Before touching down in Chicago, I had a romantic vision that this would be some sort of blue Utopia – a prObama mirage hidden between New York and Los Angeles. In my dreams, Obama-Biden posters line every block, with small children gleefully hoisting “Change” signs on all corners.
And to some degree – depending on where you are – it’s almost like that. I passed a slutty lingerie shop with one of those Warhol-esque Obama portraits in the window. On the side of a restaurant near my friend’s house there’s a 25-foot black-and-white graf mural. But on the train ride from the airport to downtown, there was no sign that this is donkey country. It might as well have been 2006.
The outskirts of Chicago have serious brute appeal. The architecture is worn and husky; compared to New York or even Boston there are still a lot of warehouses that have yet to get made over. From what I’ve seen so far, the people are extremely friendly. The canvassers are politically excited, but without that obnoxious know-it-all aggression that New Hampshire-ites specialize in.
The first guy I see peddling literature is a Nader operative. I ask him what he thinks about the sleazy corporate interests funding the Obama campaign, and it’s clear that I’m his easiest sell all day. You have to hand it to the kid – that gig is like opening an apothecary next to CVS.
As I get closer to downtown, the Obama activity heats up. Some supporters, like Ken the Dairy Queen Blizzard engineer, wear buttons, while others opt for more elaborate apparel. One young street volunteer has an embroidered “Hope” fleece; I can tell that she resents yuppies who recently jumped on the Obama merch train that she’s been on for two years.
I’ll start tomorrow morning at a Vegan pastry shop where volunteers are meeting before caravanning to Indiana for a day of canvassing. From there I’ll head to phone banks with union workers, housewives, and black folks on the south side. From the inside of this campaign, I’m sure Chicago will resemble the paradise that I imagined.
This might be the home of Common, Qwel, Second City, “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” and the Blues Brothers, but for the next two days all eyes are on one phenomenon only. This is Obama nation – as ridiculous as that sounds when you say it fast.