indicators that there was a healthy number of McCain supporters there for the experience as much as everyone else. It's not like everyone can easily jet out to Arizona in the middle of the work week, and given that, why not be there?

*** I'll state for the record that I did see a young man being handcuffed while face down in the street, for reasons unclear, but that was several blocks away from the rally, and for all I know he was later released without being officially arrested.

Could it be a PR move for the sake of winning the 2016 Olympics? Or could they have just been helpfully demonstrating for this fellow what they
would have done had he been unruly or disrespectful.


Goldfish said...

I'm sure there's no way the photo could do justice to actually being there, but I actually think it does a pretty good job of conveying a high level of energy.... I wish I'd been there.

Allison said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. It's fun reading from someone who was there.

Mrs. B. Roth said...

I concur - thanks for letting me experience this vicariously.

Irrational Dad said...

Seriously... thanks for sharing. I wish I coulda been there!!

People in the Sun said...

What they said. Although I think that shirt is awesome! Collector's item.

Oh, and just to make you feel even better about your experience, and to spread the word about the War Against People the Baltimore City fights here, I'm linking to this City Paper article.

Ali said...

Dan you are hilarious. I can see you staring at that shirt trying so hard to control the anger within. Pictures of the offending object please?

The Microblogologist said...

I've been to several black churches through the years, they can be fun but I get a little agitated with all the yelling after awhile. I felt the same about the "white" churches I've been to that the preacher is a yeller at too. I like some animation but being screamed at for an hour is no fun for me.

When I moved here I noticed people wearing shirts that said, "Beat Iowa" on them. There is a huge rivalry between Iowa State and University of Iowa and they refer to the former as "State" and the latter as "Iowa". To a "foreigner" it doesn't necessarily make much sense for an Iowan to wear a "Beat Iowa" shirt but the locals it makes perfect sense and they wonder why I giggle at them. I of course had to buy one, they are too funny! The messed up Obama shirt totally made me think of my "Beat Iowa" shirt, hehehe.

LiteralDan said...

Goldfish: That was pretty much my thinking at the time, but I gave it a try a few times just because, and it was only at the end of the night that I was able to master the kind of shots needed for these types of situations. Just in time for it all to be over. Hence, not many pictures to go with these posts.

I'm glad you liked what I got anyway-- there's plenty more where this one came from, almost all as a blur of activity and light. So I guess we can call my shots Impressionist Photography.

For the record, this picture was taken on the way out, with probably 10,000 people in the viewable area, representing a small slice of the parade of people leaving at that time.

Allison, Mrs. B. Roth, and Joe: You're welcome, and thanks for reading through it all!

People in the Sun: I suppose I can force myself to look at it that way-- thanks for the coping tip.

And that article just makes me mad. I hate hearing about stuff like that. Apparently not quite mad enough to do anything about it, but still I'll say, this is America, isn't it??

The will of the majority, a.k.a. many thousands in the streets, is supposed to rule over the desires of a minority, a.k.a. the handfuls of people trying to sleep nearby, who are bothered by the (once-in-a-lifetime) expressed joy of their neighbors in the wee hours enough to complain. And aside from that, methods mean everything.

Maybe if people didn't get a boot in the face for just about anything these days, include just standing around watching anything, they'd become much less likely to get testy at the unexpected sight of riot gear and screamed commands.

ali: Well, I'm glad those veins in my forehead didn't pop in vain. I had wanted to include a picture here, but J- took the shirt to work the next day to show the kids in her class, as a kind of mini history lesson for a particularly eager audience. Thankfully, she put it away for the English lessons.

I've asked her to bring it home this week, though, so I can get a picture.

The Microblogologist: Being screamed at for an hour is your penance for being born a sinner.

I wonder if they have the same kind of shirts in Michigan. It does seem a funny way to express the idea-- maybe they should include some of my patented footnotes to clarify things, like so:
* Not Iowa the state, but rather Iowa the university.**

** Our hated rivals.***

*** Go Iowa State!^

^ I'm adding my own footnote here to say, in fact, Boo Iowa State AND Iowa. And the rest of the Big Ten*, for that matter, besides the all-powerful University of Illinois.

* By a quirk of fate, the Big Ten conference is comprised of 11 teams. It's true, you can look it up.**

** Even in a book, if you like.

The Microblogologist said...

That would be the best Beat Iowa shirt ever! I will cheer IL for basketball, and anyone else playing Iowa State. I am pissed at them for stealing my locker room and making me nearly die of hypothermia having to go to another building to shower, especially since rumor has it they suck. Did they forget how to count when they named it "Big Ten"?