As soon as the news buzzed on their phones, Americans gathered spontaneously on street corners and front lawns — honking their horns, banging pots and pans, starting impromptu dance parties — as a vitriolic election and exhausting four-day wait for results came to an end Saturday morning. And for all that joy, there was equal parts anger and mistrust on the other side.
Across the United States, the dramatic conclusion of the 2020 election was cathartic. Just after The Associated Press and other news organizations declared that former Vice President Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump, fireworks erupted in Atlanta. In Maine, a band playing at a farmers’ market broke into the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
People waved Biden signs from car windows and balconies, and a massive pro-Biden crowd gathered in the streets outside the White House. In New York City, some stopped their cars wherever they happened to be, got out and danced in the streets. Car horns and bells echoed through neighborhoods across Puerto Rico. In Louisville, Kentucky, Biden supporters gathered on their lawns to toast with champagne. In Kansas City, they swayed in a park to the song “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.
Trump’s supporters have for days been protesting outside of ballot-counting operations, alleging without evidence that the slow-moving results were proof of cheating. “This isn’t over! This isn’t over! Fake news!” some shouted Saturday as about 1,000 gathered at the Georgia State Capitol after news organizations’ decision to call the election.
But across America, it was mostly the Democrats taking to the streets in jubilant displays, celebrating what was to them an end to four years of constant crises, chaos and anxiety.
In New York City, some chanted “the nightmare is over.”
“It’s surreal, I feel like I’m free from the clutches of evil,” said Lola Faleit, a 26-year-old human resources manager. “In 2016, we woke up crying. Today we are celebrating. Look, the sky is clear blue, the sun is out, Mother Nature is celebrating, too.”
The nation paused, too, to reflect on electing its first woman vice president, Kamala Harris. Amid a celebration in Berkeley, California, where Harris spent much of her childhood, Mayor Jesse Arreguin said the liberal city’s diversity and progressive values helped shape Harris into a “leader that stands for equality, empowerment and justice.”
The news for some collided with the constant churn of crises the country has faced — the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 236,000 Americans, the economic recession that accompanied it, gun violence and police killings that have forced a national reckoning on racism.
“America can exhale. Decency, civility and democracy won,” said Fred Guttenberg, who became an outspoken opponent of the president after his 14-year-old daughter Jaime was one of 17 slain by a gunman at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. He had been sitting in front of his television since waking up Saturday, waiting for the news. He said it made him “ecstatic.”
In Minneapolis, Ella Mitchell, 30, and Pardha Ponugoti, 29, visited the memorial at the street corner where George Floyd died.
Ponugoti said it was important to be at the Floyd memorial to mark Biden’s win. “It’s like a reminder of the problems that still exist in our society. Just because Biden is president doesn’t mean that all these systemic issues are fixed.”
For many, Nov. 7 at 11:25 a.m., became a moment of such historic magnitude that they say they will forever remember what they were doing, even those engaged in the most mundane weekend activities.
Retired teacher and school principal Kay Nicholas, 73, was vacuuming in her home northwest of Detroit when she heard Biden had been declared the winner.
“All I could say is ‘thank God,’” she said, choking up. “It has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican. It has to do with decency. This country has got integrity and hopefully we can get decency. I think Joe Biden can do it and bring back kindness.”
Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, learned the news when her mother called as she wrapped up a run.
Trump was playing golf.
In Atlanta, Kristin Felder, 36, found out while she was delivering a Panera food order for DoorDash.
“The lady I was delivering it to said ‘Biden won!’ And I said ‘Oh my god!’” she recalled. She started crying, and she cancelled her next delivery to join an impromptu party gathering in midtown Atlanta, where people banged pots and pans, wept together, and toasted champagne.
Scott VanderWal, a farmer in Volga, South Dakota, said he heard the news as he was loading hay bales into his barn.
Unlike those celebrating in the streets, he said he was disappointed, but held out a glimmer of hope that Trump could still contest the results and find path to victory: “I wouldn’t say it’s totally over until all the legal avenues are exhausted,” he said.
More than 100 pro-Trump demonstrators assembled outside Florida’s state Capitol in Tallahassee Saturday afternoon. The crowd toted signs suggesting the election was fraudulent, and they chanted “stop the steal.”
Dozens of the president's backers began gathering, too, from North Dakota to Georgia to the election tabulation center in downtown Phoenix, where counting remains underway.
Shortly after the news broke, Jake Angeli yelled, “This election has not been called!” Angeli, a regular at pro-Trump rallies who typically wears a wooly fur hat with horns, shouted. He remained hopeful: “Trump always looks like he’s going to lose. And then he wins,” he said.
Chris Marks from Traverse City, Michigan, also expressed distrust in how the votes were counted, suggesting all the votes should be recounted, or that the country should hold another election.
Trump has not conceded and has refused to promise a peaceful transfer of power, and many Americans remained anxious about what will happen in the days and weeks ahead.
But for Biden supporters at home and abroad, Saturday was a day to celebrate, dance and dream of a less contentious future.
Residents of Ballina, Ireland, Biden’s ancestral hometown, had draped the streets in American flags and Biden-Harris banners for days as they awaited the results. Joe Blewitt, a heating and plumbing engineer and a cousin of Biden’s, said the town was ecstatic.
“Now he’ll be the President of the United States, they’re delighted, they’re absolutely delighted,” Blewitt said. “To think one of their own is one of the most powerful men in the world.”
In Egypt, a 49-year-old civil servant named Abdallah was playing backgammon with friends at a coffee shop in the capital, Cairo, when the television networks aired the news.
“The crazy man has gone,” he shouted. “Trump of America was defeated.”
And in Kenya, where presidential elections regularly come with fears about possible violence, activist and politician Boniface Mwangi tweeted that Trump’s presidency should be a warning to the world: “It will take longer than Trump’s lifetime for America to heal and recover from what happened this past four years."
Associated Press journalists Anita Snow in Phoenix; Jocelyn Noveck, Marjorie Miller, David Caruso, Tali Arbel, Christina Paciolla in New York City; Bill Barrow and R.J. Rico in Atlanta; Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco; Doug Glass in Minneapolis; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida; Corey Williams in Detroit; Mike Balsamo in Washington; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Danica Coto in Puerto Rico; Stephen Groves in Volga, South Dakota; Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya and Pan Pylas in Ballina, Ireland. Galofaro reported from Louisville, Kentucky.