November 18, 2008

The President-elect belongs to 57th St. books

The weekend after the huge victory party for Barak Obama in Grant Park, we were in Chicago for a big party in the suburbs. But we worked out our travel plans so we would have most of Saturday to hang out downtown. A few of the tents from the victory event the previous Tuesday night were still up. The tents seemed similar to ones we had seen a few weeks earlier for the Chicago marathon.

Chicagoans seemed elated and a little dazed. As a former Chicagolander, the impact of Obama's victory was just sinking in. Suddenly, we were not in the Second City, but the first city in a way. We were now in Crawford, Texas; Martha's Vineyard; Abilene, Kansas. The world had changed in a wonderful new way. People around the world would see how proud Chicagoans are of not just the sports teams, but the culture, the museums, the gourmet restaurants, the music from Lollapalooza to the Symphony, the art, the beautiful parks along the Lake.

I was working in The Loop when Harold Washington won his mayoral race and I remember the mood in Chicago as being very different. As my friends probably correctly observed later in the weekend, the feeling after Washington won was the power each ethnic group feels as one of its own takes over the city. Personally, as a young white woman, I found it intimidating. The mood literally changed overnight from a city that was kind of working together to one group looking down on the others with sneers of pride. It was not a particularly pleasant time in Chicago, which I am sorry to say. In These Times remembers it differently. Race relations eventually took a big leap forward in the city as a result of Washington's election and leadership.

But the elated atmosphere after Obama's win felt very different. The entire city seemed to swell with pride. Many of the faces of the people in Grant Park that Tuesday night looked beatific and hopeful. This is a moment that seems to be bringing people together, bridging over past differences and seeing a way that maybe people can work together. After so many years of Bush 43 telling us 'you're either with us or against us,' people seemed to feel relief that we could be proud of our diversity but yet find that to be a great strength of the country. Our optimism, another important element of the national psyche, was being invited back.

Still, I think if you talk with most people these days, our optimism is tempered with reality. The financial collapse and spiraling mess means that the future is complicated no matter who would be president. At least we finally have a president-elect that speaks in complete sentences, reads books, has a nice core family, and listens to a wide variety of people's ideas before making decisions. Those basics seem like a decent place to start.

The photo was taken by the great graphic novelist Alison Bechdel on her recent book signing trip to Chicago. It's of the 57th Street Bookstore in Hyde Park, a few blocks from Obama's home. The bookstore is one of my family's favorites. It feels fine that it's also a frequently visited place by the Obamas. Here's a link to their weblog and the latest books they are promoting.

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