The night I deeply recognized how a group or movement can sway people, make people believe things and experience things that wouldn’t be possible singularly, I was forever changed.
From that moment on, I knew I would work to unite, no matter what I was doing… I saw first hand how incredibly powerful a collective can transform things and how a single feeling or action can have a ripple effect that is beyond comprehension:
Late fall in Chicago makes you feel alive.
The sky is extra bright and the crisp winds energize you like a triple shot of espresso. Sometimes the cold can feel like knives cutting your face— on east west streets, you can literally lean into a gust of wind and be supported as the cold eats you alive.
But, on this particular night electricity radiated out of the city unlike ever before, heating the temperature and the emotions to record levels. The wind was nowhere, and living in Chicago with Lake Michigan raging 24 / 7, you recognize this as a most unusual thing.
The city is always alive—no matter day or night, things are constantly buzzing and moving and changing and rushing. Often, you can feel a surge the minute you step outside… a vibe that pulses thru you just like the best song on your iPod.
The Beatles once stayed in the Astor Hotel… but this particular night wasn’t like that.
The streets were filled with Riots in the 1960’s…, but this night didn’t feel like that one.
On this November night, the city was raging with energy unlike ever before. I felt like I could just plug something into the air and it would electrify.
Barack Obama won the Presidency of the United States on this evening and standing in view of the world and amidst a sea of humanity, the air was thick with joy. I’ve struggled for months now searching for a word to describe it—joy’s the word.
I stood with my whole family—we had somehow gotten selected and received tickets to actually bare witness. Center stage, 20ish rows back.
I felt Joy initially erupt when CNN announced the votes for Illinois. Of course…this was our guy—this is our town, we carry a pride unlike you other folks. Maybe it’s a Chicago thing…. Maybe a personal thing… This was our moment… we weren’t a state or a vote or an electoral anything—we were the hometown, the family that had offered our guy up and worked like dogs to get this done. We felt like we did this, this was our victory. We OWNED this.
Joy EXPLODED around me when he actually won the country. Joy silenced Grant Park when the Obama’s walked on stage. Joy streamed down our faces when Jesse Jackson’s expression filled face was flashed on the jumbo tron. The immoveable crowd joyfully opened a path for Oprah to walk thru– she’s our girl too, you know, and we take care of our own.
But, none of the joy felt in Grant Park, in those initial moments, could compare to the vibration and expressions of joy breaking out in the streets as we all walked home.
I first watched my mom; I watched her face and her actions and her poise. She was the daughter of a civil rights worker, she fought against the Vietnam War, she was at Haight Ashbury in 1969. She grew up in the south, in the 50’s… I watched her as the magnitude of what she had just witnessed sunk in, I saw the distance between what was and what now is.
I then looked at my then 13-year-old daughter. Her white face easily recognizable in the largely African American crowd. The joy in her was about something completely different. She felt engaged and hope filled and I think most of all, she felt heard. For the first time, she felt like something had been done for her- that she could relate to.
As I watched her, I was moved and proud I had gotten her here, to see and experience this. I imagined her telling her children about this night..
At times, as we departed, the crowds stood still… totally jammed for what looked like miles. I noticed young people, old people, white people, black people.
An older African American woman leaned on me, overcome with joy.
I could feel her joy flowing thru her to me, thru me to my neighbor, and on and on and on thru the crowd.
We were connected and in harmony.
Wild, drunk, erratically crazy joy.
The crowds eased, we turned to walk down Michigan Avenue. We walked in the streets—roads were closed everywhere. People were hanging from light posts. We’d be walking along and then like a tsunami wave; joy would come floating down the street.
At least 30 times, I thought Barack had shown up literally right in front of me because the crowds went so wild. I’d rush up to see, to hope, to find over and over—it was just joy, yet again, spilling over– uncontainable, erupting out of people spontaneously.
I was erupting too.
Crossing over the Chicago River, The joy continued. Honking and whistles and chants of “YES WE DID”—-fireworks and tears and laughter. An hour after that woman’s joy flowed thru me, I was still passing it on.
As I walked I lost my family briefly. It gave me a chance to check in with my self—to recognize what I was amidst, what I was feeling and experiencing. It was simply too much to take in. I thought about history and struggle. I thought about the sign on my front steps of my home that reads “ we shall overcome”. I thought about the future and how this moment would impact generations. But I struggled to have personal feelings. It was simply too big for my little container, I couldn’t assimilate it all.
Perhaps what was most remarkable for me was, this wasn’t about an election, or that someone won or lost— it was actually a rather apolitical moment. It had nothing to do with democrats or republicans. I know for a fact many people that evening hadn’t even voted for him. But—the joy was unavoidable. The power of it, its ability to penetrate your core— I was speechless for months. People asked me to describe the night, how it felt to be there, I just couldn’t find the words.
I think it’s an essential ingredient in a happy life.
When you are apart of joyful things, you can’t help but be joyful.
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