by Asher Klein
Cynthia, Tamyko, Carol, and Lauri were two sets of friends at the start of the night, but had clearly bonded by the end. The volunteers shared their feelings in a jumble: "I feel great, like really." "This country is so blessed." "Just relief. Huge, huge relief . . ." "And elated!" One had a closer bond to Obama. "I had just taken an oath to join the U.S. Army," Tamyko told me. She was stationed at Fort Jackson, and he was a great commander in chief, she said.
Feeling both relieved and fantastic was Oliver Sabistana of Oak Park. He was the only person I talked to all night who celebrated in Grant Park in 2008—though my sample size was quite small—and did concede that the festivities then were a little more exciting. Ethan Bergman was in Washington state last time around, and lucked into snagging a pass for tonight. In town for a dietetics conference—he is president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—Bergman was hanging out near the entrance to McCormick Place maybe an hour before the campaign accepted victory when someone leaving the party gave him their pass. "It's wonderful to be here, with this energy," said the Obama supporter on his way back to his hotel.
Benjamin Williams was ecstatic, but more importantly, he the Chicagoan who campaigned for Obama in Iowa and Wisconsin sees himself getting even more involved in the Democratic Party, and democracy. Williams is a staunch Blagojevich supporter—the former governor didn't forget the working class, Williams thinks—and I think that's who he'll be emulating if he can somehow convince his party to help him run against Rahm in the next mayoral election, on a platform of education and health care reform. "I want to try to actually make some type of adjustment at the university level," he said of his still-sketchy education plans. But the young, wet-behind-the-ears politico offered a noteworthy contrast between Emanuel and Obama: "Rahm is not afraid to tax the city out of the deficit, where Obama seems afraid to."
Most of the audience was gone within 20 minutes, so I headed back to the podium and the news crews and their last, colorful interviewees to wander around the set and backstage, where I found a bottle of cheap Korbel champagne and two cars from the presidential motorcade, one of which was heavily armored; shout-out to the nearby K9 policeman for not siccing his dog on me for being back there. Red and blue confetti was everywhere the cameras could see. From the press's workspace, the party and the speech had a lot less of the sparkle than it did for the supporters I talked to. When you can walk under the risers and play with the mixing boards where the sound is spliced, the inspirational videos come off as propaganda. But that's the stagecraft of presidential politics, something that'll persist as long as hundreds of journalists descend on simple, straightforward events like this.
I left at 2:30, as some reporters finished up their stories and technicians wrapped their cords together, to find a cab. It was the same time the president left the convention center too. As I crossed the McCormick Place bridge over Lake Shore Drive, cordoned off for security's sake, I saw the presidential motorcade merge onto the highway toward home, and the lights of the roadblocks in the distance.