Tuesday, November 18, 2008

(Election) Day in the Life of a Dominican Journalism Student

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 will go down in the books as one of the most ground-breaking days in the history of the world.

Eager with anticipation of The Big Day, I could not sleep Monday night. After a couple hours of intermittent shut-eye, I rose early to go to my classes and do my duty as a citizen, supporting Senator Barack Obama.

*Flashback* February 11, 2007. Dominican students Mariya Kozlova, Tyson Schutz and I went to the UIC Pavillion to attend one of the first campaign stops in the days after Barack Obama announced his decision to run for the presidency.

The MC announced Obama as "the next President of the United States." The energy and excitement in that arena was unbelievable, and that man stirred up deep emotion within all. Little did we know about what was in store for the nation over the next 21 months...

Back to Election Day.

Pumped up from the nationwide energy at the polls, I waited at a CTA stop to head to Dominican for my Tuesday morning classes, rocking the "HOPE" shirt I made at 3 a.m.

On my train car, I found a flier for Senator Harmon from Oak Park.

I tried to finish my Dostoevsky reading on the train to no avail; my mind was on the election. On campus, you could sense the nervous energy; the collective panic attack feeling throughout--but in a good way.

On the way home, I saw many more "I voted!" stickers and election pride, exciting me further.

I bet this man with an Obama/Biden button was up early to vote...

I got home around 4:30, ran some quick errands, and hopped back on the El to head downtown for night two of Hanson at the House of Blues.

Excitedly waiting for my friend Natalie to meet me at State and Lake...

...my inner journalist started to itch and I ran across the street to capture the people hanging out in front of the ABC News studio, peering in the glass and watching the news ticker. They were talking about New Hampshire, but these headlines made my heart jump:

Natalie arrived and we walked across the bridge to the House of Blues just as doors were opening. Hanson's opening artists were an LA band called Everybody Else and an artist named Dave Barnes. The musicians were all excited for the elections, stating their Obama pride and applauding all the concert attendees who had voted in the past month, regardless of which candidate they supported.

Near the end of Dave Barnes' set, Zac and Taylor Hanson surprised us by taking the stage to serenade the crowd with an a capella rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The guys played a rockin', energetic set and everyone in the House had a fantastic time.

In addition to their originals, Hanson covered Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," as well as other classics--"Oh! Darling," by the Beatles, "Hole in My Life" by the Police, "(I Want to Take You) Higher" by Sly and the Family Stone...

And during their song "Running Man," Zac modified the lyrics to sing, "Life isn't what it seems/Dave Barnes is in my dreams/That's exactly what I mean!" while the other bands goofed off onstage.

It was definitely a party.

The show ended around 9:40, and Natalie, Sara and I made our way down to Michigan Avenue to be a part of the Grant Park festivities. The outpouring of people was overwhelming, and the excitement was unlike anything I've ever witnessed in my life. Cars honking, people cheering.

This was BEFORE it was "officially announced that Obama was the winner," but at this point it was pretty much a given.

The Obama gear being sold on the streets was in high demand!

And the police presence was so reassuring. It was all hands on deck; there were at least five on EVERY corner. But they didn't have to do anything because nothing ever got out of hand.

A sweet girl offered to take our photo in front of the Art Institute. "This is history in the making," she said, smiling. "You girls'll show this picture to your grandchildren and say, 'I was there!'"

This is me skipping down Michigan Avenue.

We finally found a JumboTron with CNN footage and the words: Barack Obama Elected President of the United States.

There are no words to comprehensively describe that feeling.

Only pictures. And I apparently couldn't keep my mouth closed all night!

Finally, after a number of commercials, we sang the national anthem (I felt like part of the biggest choir in the world [and I thought the Hanson boys did it better;)]), and Senator John McCain took the stage in Arizona to address the world.

And finally, our guy came out with his beautiful family.

CNN footage of the first 2 minutes of his speech:

The crowds walking toward the parking lots, trains, and buses were unbelievable. The sheer magnitude of people who had all come out for the same purpose, in solidarity, was astounding. For miles, all you could see were hoards of people...of all colors, all ethnicities, all ages.

People were standing on ledges, dancing, singing, hugging, chanting, LOVING.

And finally, over an hour later, the streets started to clear.

A few friends and I went to Sanjay's house to have a couple celebratory cocktails:

And finally, at 1:15 a.m., I decided to head home to hopefully catch one of the last pink line trains. As I approached the station, a lady was selling the first copies of the Chicago Tribune.

I asked a few officers who were on the State & Lake platform if the trains were still running, and had a wonderful conversation with a police officer. I was looking over the front page of the Trib, overwhelmed with emotion, and he came over to chat with me. "You look very sentimental," he said, smiling.

"Tonight was just...unlike anything I've ever experienced," I told him. "The solidarity, the turnout...tonight I am TRULY proud to live in Chicago, and proud to be an American. There is hope."

"Oh, yeah, this has been a remarkable night," he said. "America elected a person because of his character. What happened here tonight doesn't just affect you and me. The whole world was watching. Tonight will impact the entire world."

He said he had heard that gunshots were fired on the south side, but they were celebratory shots and no one had been injured--that he knew of. He also told me that Tuesday had been his day off, but since it was an all-hands-on-deck night, he was getting paid time and a half and was very happy about that! With some more words of encouragement and a handshake wishing me well, the 54/Cermak Pink Line train approached.

I cried as I read the front page on the train:

"Barack Obama, son of an African man and a white woman from Kansas, a figure virtually unknown outside his home state of Illinois just five years ago, emphatically captured the presidency Tuesday night, as crowds massed in Grant Park to cheer his victory...

...With his victory, America's tortured relationship with race has entereed a new phase. The Obama presidency may be a sign that a country that all too recently tolerated segregation has moved irrevocably forward, or it may mean only that the nation is so hungry for change that it set aside racial struggles.

Obama is a man of extraordinary political gifts. The challenges facing him are many, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a struggling economy. He will confront them soon enough.

But Tuesday night, at least, was a time to marvel at a once-inconceivable moment in American history."

Reading about the events that I had been in the midst of, a part of merely HOURS ago was mind-blowing.

At 1:50 a.m. I walked the two blocks from the California stop to my house on Marshall Boulevard. The streets were still and silent; I encountered not a soul.

Still riding the waves of euphoria from the evening, I reflected on all I had seen and experienced that night. As a person who fits into many "categories"--female, college student, first-generation African (like Obama), hopefully to have a family some day, the events of election night have definitely changed the face of my future, and that of the world. To see America stand behind an exceptional man, one that I have personally admired for over two years, and a man of color...there are no words to truly encompass that feeling.

And when I got home, I dumped the contents of my purse onto my bed.

Tagged in this photo: Nov. 5 issue of the Chicago Tribune, Barack Obama poster, Harajuku Lovers hoodie, wallet, handout from Revolution, my reporter's notebook, Starburst wrappers, assorted Sharpies and pens, lighters and matches, keys, Hanson HOB tickets, a comb, the Nov. 4 issue of the Red Eye, and my trusty Moleskine notebook.

It's time. It's been a long time coming, but well worth the wait. It's as though America had to go through hell the past eight years--it makes this victory for HUMANKIND so much more fulfilling. You catch more bees with honey, and Obama took the high road, never stooping to the level of his naysayers. In a manner not unlike MLK's philosophy of non-resistance and peace, Obama proved that with love and virtue, we can do anything.

Martin Luther King had a dream. As my friend Diana said, "Rosa Parks sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so our children can fly!"

Yesterday, that dream was actualized: America selected a man because of the content of his character.



  1. What a phenomenal post. I love the heck out of America too!

  2. Mwana wane...awesome article!! I love your thoughts, how well you have captured the moment, stored in my heart forever. proud of you baby, keep writing.

  3. wow.
    i liked seeing all of your pictures from grant park! i wish i could have been there. and it was one thing to see it on the news but its really cool to see your pictures here.
    thanks for sharing your election day story!

    -adriane lewandowski

  4. @adriane: You're very welcome! Thank you for reading and commenting. :)

  5. What an AMAZING post Charlotte! You write so well! I love how you tied Rosa Parks to MLK and MLK to Obama... and it's true. We've finally elected a man on the content of his character. MLK would have been proud to see this.