By Audrey Henderson
My first thoughts were not thoughts at all, not in the conscious sense. I was too busy jumping up and down and yelling at the top of my lungs. Then it was time to hug the friend who had invited me to the ticketed area of the rally as her plus-one, and of course I had to high-five her boyfriend and all my new friends in the massive, but collegial and friendly crowd at Hutchinson Field.
Two men standing behind me had been impatiently waiting for the next set of projections. I had explained that the delay was due to the time difference on the west coast. The polls had not yet closed there, and no projections could be announced until they had. The darker-haired man did quick mental arithmetic. Obama was far ahead; surely California’s electoral votes would push him over the top.
I agreed, but was still cautious. I was all-too-aware of the dreaded “Bradley effect.” I had also witnessed the massive conversion of Democrats to instant Republicans during the run up to Harold Washington’s first election as mayor of Chicago in 1983—as long-time Machine loyalists drank deeply from the gospel of Bernard Epton: “before [it was] too late.” I had viewed the ugly underground cartoons depicting caricatures in blackface swinging from vines and dropping banana peels on the office floor in City Hall. I had read about the bizarre, ghastly plot by two small-minded skinheads to execute dozens of black people on a bloody path to attempt an assassination of Barack Obama.
All that was swept away at the top of the 10 p.m. hour. As if letting out a long-held breath, the booming announcement echoed over the crowd: Obama had won.
What were my thoughts? Jubilation? Relief? Actually a lot of both. I had been following foreign coverage of the election, and the old sixties protest chant “The whole world is watching!” was ringing in my subconscious. It was clear from international news reports that much of the world was weary of eight years of George W. Bush and nervous about the outcome of this election.
Around me, I heard murmurs of “I never thought I would live to see this day” from seniors in the crowd, and I silently echoed the sentiment. Although I am about the same age as Obama, I never believed I would live to see the election of anyone who was not a white male as president of the United States of America.
My first thoughts? My first conscious thoughts? “I get it.” I get the hope that inspired the young people who worked tirelessly for Obama’s campaign. I get the gleeful enthusiasm of my mother’s daily email updates with the latest poll results, each showing Obama ahead. I get the long lines for early voting in the weeks before the election. I understood. And even with my knees aching from hours of standing, there was nowhere else I would rather have been on that magical, historic night.