Flanked by a magnificently illuminated Chicago skyline on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, Barack Obama acknowledged victory before a crowd of jubilant supporters at Grant Park, ending a historic presidential race that saw Americans elect their first black president.
On a beautiful Chicago night, the new president-elect brought home his campaign message of change.
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight…change has come to America,” said Obama as the crowd roared.
In a soaring speech that was frequently interrupted by chants of “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma,” the Democratic president-elect warned of the challenges ahead. “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep,” he said, before adding, “But America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you that we as a people will get there.”
To which, the crowd responded with a thunderous, “Yes, we can.”
‘I chose to believe’
Standing in the press enclosure at Grant Park shortly after the speech, David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, said he had envisaged this momentous victory all along. “I had a deep belief in him and in the country,” said Axelrod, a consultant from Chicago who has known Obama since the 1990s. “I chose to believe and I am so pleased.”
For many of the 125,000-odd people gathered at the park, Obama’s historic victory symbolized more than just a political win.
“I am so happy my 92-year-old grandmother lived to see this day. She insisted on voting today,” said 41-year-old Sheri Riley. “She didn’t think she would live to see a black man in the White House. And I’m so happy that my one-year-old daughter will grow up knowing that a black man or a Latino or anyone can be president of the USA. Today is the beginning.”
‘Proud of every single American’
Days before the Nov. 4 election, Obama announced that he would end his campaign in this majestic lakeside garden in downtown Chicago. But his campaign was careful not to cast the gathering as a victory rally.
Nevertheless, the organizers of this election night gathering were well-prepared for a victory.
Shortly before Obama appeared, the park erupted into spirited dancing and swaying as the popular Blues Brothers song “Sweet Home Chicago” rocked the night air. It was followed by a documentary about ordinary Americans expressing their hopes for change.
The mood in the park, which was celebratory from the start, turned euphoric at 10 PM Chicago time, when US media outlets declared Obama the winner minutes after the last polls in the country – including the electoral vote-heavy California – closed.
The screams were deafening, the chants of “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” continued for minutes and many broke down in tears upon hearing the news.
“We won, we are united. Only in America. I am so proud. I am so proud of every single American who voted for him,” said Joelle Ekindi, a 24-year-old native Chicagoan between sobs.
Standing beside her, Andrew Quinlan could only shake his head in shock. “Oh man, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” said the 26-year-old from Chicago. “This is huge. This is huge, I can’t believe it. I will at some point, but right now, I’m barely digesting this.”