PHILADELPHIA—As in other cities across America, thousands of people poured into the streets here early Saturday to celebrate the victory of President-elect Joe Biden over Donald Trump.
But the celebration in Philly was especially raucous, thanks both to the character of a city with a reputation for going hard, and because the longtime Democratic stronghold was savaged early and often by Trump as a corrupt, broken place.
Trump repeatedly hyped a legacy of “bad things” happening in Philadelphia on the campaign trail, specifically suggested his MAGA acolytes needed to poll-watch there for nonexistent fraud—which they did, to no effect—and generally talked shit about a town known for not countenancing insults.
Instead of buckling, the home of a vibrant working-class culture perhaps best embodied by a (possibly antifa-affiliated) hockey mascot, “Gritty,” powered the growing margin that pushed Biden over the top in Pennsylvania, delivering him the presidency.
“In exchange for saving the nation, Philadelphia humbly requests you stop bringing up that one time we threw snowballs at Santa 60 years ago,” said Lauren Vidas, a Democratic election lawyer here who’s been in the thick of unhinged GOP legal attempts to halt or dispute vote tallies.
By noon Saturday, residents gathered along main streets, in parks, and on their sidewalks, where relief, joy, and ecstasy were at top of mind after an agonizing week of trickling ballot returns with all eyes on their town. Anxiety had only intensified as supporters of Trump began hovering outside a vote-counting site at the Philadelphia Convention Center, and multiple armed MAGA men were intercepted and busted in an alleged attempt to foment chaos there late Thursday.
“This is a weight lifted off of me, off of all of us,” Aggie Arnold, a 29-year-old quality assurance specialist and South Philly resident, told The Daily Beast, adding, “I heard people screaming outside, that’s how I knew that he won.”
Those feelings were not exactly hard to come by. Philly is a heavily Democratic city that saw some of the largest and most heated protests over police brutality in the country this year—and is also marred by poverty and a history of institutional racism that many associated with the president.
“I cried uncontrollably as soon as I heard. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen joy out here. We needed this,” said Kristine Terrado, a 39-year-old engineer who lives in South Philly with her daughter, Marigold, 5.
Terrado stood outside with neighbors, drinking champagne from a plastic cup, beaming, and playing Beyonce. “My daughter looked at me and said, ‘Mom, the vice president looks like me. She has brown skin like me!” she said, referring to Sen. Kamala Harris, who will also be the first woman to serve as vice president.
People streamed into Rittenhouse Square in Center City in the middle of a weekly farmer’s market, where a brass band played “Isn’t She Lovely” as friends greeted one another, beaming, and families strolled with toddlers in tow, many holding Biden/Harris 2020 signs.
Donna Cassidy, 63, a former nurse who lives in Center City, had one word to describe how she was feeling: “Euphoric. Absolutely euphoric. It feels like we just won the Super Bowl again.”
She was in the park with her husband, Joe, and echoed Terrado’s sentiments. “We needed this. Philadelphia has felt a little broken, and Joe Biden came at a time when we needed him.”
The sports culture here is one thing, and sometimes a bit of a cliche. But that Philadelphia is the birthplace of American democracy was not lost on celebrators.
“Once again, Philadelphia delivered,” said Elyse Wilkinson, a 27-year-old business student who was on break in-between classes with a group of friends to celebrate. “I’m from here, and that I was able to vote here means everything to me. You know, this is where we first gathered as a country around democracy. It’s not perfect, but now, we’re gonna have a Black woman in the White House. It gives us the vision that nothing is impossible. We are here and we belong.”
Darren Lipscomb, a 35-year-old law student at Temple University, donned a Black Lives Matter mask to join in the celebration along Broad Street. He stood directly in front of City Hall, where people have gathered on and off for months to protest police brutality and more recently the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia.
“We lost our shit when we heard,” Lipscomb said. “This win means the work can begin again at the federal level. We absolutely shouldn’t rest on our laurels. We the people in Philly voted in support of the President-Elect, but the [Fraternal Order of Police] endorsed Trump, so there’s clearly still division. We need to keep pushing forward.”
Lipscomb is originally from West Philly and said that the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace, Jr. this past week cannot be forgotten just because of the victory for Democrats and Biden supporters. “There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.
By early afternoon, major city streets were blocked off as people continued to line the street. Residents blasted the Rocky theme song, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder, and unofficial city theme song, “Dreams and Nightmares” by Meek Mill. A giant paper-mache eagle carried by celebrators walked down Broad Street, photographed by local news. Signs reading, “Good Things Happen In Philadelphia” popped up among the crowds gathered in Center City, West Philly, and at Independence Hall, where the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788.
The romanticism of Pennsylvania being the decisive state was repeated by many people throughout a city that could not be more thrilled with its. moment in the spotlight.
“It feels incredible. But we knew all along that we were the only thing standing in the way of another four years of this deadly and corrupt administration,” said Vidas, the local election lawyer. “Pennsylvanians rose to the occasion to deliver President-elect Biden the decisive victory needed to end this nightmare.”