Election Day, 5 Days Early
I happened to be off work yesterday (here in Chicago) and decided to do a little early voting. I ran by my early voting place at about 10am, on a workday, and found the line out the door of my little neighborhood public library. Drove by around 1pm. The line was still there. At 2pm, I joined the line and waited 2.5 hours to vote. The line wrapped around my neighborhood branch, and inside the library the line snaked through all the stacks and around the entire inside of the library ending in a room where another 30 people waited in chairs for an electronic booth to open. There must have been at all times 200-300 people. When I left at about 4:30, the line outside was twice as long, all the way down the block. Probably 500 people. Polls were to close at 5pm.
As I was waiting outside, the energy buzzing around was palpable and electrifying. People driving by kept stopping and asking if this was a voting line. When someone answered yes, they almost always smiled this sort of fantastic, happy smile of wonderment and all-is-right-in-the-world-ishness. High school kids doing some sort of project for school where going up and down the line interviewing people. Dozens of people walking to the grocery store nearby stopped, pulled cell phones from pockets and took pictures. Some stopped to talk to people in line. It felt a bit like those moments after a catastrophe when there is no more Me as much as there is Us, except this was a joyful occasion, rather than a terrifying one. It felt appropriately historic.
My neighborhood is full of African immigrants, Muslims, and elderly Old World immigrants (along with your friendly mix of gentrifiers). It was so fantastic to see, especially among the African immigrants, the barely surpressed grins when people got to that final leg of the line, into that room where the voting booths surrounded us. I heard several people talking about getting tickets to the rally in Grank Park, which are much coveted. The seventy thousand that they put out seems at least 1/10th too small, and dozens of people talked about planning to go down there anyway.
Don't get me wrong, 2.5 hours is a long time to wait. Exhiliration gave way sometimes to annoyance, only to be perked back up to exhiliration by something else. There are 51 early voting locations in the city, and from what I've read in the papers, almost all of them have been similarly swamped for the 2 weeks or so that they have been open.
I know that Obama is much beloved here. I'm sure there is no city in this country that will probably vote more heavily for him. So it's not as if we were there to assure his victory in our city and state. And there really aren't any hotly contested legislative or local elections this year (Durbin is a shue-in; Schakowsky is shue-in). I think what really got me was that all of us were willing to put up with 2.5 hour waits in order to register our belief in this guy and in order to register our severe discontent with the current administration.
My reluctance to early vote was partly due to the fact that I've always enjoyed the euphoria I feel voting on Election Day. It was a treat to find that I didn't miss that one bit. Seems like that energy's been floating here for 2 weeks already.
I'm trying to reign in my optimism, but it's hard after yesterday: Tuesday is shaping up to be a good day.