CHICAGO, Ill. — Suzie Hernandez woke up yesterday with a feeling that President Obama was going to be re-elected and convinced three of her colleagues to make the four-hour-long drive from their hometown in Ohio to Chicago to celebrate at the end of Election Day.
“Four years ago today, I stayed home and watched Obama win on TV,” Hernandez said. “But I wished I was down here, so I got up and recruited people to come with me. They said I was crazy, but I got them to come anyway.”
Others came from even farther away — Gabriel Peron and Morgane Kaluzinski, of London, made the trip all the way to Chicago this year. Proud supporters of Obama, the two came to Chicago four years ago to celebrate his victory and said they felt it was important for them to show up in person and demonstrate their support.
While both reporters and taxi drivers in downtown Chicago said that the city seemed empty and the level of enthusiasm lower than in the 2008 election, spending just a few minutes at Thompson Center, where many Obama supporters congregated Tuesday night, suggested otherwise. Cars honked in the streets and people — some half-naked, despite the chilly weather — ran through the plaza, screaming and celebrating. One man held his bike up over his head in triumph.
Even after President Obama was declared the winner by several major news organizations at 11:33 p.m., people came pouring into the plaza. As already-old news of each state’s winner flashed across the screen, the crowd booed and cheered as if the election results were new. Cold rain was not enough to deter people from staying, and some people, who had brought chairs with them, had camped out in the plaza when the screen was first set up.
Like Hernandez, Kim Knight said she decided the chance of seeing Obama celebrate re-election was worth a long drive. Together with her son Joseph Knight, she made the trip from Burlington, Iowa and left as soon as her son got out of school.
“I was a lot more nervous this year — I’ve been crying,” she said. “I brought my son both times because I want him to remember history. He was so young when I brought him four years ago.
“But he still remembers,” she nudged her son as he smiled.
There were a number of other young faces in the crowd. Bronte Phipps, an 11-year-old called the celebration “fascinating.” She said she loved being part of an event in which all these different people came together, while fellow 11-year-old Caitlin Preuss, who stood next to her, chimed in and said the presidential debates are her favorite part of the whole election process.
For Kansas resident Andrea Mick, it was necessary to come to Chicago to truly express her opinions about Tuesday night’s election.
“We don’t have anything like this in Kansas to support Obama, because … well, basically it’s not allowed in Kansas,” she said.
No matter their hometown, the crowd outside the Thompson Center all celebrated Obama’s victory differently. At the announcement of President Obama’s re-election, one woman at the very front of the crowd broke into tears, speechless as a group of photographers gathered around her to capture her reaction. She simply buried her face in her hands and looked up in disbelief every few seconds.
Her friend laughed and joked — “He won, silly!” — but she continued to sob.
Whether people were crying or cheering, though, one thing was clear: the hope Obama championed in his 2008 campaign was still alive and well among those at the heavily attended celebration Tuesday night.
President Obama served as a senator from Illinois before running for president in 2008.