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Comparing experiences at Phoenix, Chicago rallies

by Scott Moshier,
  • Elon Alum Scott Moshier and his friend Marc Couillais attended Obama's rally in Chicago Election Night.


Elon Alum Scott Moshier attended President-Elect Barack Obama's rally in Chicago on Election Night.

After years of being a State Senator then a U.S. Senator, authoring two books, and months of campaigning, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign came to an end where his political career began: Chicago. While he could have chosen any site in the country to hold is Election Night rally, Obama chose Grant Park in downtown Chicago.  The park was previously known for hosting the Lollapalooza music festival in summers past.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the Obama campaign were cautious in planning the event, which cost the campaign over $2 million. Approximately 70,000 tickets were given to Obama supporters who registered for tickets on the campaign’s website.  Ticketed supporters attended the main event in Hutchinson Field at the south end of Grant Park.  Thousands more were given standby tickets, while others were denied tickets altogether.  However, a second area of the park was available to non-ticketed supporters.  A jumbotron was erected to allow these people to enjoy the spectacle despite not being able to see Obama in person.

While other friends of mine failed to get tickets, I was able to get a ticket for myself and a guest.  Living outside the city, I took a train in and arrived downtown shortly before five.  Even on the train, the people were buzzing with excitement.  It was on the train that I first heard people talk about the historical aspect of the event.  One woman said to another “You’ll be able to tell your children and grandchildren about this day.”

After departing from the train station, I met up with my friend Marc and we walked over to the event.  A number of main roads were blocked off for the event, and the police were everywhere.  Some were standing on the sidewalk, some were riding horses, some were directing traffic, and some were sitting in their squad cars.  Ticketed supporters had to cross through four security checkpoints.  The first three simply required us to present our tickets and identifications, while the final checkpoint had us pass through a metal detector.  Event promoters planned on opening the gates at 8:30, but were letting people through when we arrived at 6:30. 

The first thing I noticed at the rally was the general feelings of excitement and anticipation.  But even more than excitement, each person was hopeful.  There was a positive energy throughout the entire event, even before Obama gained a lead in electoral votes or long before he was announced the victor.  I didn’t hear a single person complain about security or long lines, nor were there were any fights or bickering between attendees.  The music was also fun and upbeat, ranging from Angels and Airwaves “The Adventure” to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” 

When I asked people why they came to the rally, their answers were all the same: history.  Monica Johnson from Plainville, Illinois told me, “Its history in the making,” and called Obama Chicago’s “hometown hero.”  When asked why he came to the rally, Illinois Institute of Technology student Marc Couillais was even more blunt, “It’s the political event of the 21st century and I have the opportunity to go.” 

The atmosphere of the event felt like a concert, albeit an enormous concert. The rally was standing room only, which meant lots of people were crunched together. At one point, I had to leave our spot towards the front to use one of the 265 portable toilets rented for the event.  Getting back to my spot required as much strength and agility as getting to the front row of at a Metallica concert.  Obama was not scheduled to speak until after 10pm.  To keep the crowd updated on the election, CNN’s coverage was broadcasted on two jumbotrons.  With each “CNN Projection” came a roar of applause or a deep bellow of boos. 

Shortly after 10, CNN announced that Barack Obama was projected to be the next President of the United States.  A thunderous roar stretched across the streets of Chicago.  To my life, a group of twenty-year old white men were jumping up and down and hugging each other.  To my left, a middle-aged African American couple embraced each other while the female sobbed.  Behind me, a man in his late 50’s pumped his fist and yelled in excitement.  To me, that is the essence of Barack Obama and his campaign.  Obama has been able to show this country that beyond race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and political affiliation lies a common humanity in which peace, hope, love, and equality are ideals that can actually be lived out.  He challenges us to care, inspires us to hope, and empowers us to create positive change.

Senator McCain’s concession speech followed shortly after Obama was declared the victor.  The Grant Park crowd was deeply respectful to the senator.  I felt his speech was the best he had given through the entire campaign.  However, I’m biased.  The only time significant booing came from the crowd was when McCain spoke of Governor Palin.

Obama and his family took the stage at 11pm Central Time.  His speech was short and to the point.  But it was hard for me to pay attention.  I was too busy taking in the magnitude of the event.  I was observing the people next to me while trying to look around on all sides to see how far back the crowds went.  It is hard to believe that a candidate I have supported since the beginning of summer 2007 and have cared so passionately about is now the President-elect.

The impact of Obama and the importance of the rally can best be summed up by the story of Megan McCarthy, a student at Michigan State University.  Megan woke up at her parents home in Grand Haven, Michigan at 6:30 in the morning (Eastern Time) to vote at her presinct at 7.  She then drove two hours to MSU to attend class.  Following her classes, she drove two hours by herself to the train station to get to Chicago.  However, traffic congestion caused her to miss her train.  Undaunted, Megan drove to three more train stations in hopes of catching up to the train.  Finally, she caught up the train at the station in Gary, Indiana.  She arrived in Chicago at 8pm.  Megan did not have a ticket to the rally, so she spent some time at some at Grant Park and some more time at two local bars.  She then took at train out of the city at 1:40 got home at 3, completing a chaotic 23-hour day.  When asked why she made the dramatic effort, she responded, “Its history and its one night of my life.”  This night was history, and it was one night of my life that I will never forget.  President-elect Obama has instilled hope in Americans, I am eager to find out what other changes he will bring.


Fox 10 Phoenix Photographer Joe Tillman was on assignment with his team to cover Sen. John McCain's rally on Election Night. As told to Bethany Swanson.

A crowd gathered outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Phoenix to support the candidate who by the end of the night would not be president-elect.

The emotional crowd in support of Sen. John McCain was divided into two sections, ticketed audience members on the lawn and others in the ballroom.

“It was an extremely enthusiastic crowd,” said Joe Tillman, a photographer for Fox 10 Phoenix who was covering the event. “They’re an extremely patriotic crowd, but they’re not taking the loss well.”

Early in the night, country music blared from speakers, but toward the end of the night, the crowd was not receiving up-to-date information, Tillman said.

“The news crews were informed, but no one in the ballroom or on the lawn knew what was happening,” he explained. “But we knew something was up because they told everyone to go from the ballroom to the lawn.”

The crowd was moved to the lawn for McCain’s concession speech.

Tillman and his crew interviewed crowd members, one man said his first act was to buy guns because guns will be the first thing to go, Tillman said.

“Many people were actually crying,” Tillman said. “There were lots of strong emotions.”