Obama’s Chicago: A New Start

It was as if all of Chicago had one big ear-splitting grin Tuesday night. Even hours before polls had closed, people went about their business — including voting in record numbers — as if walking on air, thrilled at the prospect of real change, racial healing, and goodwill abroad represented by Obama, not to mention the shared pride in sending a local to the White House.

City crossing guards who are usually surly and agitated called out “good luck” and gave thumbs-up to pedestrians. People made eye contact and conversation on the street spontaneously throughout the city. The sun even shown uncharacteristically bright and warm for November, it was like a summer day.

And that was all before the celebration began.

Downtown, scores of vendors who had come from across the country more to be part of the moment than to make money sold a mind-boggling eclectic array of Obama souvenirs. Tens of thousands of people streamed toward Grant Park from all sides of the city as the evening rally approached. People with tickets waited in a mile-long line without any complaints, just thrilled to be soaking up the atmosphere. People without tickets gamely celebrated peacefully and enthusiastically in other parts of the park.

After the announcement of Obama’s victory and ensuing cheers, people still seemed in a joyful daze as they filled Michigan Avenue and surrounding downtown streets which were closed to traffic. People petted the horses of riot police who had a visible presence but were restrained and polite, with no need to take action despite overblown, racially charged talk about disturbances leading up to the rally.

Many people, from reporters to college students, had ominously said, “Look what happened after the Bulls three-peat,” a reference to the Chicago Bulls’ three consecutive championships and a conscious or unconscious way of saying that even if the results were good, black people might cause mayhem. Of course, they were wrong — there were nothing but good vibes and expressions of unity in the air Tuesday night. The kind of entrenched or veiled racism revealed by those “Bulls game” comments will hopefully be one of the many symptoms of racism that the Chicago crowd seemed to truly believe will be healed by Obama’s victory and what it says about the American people.

Kari Lydersen
Kari Lydersen is a staff writer out of The Washington Post midwest bureau and also freelances for publications including The Chicago Reporter and The Progressive. She is the author of three books, including “Revolt on Goose Island” (Melville House Press) released in June 2009. She also teaches Community News at Columbia College and teaches youth journalism in a non-profit program. www.karilydersen.com.

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