I'm sitting in the airport in Chicago, waiting for a flight to Newark and trying to assimilate what happened last night. The emails and text messages are streaming in, and I want to write a reply that justifies the incredible support you guys have given over the past 20 months. Unfortunately that means I'll be crying for the next few minutes, but screw it. Flying to New Jersey would be a good enough reason to cry even if it weren't one the most important days in 232 years of American history.
I started off this last stretch of campaigning in Colorado, where my friends Kathy Barry and Bob Burnett were managing a portion of the Obama/Udall Boulder efforts. They sent me out to Longmont, where I finally understood what the words "swing state" mean. The houses literally (as Biden would say) alternated: McCain sign, Obama sign, McCain sign, Obama sign. One after the other. I was impressed with the quality of the lists they gave me to canvass. This was no primary where you knocked on virtually every door. Our lists were culled and honed -- every house was either an Obama house or a house where we had good reason to believe that the resident was persuadable. Sometimes I was sent to find the one 18 year old in a house full of McCain supporters. One, I was looking for the wife of a gun-nut who told me that he'd never vote for Barack because "I got a M-16 in my car." (Useful, that. Everyone needs a machine gun in the trunk.) She, by the way, pulled me aside to tell me that she was voting for Obama and planned to leave for the polls right after her cretinous husband (my characterization, although I bet hers, too) left for work.
I managed to convince a man who was leaning McCain, drawing on my (perhaps a tad overstated) relationship with the candidate to promise that he could be trusted.
And then it was on to the real thing -- Michael flew in to Chicago with the four kids, and we met at the Hyatt Regency, where the plastic surgery conveners looked a little stunned by the hordes of Obama supporters, fundraisers, staff etc. milling around looking vaguely nauseated with anxious optimism. We took the kids to the Field Museum, and then Sophie and I went off to phone bank with the other members of the finance committee. Sophie, it turns out, is a natural phone-banker. I'm just sorry I didn't take her out of eighth grade in September to devote herself full-time to the cause. We called first Pennsylvania and then New Mexico, with polling place information and offers of rides to the polls.
Then the clock on CNN playing on the jumbo-tron clicked over, and the polls closed in Indiana and Kentucky. By then Michael and I realized that we couldn't hack sitting in a room full of sweating and gasping and tentatively clapping people, so we took the kids up to the hotel room, and spent the next two hours glued to the TV and fielding calls from folks telling us the results of the campaign's own exit numbers. (Which, by the way, were phenomenal. Better than the ultimate results. But it turns out being told that we're on track to win Missouri by 7 points doesn't keep you from bursting into hysterical, anxious tears every fifteen seconds).
And now for what you've been waiting for. Grant Park. I can't even describe the crowd. 1.1 million people. OVER A MILLION PEOPLE. And everyone singing, and screaming. By the time we got there we knew it was over. We'd just wiped the floor with McCain in PA (note to self: never again believe Republican hype.) and the mood was euphoric. While we waited for Barack to speak we mostly just stood around hugging everyone and trying not to cry. At one point I was standing in a circle of my law school classmates and trying to force myself to accept the notion that Cassandra Butts, Section 1 firebrand and progressive genius was now going to be a senior white house advisor. Or that Nicole Lamb was now going to be a Michigan political king maker. All these folks who we assumed would always be on the outside, speaking truth to power. And guess what? They -- we -- ARE the power now. Incredible.
The campaign had set up a viewing area for us right next to the podium -- near the bulletproof panels (have I mentioned how much I love the secret service? How I wish there were hundreds more of them guarding every breath Obama takes?) -- and we were smushed in there like sardines in a can (or polly pockets in Rosie's toy box). Zeke nearly had a complete OCD claustrophobic breakdown, but he pulled it together when I knelt down and begged him not to ruin the moment for himself. Rosie was up on Michael's shoulders, Abe was up on the truly heroic Sophie's shoulders so they were right there with the best views in the house -- Jill Biden actually pointed to Rosie and directed Joe's attention to her. (I call him Joe, of course, because he's my mom's best friend (refer to previous email.)
When Barack walked out he looked so serious. There were few of those face-cracking smiles of his. He seemed, like all of us, to be realizing the truly mind-bending historical significance of his victory. You can read his speech on line, so I won't bother to describe it. Suffice it to say that it was replete with moments of rhetorical grace and even eloquence. My favorite was when he told the America that had not voted for him that he intended to be their president, too, to represent their interests, too. What really knocked my socks off, though, was the story of the 106-year-old woman. The Yes We Can that turned into an awed call and response. That made Michael and me both cry, and could we have made the fat man standing between us disappear we probably would have fallen into one another's arms.
If you were watching on CNN you probably saw little blond Rosie on Michael's shoulders, and if you were watching on NBC you saw Abie rubbing his eyes and looking knackered.
After the main event, we went back to the finance tent and waited. And waited. And waited. And just when we decided not to bother waiting anymore, Barack and Michelle walked into the room. Rosie (again) took off running and I tried to follow her but she wormed her way into the crowd and disappeared. There were about 75 people in the room (more or less) listening to the most gracious thank you speech I've ever heard. He even managed to go through the crowd pointing at individuals (including me (I was up on a chair, after all), but more notably, Abe, who was again on Michael's shoulders, holding his hands out to Barack in a little heart shape. The President (!!!!) liked that).
Then Barack and Michelle started to leave, but before they did, Michelle leaned down and scooped up a little blond child, gave her a huge hug (and got one in return) and said, "Who does this little girl belong to?" Sophie stepped forward and said, "She's my little sister," and got her own squeeze.
Well, the plane to Newark is loading, and I've got to get on line. Time to finish this. But before I go let me just say that close to two years ago, when people were still smiling indulgently at Michael and me, and dismissing our faith as naive and silly, you all came through. You donated over and over again. You walked precincts and made calls.
Barack said this is our victory, not his. And it is. Who would have thought we could make this happen?
Yes we can and yes we did.