Why you should care
Because the street celebrations showed both the elation and determination of Biden's backers.
People dancing, cars honking, chants booming, flags waving in streets full of slogans, as seemingly all of the District of Columbia spilled into the blocks around the White House on Saturday, once the networks, finally, five days into ballot-counting, called the presidential race in favor of Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.
Washington is the nation’s favorite whipping boy, and not totally without fault. After all, the nation’s capital — whose chief product is politics yet boasts nine of the country’s 20 richest counties in its suburbs — is so often divorced from the struggles of its states. But on a monumental day like this, the District has a way of showing off that it (more than any other American city, except perhaps New York) contains the multitudes of both the nation and the world.
A native Pennsylvanian, waving his state flag after the Keystone State delivered the clinching electoral votes, passed by a woman from south Georgia, wearing a red Bulldogs T-shirt, still shocked that her state appears to have flipped blue.
As “Another One Bites the Dust” plays, an enterprising woman sells “impeachmints.” As an Indian flag is hoisted up, Kurdish immigrants from Turkey celebrate, momentarily relieved of their fears of being deported with no home to return to. Driving through it all is Komba Ahmadu, who arrived here as a 25-year-old immigrant from Sierra Leone in 1964: “I’ve never seen the city so excited after an election.”
That sentiment was especially true because this election felt, for many, like none other. Not simply because of Trump’s policies, which many here opposed. Many Republican presidents have inspired critique in this overwhelmingly blue city, but maybe not similar ire. No, it was the unique threat that they believe Trump posed to democratic values that evoked such enthusiasm at his loss, even from those who otherwise would share his political ideology.
We put them there for a reason: To beat Trump, but also … to be who we need them to be right now.
To the revelers, Trump’s seeming attempts to undermine democratic institutions, are why the celebrations in cities across the nation had the air of liberation. That’s not the case, of course, for half the country: Nearly 71 million people voted for Trump after all, with ballots still being tallied, the second-most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential aspirant — behind Biden. Many Trump supporters held their own demonstrations Saturday, protesting an election the president is telling them (without basis) is being stolen. Others were more downcast in acknowledging the loss, which was far closer than pollsters predicted.
Even those celebrating were clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. Nearly every person we interviewed in D.C. mentioned caution with their joy, noted with the closing of one chapter came the duty to start a new one. “Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we work,” as one woman touting a Biden-Harris sign said.
Their wide-ranging aspirations were a reminder of the challenges Biden faces ahead in uniting the diverse coalition that won him the White House. “I’m super excited that Biden was elected, and I’m really ready to push him hard to get aggressive climate action,” says Katie Thomas, a Green New Deal supporter who lives in Washington, noting that she likes Biden’s promises to end fracking on public lands and hopes he will use a stimulus package to encourage green jobs.
It was ironic that Washington’s biggest celebrations of Trump’s loss came at Black Lives Matter plaza near 16th and I Streets. First because in a city full of revolutionary history, this area only recently became a place for protest because of how the Secret Service pepper-sprayed protesters nearby ahead of Trump’s infamous photo-op at St. John’s Church. And secondly, because this area was renamed “Black Lives Matter” plaza as a symbolic concession to protesters by Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, only to increase police funding and avoid reforms that activists called for.
That backdrop is a reminder both of the opposition to Trump and the fact that “the resistance” will now have different aims. “I hope he is truly as progressive as the platform he has been running on,” says Danny Blue, a 28-year-old loan officer from Charlotte, North Carolina, who will be scrutinizing Biden’s cabinet picks. “I love Kamala, but I want her to do her job: She has some stuff from her time as California attorney general to do with the prison-industrial complex and criminal justice reform,” says Valerie Coats, a 26-year-old web designer who, like Harris, graduated from Howard University. “We put them there for a reason: To beat Trump, but also … to be who we need them to be right now. Climate is obviously huge, race relations is huge. They should have a committee to make the case for race relations.”
Biden will have his work cut out for him, with both the left and the right pushing him — the latter particularly if the GOP maintains control of the Senate. But even if Biden doesn’t accomplish all or even most of his agenda, Trump’s ousting does have meaningful impact. Take Nurcan Catinbas, who works with exiled Kurdish immigrants and was worried that many of them were on the verge of being deported with no real home to go back to if Trump won again. “I came here three years ago to find peace,” says Catinbas, a women’s rights activist who has worked in the Middle East and is now studying sociology at Marymount University under a student visa. “I have lived in bad situations, with bad politicians, but I do not want to have the same experience here.”