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Grant Park, Nov. 4, 2008

Where Were You on November 4?

by Mo Ellis

november 4 2008, election night 2008, grant park 2008, grant park nov 4
Grant Park, November 4, 2008. (Photo Mark Paul Petrick 2008)

On November 4, 2008, from Grant Park my view west took in the Chicago skyline glowing red, white, and blue with floodlights reflecting the flags and patriotic mood of the crowd below. As I looked north, the windows in a tall tower were strategically lit up to read “USA” and another just to the left of it, “Vote 2008.”

I made it to Grant Park thanks to my new BFFs Mark Petrick and Betsy Dockhorn, who turned around on their way to Chicago to pick me up in Fairfield after my last-minute call to Mark’s cell phone mid-morning asking for a ride.

A sure sign that something extraordinary was happening in our nation could be felt in the unseasonably warm temperature in Chicago and around our country in the days leading up to the election as citizens stood in early voting lines. A November night in the Windy City that should have been cold or wet welcomed us with Indian-summer warmth and a gentle breeze off Lake Michigan.

The crowd on Hutchinson Field was definitely under 30. I spotted only about a dozen boomers near me and, of course, Oprah and Jesse Jackson on the Jumbotron. I wondered about the absence of my age demographic, until the next morning when I felt the ache in my feet and legs as I hobbled to the nearest Starbucks for a shot of motivation before a brief shopping spree and a five-hour drive back to Iowa.

On another unseasonably warm day a week earlier, Senator Barack Obama had returned to Iowa, for one last stop in a state that one talking head called his “spiritual home,” with a population that broke ranks in the first 2008 primary, catapulting Obama’s campaign headlong onto the presidential battlefield. “What you started here in Iowa has swept the nation” he said, “a whole new way of doing democracy. . . and it’s all across the country now.” Yes, we can.

The meaning and impact of this and another extraordinary event of 2008 in my life is still unfolding. On election night in Hutchinson Field, I felt reunited with my country after 40 years of separation on important issues of national and international policy.

But, even more dear, I had also reunited with my son, Scot Andrews, born 40 years earlier, on November 18, 1968, who met me with both openness and compassion after 20 years of post-adoption searching by both of us. On the day after Scot’s birth, I lay crying in my hospital room, shocked by the finality of our separation when I was told he had left the hospital without me, feeling a part of my soul split off, to remain absent almost 40 years before returning home to me in Colorado. 

During our reunion in Boulder last September, each of us was relieved to find the other was an Obama supporter, coming as we both do from families that were enthusiastically for McCain. After my husband Tony, Scot, and I finished our first-ever meal together, we walked along the Pearl Street Mall, finally settling into a packed sports bar to watch the second Presidential debate but staying long after to share our life stories that night, and late each night until we left Scot at the Denver airport two days later.

I find myself thinking about my deceased parents and wondering how they would have reacted to both a reunion with their firstborn grandson and the election of Barack Obama within two months of each other this year. I grew up on their promise that “anyone can to be president of the United States,” but had my doubts as I became more politically sophisticated about the alliances formed on the path to political office.

I’m also thinking about another event 40 years ago, in 1968, when Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley sanctioned a violent police response to demonstrators outside the Democratic National Convention who had come to Chicago energized by their anthem to “change the world.”

But the events of Chicago, 1968, didn’t change the world; instead, an idealistic nation of young people retreated from political life to embrace a more inward, community grassroots lifestyle. A lifestyle fundamental to the birth of alternative health care, the natural foods industry, important environmental mandates, and neighborhood yoga/meditation centers—trends that were nurtured and slowly absorbed into our national fabric over the next four decades.

Interestingly, last month, as I stood riveted to my spot at Hutchinson Park at this historic event celebrating the many divides in our national life that were healing, and adding my voice to the chorus of youth chanting their anthem, “yes, we can,” another mayor, Richard M. Daley (who in 1968 was about the same age as many of the young people who rioted in Chicago), presided over and restored my respect to his city, and to his dad. These two men uniquely frame my thoughts on our evolving 40-year political history as father/son bookends. I heard Mayor Daley, who was downtown on election night, describing his citizenry as they literally danced through his city as a sea of  “happy faces.” There were no arrests made at Grant Park, where 240,000 of us stood together for six or seven hours and after we spilled out onto Michigan Avenue. Mounted policemen were ready but not needed. The crowd was self-controlled. It was a night of celebration, not violence. It was the city of Chicago at its best. And our country at its finest.

Where Were You on November 4?

When Mo Ellis came to us with her story about election night, she also suggested that we ask others in Iowa and around the country to share their accounts of that historic evening. Here’s a sampling of what we received:

"I was born in 1968..." by Caterina Titus

"I was so nervous I could barely walk straight..." by Neil Fauerso

"I was where many were—at home..." by Thomas Dean

"My account is a simple one..." by Tracy Chipman

"I was on vacation with my sister in Paris..." by Donna Schill

"I did NOTHING on election night..." by Shane Brown

"Anxiety compelled me to sublimate: I started making chocolate brownies..." by Lillian Darr

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