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ELECTION 2008: VOTERS WEIGH IN

For Obama fans, anxiety gives way to jubilation

November 05, 2008|Michael Finnegan and P.J. Huffstutter | Finnegan and Huffstutter are Times staff writers.

CHICAGO — The hundreds of thousands celebrating in a park on the Lake Michigan shoreline roared louder each time the giant video monitors showed that Barack Obama had won another battleground state: Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico.

"O-Ba-Ma! O-Ba-Ma!"

Finally, the underlying anxiety that he might lose gave way once and for all at 10 p.m., when the mass of humanity saw CNN declare Obama the next president of the United States.

They shrieked. They leaped with joy. They hugged strangers. They knelt and prayed.

And they cried.

"I knew it!" shouted Will Grandberry, 23, from Chicago. "I knew he could do it! I knew it wasn't just talk! Hallelujah!"

For Democrats, the despair that followed defeats in the presidential contests of 2000 and 2004 was over.

But Obama's supporters rejoiced over more than that. With the election of an African American president, the United States had crossed its highest racial barrier, and the magnitude of that step was lost on no one.

Certainly not on Brooke Tafoya, a 31-year-old social worker from southeast Chicago.

"It's one of the most positive moments of my whole life," she said, tears streaming down her face. "When I look back and people ask, 'Where were you?' I can be proud to say I was here and watched the whole thing happen. It's our hometown guy making good."

It was Chicago that launched Obama on his journey to the White House, electing him to the Illinois state Senate 12 years ago. Now the world had turned its gaze on the city and its most famous resident. Skyscrapers stayed lighted. Some windows in one high-rise spelled out "U.S.A." Atop another park-front building, revelers watched the crowd from a terrace awash in red, white and blue lights.

By the time Obama and the soon-to-be first family walked onstage, the crowd in Grant Park and nearby had grown to more than 240,000, according to the city's emergency management office.

"Hello Chicago," Obama said, greeting the crowd.

Mellie Tess, 26, hollered out: "Welcome, Mr. President!"

On this day, Obama told the audience, Americans "put their hands on the arc of history" and bent it "toward the hope of a better day."

Obama's supporters had started lining up nearly 12 hours earlier outside chain-link fences set up at the park. Nana Appiah squeezed through the crowd, cradling his camera against his chest, and pressed against the fence with one hope: To see the stage.

"I need to be there for myself," said Appiah, 49, who has spent most of his life in the Windy City. "It doesn't matter that I don't have a ticket into the rally. I just want to be there -- be as close as I can to history." The cab driver was far from alone. All day and well into the night, thousands crowded Chicago's downtown with hopes of seeing Obama.

Appiah shuttled scores of them to the park in his Checker Cab. After work, he parked, pulled on a tattered pair of sneakers and started walking.

Once Appiah entered the park, the stage was barely distinguishable above an ocean of dancing bodies and waving flags. But he could hear everything. As CNN began calling out states Obama was winning, Appiah looked skyward. Tears trickled down his cheeks. He could taste them as he smiled.

Throughout the evening, the crowd burst into chants of "Yes we can!"

But a button pinned on the lapel of one Obama supporter captured the spirit of the moment better: "Yes we did."

--

michael.finnegan @latimes.com

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

Times staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.

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