Change from sea to shining sea

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Editor's note: Kyle Jeffery, 21, the grandson of Dorothy Robinson and nephew of Jim and Nancy Wilson, all of Richards, Mo., was at the Obama rally in Grant Park, Chicago, when the nation made history by electing a black man to the presidency for the first time. His account of the events follows.

A major world movement doesn't come all that often, but when it does, you know it. Something about the force behind positive change gets into every part of your body and you know that something special is happening at that very moment.

November 4, 2008, was the closest I will ever come to experiencing a world movement first hand; and it transcends all words. Nothing I can say will accurately describe the emotion and feeling of that day, but I will try my hardest.

The days before the election were tense in the city of Chicago. Passing the U.S. Officials building every day became an eerie pattern, watching the numerous men in black suits and sunglasses stand guard over the surrounding blocks. The bustling city seemed to screech to a halt as Grant Park was overrun with trucks, buses, vans, police, news reporters, and the Secret Service. The city was suspended in a balance, with people waiting to either stand proud or fall to their knees. The unspoken anticipation was so strong it seemed as though you could break it with your hands.

Barack Obama's hometown of Chicago had the great honor of hosting his election night rally in Grant Park. Roughly 70,000 tickets were handed out online on a first come, first served basis and I was lucky enough to receive one. In preparation for the evening, my school closed its doors to avoid the expected influx of people to the South Loop. My roommate and I made our way across the two blocks from our apartment to join the already massive crowd waiting for the gates of the park to open. We arrived at 5 p.m. to wait in line until the announced time of 8:30 p.m. when we would all be allowed to enter the park. Despite arriving more than three hours in advance, we were easily 5,000 people from the front of the line. The restrictive rules of the event left me with nothing but my wallet, video camera, and uncontrollable excitement. We were about to witness history. No one seemed concerned or frustrated with the stifling crowd. Instead, the more the mass grew, the more exuberant it became. Everyone brought with them the love, compassion and hope that has been missing from politics for a long, long time. We were all one big family. New friends were made, new bonds formed, and together we all eagerly awaited announcements of progress.

Standing and waiting outside the gates we found the first real signs of hope in our struggling world. We were connected for the first time in quite a while. Signs in hundreds of different languages showed support and hope of our future. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, every race, every creed, every possible person stood together with one hope and dream. Throughout the entire night, I did not see one incident nor hear even one negative word. Tonight was an evening of love, compassion and the promise of a brighter future. Cameras broadcast our anticipation all over the world. We talked to Argentina, Australia, France, and even Kenya while waiting until our entry. We were approaching a world understanding of what needed to change and what was about to happen.

With every small surge towards the gates, the crowd went crazy. Endless chants and cheers kept us all going through the constant expectancy. Hundreds of Blackberries and iPhones kept us updated on the election results. Not one announcement went without the roaring cheer of thousands of hopeful people waiting for the evening to pass. When 7 p.m. rolled around the crowd could not wait any longer. The mass of people moved slowly and diligently forward, through the numerous security checks and onto the prepared field in Grant Park.

In all reality, nothing could have prepared you for the next few hours. Past the security gates, you walk through a thick row of trees to find yourself at the top of a hill looking down into a small, flat valley. At one end is a maze of fencing and barricades, and at the other end is an explosion of light, sound, and excitement. Trying hard to not break out into a run, you make your way down the hill and join the already amazing crowd surrounding several tents and stages. It takes a little while to figure out what exactly you are looking at. Behind you stands an intimidating high-top tent with an open front. Inside are hundreds of reporters. Looking closely you recognize several of them. CNN has their own booth, as does ABC and other larger stations. To your left and right are two giant screens that display the latest in poll coverage. And then you realize what must be, what has to be, directly in front of you. There is a black wall with 20 American flags perfectly lined up, and in front of it stands a simple wooden podium.

This was the moment I realized exactly where I was and how lucky I was to be there. I stood there silently under the dark, clear sky and did my best to soak in as much as I could. This change, this transformation, this world movement was actually happening. It was all around, working its way through the crowd and gracing each and every one of us. This was no longer just an election of our next president, but it became the unification of the world in which we all live and thrive on. It stood for so much more than politics. It stretched out and swept under its wing the hope of progress and advancement of the entire human race from every single corner of the earth. Everyone there knew it and felt it. America was about to break the boundaries the world was afraid to touch.

As the long night went on, the crowd grew exponentially. A sea of people stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. The election results slowly came in. With every update, the crowd grew more and more excited as if it was the deciding factor. Complete strangers stood strong together to stand up for what they believe was right and honest. Shoulder to shoulder, the hundreds of thousands sent a very clear message to the rest of the world that the era of transformation is upon us. It was time for the world to change its old bigotries and senseless hate and to open up to the possibilities in which love and understanding can bring. With it comes the promise that the world will survive yet another day.

Then, 8:30 p.m. finally rolled around. What was originally the scheduled opening of the gates was now way past its time. This crowd, while orderly and peaceful, was uncontrollable and stretched out and across the city. One of the greatest moments of the night was during the first sound check of the microphones. The crowd down in the valley, busy chanting, singing, dancing, and enjoying life to the fullest, stopped to peer up at the podium. Sounds could be heard. Voices came from the direction we all waited and hoped for. "1… 2…3…testing….testing."

Everyone cheered.

"1…2…3…"

The technician went on several times checking. At the end, he gave one triumphant "Obama!" Everyone in the valley, completely in unison shouted to the skies "OBAMA!!!!" Seconds after we all quieted came the most tear-worthy moment of the pre-decision night. A deafening roar of "OBAMA!!!" came up over the hill and out over the surrounding fields covering and touching every part of city. The thousands without a ticket gathered behind us, just out of sight over the hills and through the trees. Everyone, astounded, turned to look up at the city in which the faceless ovation came. The video screens quickly cut to an aerial view of Grant Park to reveal to all of us in the valley the tiny stage hidden deep within the countless crowd that spread out and across the entire city. The power of support was evident at that very moment. A booming roar like no other could be heard.

The night went on; slower and slower it seemed.

The gaps between updates extended into lifetimes. The crowd somehow continued to grow. People continuously filed down into the valley and crammed everyone closer together. Under normal circumstances, this would have never flown. No one cared, though. It was no longer about our personal comfort and space, it was about a statement to be made to the world. I got separated from my friend among the thousands, as did most of the people in groups. It didn't matter. We were all friends for the night, all long time buddies that had never met before. All our eyes faced forward toward the screen and forward towards the future. As the ever-important electoral votes rolled in, we all switched from friends to family. Every vote was one step closer to the hope and dream of change. The running joke became the dramatic "Election Projection" on CNN.

Every time the music started and the screen came up, everyone yelled "PROJECTION!!", slapped high fives, bumped bellies, spun in a circle or something of the like.

The increasingly promising night in Chicago slowly changed from a rally for support to an unprecedented celebration of the unstoppable and definitive decisions our nation was taking.

There weren't many states left to be called and Obama had a huge lead already. Everyone knew what was coming. The normal CNN announcement came, except this time it read "BREAKING NEWS."

Everyone held their breathe for what seemed like an eternity. Everyone's mind was racing a mile a minute trying to guess what was coming next. Either something good or bad was about to revealed. "Barack Obama Wins Presidency." There are no words. The feeling of pure elation cannot be described on paper. Everything goes numb and silent, yet so vivid and thunderous at the same time. You become so centered on where you are at that time, yet you somehow manage to take in everything that is happening around you. The tears start to flow from everyone. High fives, hugs, kisses, dancing, singing, crying. Out of the crowd rivaling the size of the March on Washington of 1963, there was not a single dry eye. Although the victory had been apparent for quite some time, this was the time. All the anticipation, the build up, the expectation and hope had all finally come around to show its face to us. We were witnessing history that will be read and showed until this world no longer stands. We stood at the crossroads of the past and the future, and we clearly made up our mind on which we should head. Yet, as historic as this day is and was, it was not about the race or color of the skin that we had so victoriously elected into office. Instead, it was about electing an American that is important to us as individual human beings. A person that actually shows that he cares about the basic needs, rights, and desires of all of us. We elected neither a black nor white man into the office. We elected an American.

There isn't much more to say.

The crowd of 240,000 rang loud and clear for nearly half an hour up until the President-elect walked out on stage. The faces of people from every race, creed, age, sex, and orientation lit up past the point of joy. Everyone saw the speech.

I would be fooling myself if I thought I could even remotely describe it with any justice. Make what you will from the night and the entire election, but I know being there that I was part of history and saw the face of the future. This was and still is our world movement. It's about time.

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