I spent the last five days before the elections in Chicago and there was a decidedly upbeat buzz in the air, international TV stations were staking out space, students of the many universities on Michigan Avenue were excitedly chatting while waiting for their coffees at Starbucks, and not because classes would be canceled. Even the CVS pharmacy was advertising one-way cameras “for the rally”. This is going to be the biggest party Chicago has ever seen, even Celine canceled her concert and it's going to take place on the very ground where, only 40 years ago, hundreds were wounded in an anti-Vietnam demonstration and under the man whose father was the mayor during the 1968 protests. I wish I could have stayed, even without a ticket!
At home, school was canceled for the day, and when I went to the deserted student coffee shop, the coffee lady, a Black post-middle-aged woman, started chatting with me. While preparing my coffee, and safely perched between the machine and the wall, Easter (really her name!) leaned in and demanded: “Whom did you vote for? “ This wasn't the first time a southerner was unexpectedly direct but I was still surprised; this is, after all, America, and people do not like getting too personal about certain subjects, including politics, in public. I told her I wasn’t eligible to vote but that I was hoping for an Obama victory. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she never thought she’d live to see the day (of a serious African-American candidacy). Many have commented on the historical character of the elections and so it's almost trite to note the obvious. But hers was a sentiment I've encountered a lot, especially from folk who grew up on the wrong side of Segregation, a period that is still in living memory here in the south. Lieberman’s candidacy and the excitement it created among Jews can’t even begin to compare.
Like me, Easter was still worried, but also giddy with excitement. She was quite aware of the difficulties laying ahead--my school e.g. is in the process of "absorbing" a 15% budget cut and more is to come. But her dream is to walk the streets of our (staunchly Republican) town tonight with a camera in hand. I hope I will get to see her photographs soon.