ELECTION IN FOCUS: ‘Yes, we did’
Kaitlynn Riely | Sunday, November 9, 2008
CHICAGO – Standing before a crowd of thousands in Chicago’s Grant Park, with millions more watching on television in the United States and around the world, president-elect Barack Obama announced that “change has come to America.”
Obama, with his wife Michelle and their two daughters, took the stage at Grant Park Tuesday night, less than an hour after CNN, the station broadcasting the election results on giant screens throughout the park, announced he had been elected the 44th and first black president of the United States.
Following CNN’s announcement, cheering broke out in Grant Park. Obama supporters, numbering over 100,000 broke out into cheers of “Yes, we did,” an evolution of the “Yes, we can” cheers performed at Obama rallies during his campaign.
Obama defeated Sen. John McCain, leading 338 electoral votes to McCain’s 159 electoral votes at press time.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama said.
But his win in the presidential race is not the end of the campaign, Obama said.
“The victory alone is not the change we seek,” he said. “It is only the chance for us to make that change.”
Obama acknowledged that his presidency will face great challenges, with two wars, schools to build, a financial crisis to heal and threats from America’s enemies.
“The road will be long,” he said. “Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”
Speaking in the land of Lincoln, Obama quoted from the 16th president’s Gettysburg Address, and used Lincoln’s words to urge the victorious Democratic Party to celebrate with “humility and determination to heal the divides.”
Obama spoke to those who did not vote for him, saying he will need their help in his presidency. He addressed those watching the election from outside the borders of the United States.
“To those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unwielding hope.”
Obama told the story of a 106-year-old African American woman who cast a ballot for him Nov. 4 in Atlanta, Ga. He reflected on all the change she has seen in America in her lifetime. And he asked Americans to ask themselves, if they or their children live to see the next century, what progress will they have seen?
It was this story of the 106-year-old woman, who voted for an African-American president in the same lifetime as segregation and who was born not long after the Civil War ended, that resonated with Valerie Jefferies, a 44-year-old African American from the Chicago suburbs.
“I understand her story because that is my grandmother’s story,” she said. Jefferies’ grandmother, who is 90 years old, voted Saturday for Obama.
“It was a historic moment, for her as well as Sen. Obama,” she said. “Her arthritis is so bad, she could barely fill out the ballot, but she made it through.”
It was a proud moment for Jefferies as well.
“I voted this morning,” she said. “I was overcome with emotion. I never thought that would happen.”
Emotions were running high all night in Grant Park, and when CNN announced that Obama had secured the electoral count, and won the presidency, the crowd broke out in a sustained cheer.
Joseph Colson, 34, was standing in the non-ticketed section of the Grant Park Election Night rally when Obama’s victory was announced. He said he was ecstatic.
“Words cannot describe,” he said. “I did not think I would see this day.”
He said he could not have asked for a better evening.
“I was very nervous all day, and came down cautiously optimistic, but as the polls came in I got more excited,” he said.
George and Laurie Morgan, both 54, are self-described “political freaks.” They were also watching the Election Night coverage in the non-ticketed lot.
“We’ve been following this for two years now,” George Morgan said. “Every night we sit and watch TV, and this whole buildup of two whole years, but just like everyone else we had this fear that it wouldn’t happen. So it’s a combination of exalting and this great release. And, oh my God, this is finally over. And thank God it turned out the way it did.”
George Morgan said he was in Grant Park to see the Pope in 1979, but said he did not remember the crowds being this big.
Laurie Morgan almost didn’t come to the rally Tuesday night, but George convinced her.
“He said, you’ve got to be part of something bigger than yourself, so we came,” she said.
The Silas family, Shana, 32, Earl, 36, and R.J., 6, were standing near the Morgans on Election Night in Grant Park.
They came to watch the returns, with thousands of others, to “breathe living history.”
“It’s been wonderful,” Shana Silas said. “People from all walks of life, no fighting. We were hugging total strangers.”
The election results are significant to Shana and Earl Silas, who are African-American, and especially for their son.
“It means I can tell him he can do anything and really mean it,” she said.
Ann Wanserski, 19, a student at Loyola University Chicago, came to Grant Park with her friends to watch the Election Night activity.
“It’s a complete adrenaline rush being here around all the people,” she said. “I really felt like my vote counted.”
When the 270-mark was reached, Ryan M. Flesher unfurled a large banner that read, “Happy days are here again.”
But Flesher, 40, said he was anxious, not optimistic for an Obama victory earlier that day. When the results came in and victory was declared, he felt relieved.
And following the Obama speech, Flesher had packed a bottle of champagne in his backpack to celebrate with.
But in Phoenix, McCain supporters were not celebrating, and the contrast to the Obama event was evident when the scene from Arizona was broadcast in Grant Park. In his speech, Obama congratulated McCain for his hard-fought campaign.
“Sen. McCain fought long and hard in this campaign,” Obama said. “And he’s fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves.”
The crowd at Grant Park watched McCain give his concession speech. McCain congratulated Obama, who he said has “inspired the hopes of so many Americans.”
“Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and his country,” McCain said. He encouraged all Americans who supported him in the election to support the next president.
Obama thanked his supporters as well as his campaign staff, his running mate Sen. Joe Biden and his wife and his two daughters, who, he said, have earned a new puppy to bring to the White House in January.