Chi-Town’s skyscrapers and canyons have an epic scale.

Tonight they look set to have a local hero with an election victory to match.

Obama’s home, campaign base and career roots are here and the Second City is set to celebrate as a Democrat sweeps traditional Republican strongholds to become the 44th President of the United States.

Mayor Richard Daley has predicted a million people could turn up, and the space is available on the sprawling lake-side green known as “Chicago’s front porch”.

Thousands are still streaming in to watch CNN on large screens and stare at the empty podium where Obama will later speak. This being America almost 30 flags and bulletproof glass flank the podium.

Earlier, at the Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School where the candidate and his wife Michelle Obama voted in the morning, 80-year-old Mildred Stith (STITH) declared that casting her ballot was “the most awesome thing I’ve done in my life”.

The retired school teacher, an African- American, used a cane to inch her way into the booth and voted for Obama.

“I didn’t vote for him because he’s black. He’s 50/50 anyway,” she said, referring to his parents, a Kenyan man and a white woman from Kansas.

“I did it because we need somebody to straighten this country out.”

Growing up in Mississippi before the civil rights movement improved conditions and social mobility for black people, Ms Stith described drinking from “coloured” water taps and being forced to sit up the back of the bus.

“I remember it all my life,” she said.

Obama’s speech is unlikely to be anytime before later this evening in Chicago as polls in California (which leans towards the Democrats) close at 6pm Melbourne time.

A McCain concession could speed things up, but is anyone in any hurry? Winning the presidency at this moment in America’s history is like being asked to juggle red-hot coals.

With two wars, a financial system dragging the world into recession and a global PR problem that would make them envious of cigarette companies, the international problems of the US are well known.
Inside the borders the problems are as complex. It’s impossible to avoid the tragic problems right in front of your face.

Here in Chicago geriatrics toil for less than a living wage in McJobs that Australians give to schoolkids so they can buy make-up and beer. Here you’ll walk stunned through neighbourhoods as scores of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s hobble on canes and walkers as they struggle against a tragic healthcare system which can condemn you to penury in one dodgy heartbeat.

Black men beg for change on almost every corner in Chicago, but only one this election has had a chance to do it on CNN. It’s a big moment for a big town.

Chicago’s Janet Smith would have been here, whatever the weather.  (It snowed last week).

“I’ve come out with my 13-year-old son to share history and make some memories,” she said.

From under his hoodie, Dakota gave his prediction.

“Barack’s going to win. McCain is a lot like Bush and I don’t think he’s been good for the country. Good for bankers and oil executives but not for regular people,” he said, seriously.

Peter Fray

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