So it Begins

America’s great pastime is not baseball or football, it’s politics. And I spent November 6 with the cheerleaders. There were a measly 10,000 tickets available for Obama’s election night rally at McCormick Place, and some went to the Illinois volunteers who had canvassed and made calls for Obama in the final days of the election (full disclosure: that’s me). The crowd waited in a line that made even voting queues look small, and for once, it was easy to forget that Chicago is a hyper-segregated city. The young and old of every race mingled easily, all sharing the same excitement and the same topic of conversation–the results. None of the polls had closed yet, but those with smartphones were already glued to their news-feeds.

“Florida’s polls are closing in three minutes!” “Does anyone have an update on Virginia?”

One student from a group of Northwestern Democrats turned off his phone, fearing that it might run out of batteries before the night was over. Within a few minutes, he cracked: “Can somebody update CNN?”

At 7:30, the doors opened, and the crowd surged ahead to a hall as big as an airplane hangar. There, in the middle, was an empty podium. Thus began six hours of standing on a concrete floor, packed in like sardines. A giant screen showed six TV stations at once. With each electoral vote for the home team, cheers erupted and flags waved furiously; for every electoral vote for Romney, there were boos.

The polls closed in the Eastern Time Zone and the Central. News came from blogs and Twitter updates ever few minutes and rippled through the crowd. How many votes had been counted now in Ohio, in Virginia? What was this about gay marriage in Maine? What the hell was going on in Florida?

The sun crossed the Rockies and reached the Pacific; voters went home in California and then Alaska. The electoral count, on six different screens, climbed up. Then, near 11:30, at around the fourth hour of waiting, it reached 270. Over the shouting, the announcement that Barack Obama had won was barely audible.

The night was not over by a long shot. There were still more hours of standing on that concrete floor, more photos to take for Facebook, Romney’s concession speech, and then, at last, the victory speech. At the end of the night, the crowd filed out, excited and exhausted. Their feet ached. They were exhilarated that they had seen history. They were depressed about having to get back to work tomorrow. So began the next four years.