Reflections: election 2008

reiss001-01No, not the Cubs in the World Series, though that is an auspicious occasion. This month marks the end of a long, hard fought U.S. presidential campaign.

Soon, Lakeshore East residents will be queueing up at local polling stations to cast their votes. Or perhaps, like me, you have already participated in early voting. Both of the current major party candidates have strong ties to our city, but one election earlier this century will always be linked with Chicago.

On November 4, 2008, Lakeshore East was a stone’s throw away from one of the most memorable moments in U.S. presidential history – Barack Obama’s victory speech. I was lucky enough to hear it live.

Senator Obama officially became President-elect Obama while I was on the Brown Line returning to the Loop. I could tell it happened because a group of students glued to their cell phones suddenly screamed in unison and joyously hugged each other. As I exited the train, I checked my voice mail. I had a message from my mother in Georgia. She was worried about the giant crowd expected in Grant Park and wanted me to get home safely.

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Election Day 2008, Grant Park. (Patton)

I dodged a few passersby and reached Lakeshore East Park before I realized that I was about to go home to watch on television the first ever African American president deliver a once-in-a-lifetime speech a mile away. I couldn’t let this moment pass me by, so I turned around and headed south. My goal was to get as close to the action as possible.

Giant speakers were set up around the area blaring John McCain’s concession speech. There were a few hundred thousand people streaming into the park, all in a festive mood. The streets were effectively sidewalks. By the time McCain finished his speech, I was up against a barrier, a hundred yards or so from the future president.

As President Obama began his speech, I was immediately awestruck. His words echoed through the canyon of lit skyscrapers lining the park, and it felt as though the city itself was speaking to the crowd. All around me, strangers were laughing together, crying together, young and old alike. I was moved. When it was over, I walked back to the Shoreham in a daze, unsure that what I had just witnessed was real. It’s a moment I will always treasure, and I have Lakeshore East to thank for putting me in such close proximity to history.

November 8th promises a new set of memories and history to record. Two years of preparations have all lead up to this one moment. Where will you be when the next chapter of our nation is written?

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