05 November 2008

My night in Grant Park

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: Chicago
Before I get going, I need to apologize about the quality of some of the photographs you’ll be seeing below. The lighting was bright and not camera-friendly so unfortunately the photos aren’t as sharp as all of us hoped they would be.
Now let’s begin…..
So I’m not sure if you heard but last night we had quite an event in Chicago. In fact, all eyes were on our lovely windy city. In 2000, I was out of the country and didn’t vote, but I did in 2004 and was heartbroken at the results. So this year, I made sure to vote again and be there when the results were read. And last night, I was standing in a crowd of 70,000+ Obama supporters in Grant Park thinking two things:
  1. This is amazing
  2. What the f*ck am I doing here?

Don’t get me wrong, the entire experience and the last 24 hours have been amazing, almost surreal, but the second thought did creep into my head about 9:30 p.m. after we had been standing for a few hours and the cold and aches in the legs were settling in. But looking back, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything!

We got our tickets through the campaign for being such awesome volunteers (woo woo!). A ticket there was the hottest ticket in town, so much so that some of the free tickets were being sold on Craigslist for hundreds of dollars. That’s insane.

Being downtown last night was an amazing, dream-like experience. For a moment, I thought that it was the Superbowl or New Year’s Eve because people were so happy and celebratory and just…acting like this was the greatest thing that was happening to the city in a long time. And it was, but it wasn’t just for us, it was for the entire country. The reality of what happened last night didn’t even hit me until this morning when I watched the TODAY show and started crying because it was so historic and moving.

Rather than bore you with every single detail, I’ve broken the evening up a bit so you can read at your leisure or interest.
My Obama rally gang included ladies I work with and non-work friends that were joining us for a night in the park. Even though food and drink were “available,” we hit Elephant & Castle in the loop for some pre-event sustenance, since we didn’t want to risk lines on site. The bar was hoppin’ and people screamed and cheered when Illinois was projected to Obama (shocker.) It was a young crowd that was buzzing with energy. People were talking and sharing information coming in on the television as if we all knew each other before coming in there that night.
Realizing we were getting close to when people would be officially let in, we walked down to Grant Park and began joining hundreds of people, who were also streaming down to take part in the rally. Vendors sold T-shirts and buttons along the side of the road and the Art Institute (home to my brave lion), was patriotic as well.

Getting in – herding cattle
Here is where it gets interesting. Filing 70,000 people into the park through ONE entrance was going to be tricky, but the organizers were smart in bringing in a group of people in waves. So we congregated around Congress Street, where ticket holders would be let in, and that’s when the reality of the massive crowd started to really sink in. 
Waiting to go into a checkpoint 
We were in a SWARM of people trying to find friends they were separated from, hanging on to street signs and light posts. Blackberry’s and text messaging was going on like nuts to find friends and the latest election results because we didn’t have TV’s near us. Once it came time to herd our group in to the first checkpoint, there was a lot of pushing and shoving and stumbling over garbage left on the street.
Our group – Gobama!
Our group stayed together pretty well, which was amazing, especially when the crowd was moving very suddenly. To stay together, we held hands like schoolkids and walked as one, making sure we had everyone before moving on. There were multiple security checkpoints along the way, each where we had to show tickets and IDs, but did not have to go through metal detectors. Not having to go through them was a little bittersweet. Cops helped guide the crowd and people got more excited as we got closer to the park and you could see the huge beams of light coming from the stage and a massive television broadcasting the handsome Anderson Cooper (rawr!)
Once we hit the park and passed through the final checkpoint, we were at the base of the field and people started RUNNING. It was truly crazy, seeing hundreds of people on the field and more running in there to get a spot with these big beams of light flashing at you. So we did what everyone else did, hold hands and run!

On the Ground
Squeezed in like sardines, CNN was our main source of news while we waited on the field and people cheered when Obama won state after state and of course booed when McCain won (no shock there).

The crowd from our “seats”
We knew when we got there that Obama was ahead by a lot in the electoral vote, but as we watched more states rack up and the vote increase, people started getting more excited and cheer louder. But before the West Coast polls closed, there was a 45 minute gap where nothing was going on and the crowd started getting restless. Water and food were not plentiful and the bathrooms not really close to everyone on the field so we were literally just standing and waiting. People started to get a little fidgety and I told the chick in front of me, who kicked me for the third time when “stretching her knee,” that if she kicked me again, I was going to break her Blackberry and her knee. I was only half-kidding, about the knee part. Then the older couple, who were ridiculously tall and blocked our view, started making out in front of us. EW. Please don’t do that in front of us.
But the wait culminated in sheer pandemonium when we were shocked to see Obama projected the president-elect. 
The crowd paused at the news and then went bat sh*t crazy screaming and yelling because it was a total surprise. People were crying, hugging and kissing, just like on New Years and the buzz was reborn in the crowd. The realization that Obama won just washed over people and some could not believe it, including me. Text messages started flying in from Ryan, who is vacationing in California, Mega and my dad, all of us freaking out with excitement.
Now with the news a reality, we were hoping Obama would come out and speak right away, but there was another huge gap after McCain’s acceptance speech and you could tell that while people were energized, some were starting to fade too, specially after a horrible version of the National Anthem. My group had not had anything to drink since the restaurant and we were getting a little dehydrated, cold and tired, but I was not leaving without seeing my president speak. The crowd went wild again during sound check with someone said, “final sound check for the new president.”
We could see the large television no problem from where we were standing and even could see the stage from far away, but we couldn’t make out faces. The crowd went beyond wild again when Obama finally came out to speak, and looking around the crowd, I was so shocked to see how many people were crying and hugging each other one again. My colleague Ashley was so cute when he thanked his volunteers saying, “she [meaning me] volunteered!”
The Obamas and Bidens on the screen
The speech wasn’t too long, but I was on the verge of tears hearing him talk about his grandmother and how people from all walks of life sent in money big and small to support this. I got to see this first-hand and it was just so inspiring.

Takin’ it to the Streets

Once Obama was done speaking, people started clearing out right away, but we hung out to take more pictures before joining the masses to head back to Michigan Avenue. The scene there was almost more exciting than on the field. People were standing at bus stops, on planters or any sort of climbable surface to cheer, take pictures and clap. At every intersection people were cheering and dancing and waving signs. Michigan Avenue was totally flooded with people who wanted to keep the party going.
Celebrating in the streets
We walked an ungodly distance, from Congress to Superior (which is over two miles) with crowd, were the city buses were lined up to take people home. But at this point, everyone just wanted to get out of downtown so people started pushing and shoving to get on the bus, which got a little ugly. At this point, I was exhausted, my legs were in serious pain and I was about to pass out from the lack of water, but I kept clutching my ticket because I refused to lose it.

Where Kitties Roam Free

So when I finally get home (about 1:15 a.m.), after nearly falling asleep on the bus, I walked out of my elevator to see two black cats in the hallway staring at me. After screaming out loud (because they scared me), I proceeded to distract them and run/hide in my apartment. I’ve never seen them before! And now I’ll be e-mailing the condo board tomorrow because that is not cool.


So I know there was a lot of information above, so I’ve bulleted out below what I felt were the major highlights from the entire event. 

  • The outpouring of emotion from the crowd, including Jesse Jackson crying
  • The happy looks on Sasha and Malia’s faces
  • Barack and Michelle embracing and saying “I love you” (the nose kiss was too cute)
  • Hearing Obama talk fondly of his grandmother, which made my heart break more to realize she wasn’t there to see this happen
  • The way the crowd went INSANE when CNN surprised us all with projecting Obama’s win. People were going crazy
  • The crowd cheering and chanting as he spoke, getting everyone who was exhausted and sore all excited again
  • Oprah actually mingling with the “masses” (in the VIP area of course)
  • The crowd. I was overwhelmed by the possibility of people all around us, going in to take part in this event
  • Believing that things will finally start to turn around for the country
  • People walking down Michigan Avenue, cheering, chanting, taking pictures and clapping, it was like Chicago won the Superbowl and a ticker tape parade was taking place downtown
  • Realizing that “we did it!”
I hope you all enjoyed my tweets from the event and I hope I was able to capture it for you properly!
Also, I grabbed a photo of Michelle’s Narcisco Rodriguez dress today and I think it looks fab. I’m a huge fan of this designer and I think it was very dignified. I’m looking forward to her Jackie Kennedy-like influence on this generation.
So how was everyone else’s election night? Do anything fun?


  1. EP says:

    It sounds like it was an INCREDIBLE evening! I cannot imagine being there in person! (Confession: I saw your tweets. When I was at the Democratic HQ here, the women were speaking about how incredible it would be to be in Grant Park for the evening. I told them I knew a couple of people who were there — namely, YOU.)


  2. dolcechic says:

    I’ve been wondering if you’d gone to Grant Park. Glad I had a chance to read this and check out your photos. I’m so proud of you for all you did for this campaign. Thank you!!!

  3. Rebekah says:

    I was asleep :o(

    But I knew you were going to be in Grant Park and I told all sorts of people “Hey! I know people going to Grant Park!” and I felt pretty cool. Couldn’t wait to read what you’d post and I am not disappointed :o)

  4. Kyla Bea says:

    My election night was great – I went out for coffee with a friend, we talked about how it all looked locked in but we were still *terrified*, and then went home to watch. (I don't know what you look like but I totally imagined you were on the TV coverage lol)

    I kept watching his numbers climb in disbelief – it's one of those things that you hope for so much it seems that it can't happen….and then it did.

    Mister and I huddled up and I cried through his speech, just feeling happy and relieved for our American friends and family.

    Totally emotional & amazing! I'm so glad you got the crowd & community experience, you guys did it!

  5. Erin says:

    I had chills just watching it on TV…I can’t imagine how cool it must have been to be there!

  6. thatShortChick says:


    that’s all i can say.

  7. Daisy says:

    Well, I GUESS you had a better night than me!! I went to bed super early so I could get up early like Christmas morning and hear the result! It was so great to read your post on this, it’s got me crying all over again!!

  8. ...love Maegan says:

    I mean, I was so emotional just watching it {and chicago!} at home…I can’t imagine what it was like being there!!!!! wow. just amazing.

  9. Bobbie says:

    Thank you for sharing your night. I loved reading and seeing the photos since I could not attend! The whole thing is just so great and amazing — particularly that so many people were so excited about the election!

  10. Miss Grace says:

    I love reading about it from someone who was there!

  11. Katie Killary says:

    “This is amazing” – well said!

    It was like New Year’s Eve in Times Square too, only less booze and crazies haha

  12. LBluca77 says:

    Aaaawww. Reading that made me tear up a little. What an amazing night for you. It was amazing to watch it on tv, but you are so lucky to have been able to witness that history in person.

  13. Nilsa says:

    What an amazing experience! We stayed home, glued to CNN, but felt the energy of Grant Park all the way up here on the northside! =) And Michelle’s dress? Though there are haters out there, I loved it. I loved how anti-First Lady it is. She’s going to help change the face of the White House and I can’t wait!

  14. ToughGirl101 says:

    watched tv and sipped on wine. that was about it.

  15. Jenn says:

    Asking how everyone’s night was after sharing all of this with us is just mean.

    My night on the couch with my laptop doesn’t even begin to match the excitement of your evening!

  16. Andrea says:

    What a great re-cap of your evening – I felt like I was there!

    Thanks for letting me live vicariously through your experience :) What a truly amazing night!

  17. CC says:

    What an AMAZING experience! How awesome that you got to be there. I’ll actually be in Chicago tonight through the weekend and I hope I can still feel the excitement!!!

  18. Lily says:

    Thank you for posting that! That sounds amazing! I was in Grant Park this past summer for Lolla, so I can so vividly picture everything you described – even the crowds taking to the streets!

    I got goosebumps reading this, and just love every detail you shared.


  19. erin says:

    That is awesome!!! I was up until about 5.30am in Ireland watching it all and I could feel the excitement and just the whole thrill of the evening! I wasn’t tired and had such an adrenaline rush from watching it.

    I spent from about 11pm (6pm East Coast) watching the coverage on TV here and having like 5 different news sources online and gchatting with different friends.

  20. bodelou says:

    i was there too, and wasn’t it FABULOUS :) im tearing up just thinking about it. we saw history, girl. dont ever forget it.

  21. Melissa says:

    I had to work. Are you kidding me?! It was torture. Thankfully, my husband showed up screaming about the concession in time for me to catch it on the radio. Never has a coffee shop been cleaned and closed so quickly…I got home just in time to catch the remainder of Obama’s speech. YES WE CAN!

  22. Athena Valentine says:

    How cool that you got to be there! I started screaming at Buffalo Wild Wings and realized I was the only one. Oh well. :P I also started crying when he talked about people from all walks helping him achieve his goal. It’s amazing at what all of us accomplished by voting. :)


  23. Princess Pointful says:

    You really were a part of history that night, being there for that amazing speech.
    Like the Canadian geek that I am, we had people over for pizza, beer, and CNN– and whooped/cheered like hell!

  24. Ray says:

    My husband and I were in the non-ticket section. However, it was still AMAZING and I am so glad that we went! The energy in the crowd was unlike anything I had ever expirienced!

  25. Ginger says:

    What an amazing experience for you…I’m so jealous! I can’t even imagine what the energy was like at Grant Park–we were watching on tv, but it must have been just buzzing!

  26. SA says:

    My colleague Ashley was so cute when he thanked his volunteers saying, “she [meaning me] volunteered!”

    Awww. Ashley is too cute. :)

    I know a lot of people are hating on the dress, but like you I like it. I mean, the original dress looks better but I thought Michelle pulled it off. I guess we’ll be the only ones who liked it.

  27. Maris says:

    OMG I thought of you when I was watching last night since I knew you were there! What an amazing once in a lifetime experience.

    And seriously, people need to leave MO’s dress alone. She’s the freaking first lady now, they’re going to nail everything she wears from here on out. I wouldn’t have picked it for myself but I thought she looked stunning.

  28. Sara says:

    So I’ve never commented here, but I’ve been reading since randomly finding your blog a month or so ago. And I have to admit that I’ve been waiting all day to read your recap.

    I started crying as soon as he started talking about Michelle being his best friend and the love of his life.

    We’re living history, and I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t unbelievably jealous that you got to attend the event yesterday.

  29. Heidi Renée says:

    I did a pretty long election night post of my own. How cool that you got to go experience it all!

  30. Angela says:

    That’s absolutely SO COOL Jessica! What a story to share with your kids (someday! ha!).

    In that group picture, are you related to the girl in the front right? You both sortof look alike!

  31. Rachel says:

    I LOVED her dress. A lot of people didn’t, but I completely agree with you on her style. She’s going to make a huge fashion impact. Thank god too, I am sick of the power suit.

  32. Janelle says:

    Thanks for the great play-by-play. We found out around 10pm or so their projections. Right away I texted some friends. Wow, history in the making.

  33. Maki says:

    OMG, You were there?!?!?!?!

    I mean it was the most amazing scene – it was incredible experience even be in front of TV waiting for Obama to come out…

    You’re so lucky, but also well deserve token because you worked so hard for him:)

  34. Stephanie says:

    I've been waiting for this post all day! :)

    My night was a little different. Pretty much hubby & me in our jammies glued to the television.

    He asked when I thought they'd announce it and I said 10pm (central time) and I was totally right!

    I had it on CNN and they went to commercial and all of a sudden when they came back they announced that Obama was going to be our president. Amazing! I teared up right away and thought that all of the images (from Grant Park especially) were unbelievable. Even though it was just us, I've never felt a bigger sense of unity.

    Also–normally I don't condone violence, but I really wish you kicked that girl.

  35. Jessica says:

    That looks incredible. It’s amazing that you got to be a part of it.

  36. Blaez says:

    we played rockband all night.

    we’re not big on politics… i’m kinda anti political sometimes…

  37. Rachel Burton says:

    Great recap. I was in the non-ticket holder part of the park and it was crazy too! Chicago is so lucky we got to experience that last night.

    I loved that dress too.

  38. The Odd Duck says:

    My election night was watching it with my two neighbours and my girlfriend, all the while twittering about what I was seeing.

    When they announced California, it was like the entire campus exploded. We stayed long enough to watch McCain’s concession speech which made me cry and then Obama’s speech which has us dancing and clapping.

    We all had early mornings so we resisted temptation to go celebrate.

    In other words, fantastic evening.

    – Kendall

  39. Mandy says:

    I have been waiting for this post all day!! I am so excited that you were able to take part in this event. I was loving your tweets. I also kept thinkging as I was watching the event on tv OMG Jessica is there (I also kept my eyes open for you in the crowd, you know, just in case)! :-)

    I cried last night watching the coverage and get misty eyed reading posts like this. YES WE CAN!!

  40. K says:

    How magical! Im proud to be a chicagoan, american, and a democrat! I am also so amazingly proud of our age bracket getting its vote on.

  41. Katelin says:

    okay my election night was nothing compared to yours. it sounds amazing and i love this recap, simply amazing.

    gobama. :)

  42. Deb on the Rocks says:

    WWWWWWooooowwwww! I love seeing your night!

    I had a blast at my town’s Democratic Party celebration, but to be in Grant Park? Amazing!