This was a spontaneous celebration that Biden noted when—after taking the Wilmington stage to the tune of Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own”—the president-elect expressed surprise and delight that “tonight, we’re seeing all over this nation, all cities in all parts of the country, indeed across the world, an outpouring of joy, of hope, renewed faith that tomorrow will bring a better day.”
From Monument Square in Portland, Me., to Pershing Square in Los Angeles, a nationwide block party erupted on Saturday. People waved “Biden” flags. They pumped up the volume on boom boxes and they danced to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and YG & Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT.” It was cathartic. It was ecstatic. After all the tense weeks leading up the November 3 election, and all the tense days of counting the ballots, finally people put on their “Vote! Vote! Vote!” masks and their “Team Joe” T-shirts and their “We’ve Got Her Back!” Harris stickers and hit the streets.
Recalling that Donald Trump had sought to undermine trust in the voting and vote-counting processes of Pennsylvania’s largest city by claiming, “Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” people gathered in the city that put Biden over the top with signs announcing, “Good Things Happen in Philadelphia.” Outside the White House, crowds filled Black Lives Matter Plaza, where just months ago peaceful protesters were gassed to make way for a presidential photo-op, and sang, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye.” And everywhere people showed up with handmade signs that taunted the former reality-TV star with his The Apprentice catchphrase: “You’re fired!”
But this wasn’t just about beating Trump. This was a collective expression of the sentiment that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gave voice to when he heard the news Saturday and said, “Thank God, democracy won out!”
“Today we celebrate the power of the people,” declared Jennifer Epps-Addison, who was on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wis., for a Saturday morning “Voters Decide” rally that, after word came of the call for Biden, turned into a party that in many senses had been four years in the making. Epps-Addison, the veteran Wisconsin activist who now serves as network president and co–executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, wasn’t just celebrating the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency. “This election will go down in history,” she explained. “Joe Biden has won with more votes than any other president in the history of this country; the United States has elected the first Black and Indian American woman as vice president; and millions more people turned out to vote in this election than ever before, despite a raging pandemic and the hurdles of voter intimidation, suppression, and misinformation put in their way.”
Those words resonated in Wisconsin, a state with a progressive history that in 2016 was one of the three “blue wall” states that abandoned decades-long patterns of voting for Democrats for president and backed Trump in 2016. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania tipped the Electoral College balance to Trump four years ago, and from then on, progressives in those states carried a burden. This week they threw it off, as first Wisconsin, then Michigan, and, finally, Pennsylvania came home to the Democratic fold.
After CNN’s Wolf Blitzer announced at 11:24 am on the East Coast that Pennsylvania had gone for Biden, the news swept across the time zones of a nation where the Biden-Harris ticket was winning the popular vote by more than 4 million ballots but still needed to close the deal in the Electoral College. Pennsylvania took Biden over the 270 mark, but people across the country all knew they’d done their part.
That was especially true in Wisconsin. “I can’t mask my feelings on this historic day!” announced US Representative Gwen Moore, the Milwaukee Democrat who kicked off this summer’s virtual Democratic National Convention in that city. Like Detroit and Philadelphia, Milwaukee delivered essential votes for the Biden-Harris ticket that defeated a president who devoted much of his campaign to savage attacks on “Democratic cities.”
So, too, did Madison, the historic liberal bastion of Wisconsin where people have over the past four years filled the streets for the Women’s March that protested the 45th president’s inauguration, for demonstrations against Trump’s attacks on immigrants and refugees, and for rallies calling for his impeachment. Most of those gatherings took place outside the majestic state capitol, where the great Midwestern progressive Robert M. La Follette once served as governor, and where the efforts of a lesser Midwestern governor, Scott Walker, to undo La Follette’s legacy in 2011 inspired mass protests. The crowds came again on Saturday. deejays set up on the steps of the capitol and pumped up the volume. High school students waved rainbow banners. Grandmothers wore “Do it for Ruth” T-shirts. A flag-waving car caravan organized by the immigrant rights and labor rights group Voces de la Frontera circled the square. Black Lives Matter activists cheered for Biden and Harris and for a speaker who promised, “We’re going to micromanage this administration…make sure they get the job done.”
No doubt, it will be necessary to keep the pressure on. “As the Biden/Harris administration takes office, they are faced with a clear mandate from the people: They must take action to turn the tide of the Covid-19 pandemic, lead us out of this economic crisis to an economy that works for all, take bold steps towards advancing racial justice, implement humane immigration policies, transform our justice system, make up for lost ground in fighting climate change, and ensure quality health care for all,” said Epps-Addison. “They will need to lead with a bold progressive vision, and overcome at every turn those—in Congress and in the judiciary—who will try to use their power to undermine the will of the people. That means we have more work to do.”
Yes, more work to do. But also, as Gwen Moore says, a celebration of the power of the people who have ended “the chapter of the cruel, callous, and corrupt Trump administration. The nightmare is finally over.”