The Night We Elected Barack by Preston Thomas

 The Night We Elected Barack Obama | Grant Park, Chicago | © Preston Lewis Thomas

The Night We Elected Barack Obama | Grant Park, Chicago | © Preston Lewis Thomas

Alas, gentle readers, due to the wildly disappointing nature of this cluster f*ck of a presidential campaign by which we are all being held hostage, I’ve decided to plant my brain in happier times… November 8, 2008, Rally for Barack Obama, Grant Park, Chicago.

On the day of the rally, I stopped in to the now defunct, Calumet Photo to rent a zoom lens for the evening. I’d picked out what I figured would be a decent choice, but when the sales rep discovered what I was planning to photograph, he immediately grabbed another, decidedly more expensive specimen. “For this occasion, you’ll need this,” he said. He allowed me to rent it for the same price. Nice.

The largess of the guy at Calumet Photo would carry on throughout the night.

When my wife, my daughter and I made it to the gate just outside the grounds, we were told that small children weren’t allowed – safety reasons. Then the woman took one look at my daughter and smiled, “go ahead…” Be careful.

The place was already packed. Every color on earth. Every language on the planet. Nappy hair, straight hair, curly hair, no hair… All sharing the same space, peacefully. In fact, I can say without hyperbole, that the overwhelming “calm” was downright eerie. It was as if we’d all agreed not to jinx it. The plan was to bring this man into the Oval Office with quiet jubilation. Shhhhhhhh.

Like sardines. The space between us made holding the camera in front of my face to focus simply impossible most of the time. I often raised my arms above my head and tapped the shutter button, hoping for the autofocus to do me a solid and capture what I was barely able to see across the park.

We all became fast friends:

  • If you went for water, you checked with those around you to see if they also wanted some.
  • If you needed to get into your backpack, someone would help you get it off, then back on again.
  • And when my back began to ache from the weight of my daughter who demanded to see everything, my surrounding compadres helped out.

And so the evening went; state after state and speech after speech, until it finally became clear what was about to happen.
The immense weight of it came down in a deluge.

This is History.
This Black man.
This President whose middle name is Hussein.
We’re doing this.

Joy and hugs and screams and tears and prayers…
and hands extended, reaching for the sky.
Which brings me to this photograph.

In one simple gesture, this hand mirrored every emotion coursing through my veins
and collecting on the surface of my skin.
My brown skin.
like the President’s skin.
Now, how about that?

Carry on.

Obamaja of Wicker Park by Preston Thomas



Monday afternoon, driving north on Milwaukee Ave through Wicker Park:
“Poetry! Poems! Poetry! Poems!”
As happens so often, I am intrigued. I make a u-turn and add yet another traffic violation to my daily meanderings.

“Are you saying Poetry?” I ask.
“Hey Brother, yeah. I write poems. Sometimes people think I’m saying Porn, though”

This gentleman’s name is Obamaja – nothing to do with the president. He tells me the name means “possessed by the King’s spirit”. We talk for a while.

I learn that he was once a choir boy and that he went to school with the famous, and reportedly vicious Chicago mobster, Anthony Spilotro. “Man, they had white shag carpet in the basement! I’d be afraid to come in, but Tony would say ‘don’t worry about that shit’.”

Obamaja believes that demigods, demons, and angels walk the streets regularly. He believes in space travel as a way to understand The Creator. ‘The Creator’ is how Obamaja refers to God. He says that in the song ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’, the chariot is actually a spaceship. Then, he says he can tell that I am an angel just for coming back to talk to him. This catches me off guard.

He is not homeless. He and his brother have an apartment. Obamaja writes his poetry because it makes him happy, and makes him a few bucks. People pay whatever. He tells me that his face is part of a mural at Lake Street and Damen. I plan to visit this a bit later.

I buy a couple of poems: One is about the blue sky. The other is about love. He gives me a hug, then I’m off.

A bit of audio…

Contemplation of Things Great and Small by Preston Thomas

 of things great and small  | © PRESTON LEWIS THOMAS

of things great and small  | © PRESTON LEWIS THOMAS

She moves at her own pace, this old soul. Despite all of the chaos and cacophony ginned up by the crowds of big ol’ lumbering grown folks surrounding her, and while completely ignoring her mother’s outstretched hand, she walks slowly along... carefully considering each little step, and perhaps weighing the pros and cons of civil disobedience at large.

Her coat, which reminds me of impeccable classic 50s style, simply augments the pensive nature of her disposition. Audrey Hepburn might have worn such a garment, I think.

We have something in common, this little Queen and I. We’re both in the throes of a protest march, but neither of us is actually protesting. I am ever “one eye open” and peering through a tiny diopter to capture what I believe will tell a story. My fellow traveler and muse is advancing at a glacial pace, detached and contemplative, and deliberately just out of reach of the woman calling to her.

Her defiance seems fitting.

On this day and all over this planet women are shouting, in no uncertain terms, that the decisions which govern their lives will not be made by committee, or by a bloated tyrant of diminutive intellect. They are busy making it perfectly clear that they will not be subjugated, dictated to, or driven backward in time.

It would appear that this second coming of Rosa Parks has decided to embody every bit of that Declaration of Independence.

I believe many great women begin this way, but judging from the look on her mother’s face, I think she may want to save this exercise in free will for another time.

-Women's March Against Trump | 21.January.2017