Years of anger and anxiety over Donald Trump’s presidency were released in a giant nationwide rush of elation Saturday as throngs of supporters celebrated in the streets of Boston, Washington, and other cities within moments of Joe Biden being declared the winner of the 2020 election.
Dancing down the sidewalks of Harlem, fireworks in Atlanta, champagne toasts in Louisville. In the nation’s capital, a defeated Trump was greeted on his return from a morning of golfing by a throng of jeering protesters outside the White House, while a brass band entertained a jubilant crowd nearby.
Even for those who were not ardent Biden supporters, the day brought a sense of relief. After four excruciating days of the presidency hanging on the slow drip of returns in just a few cities, Americans had closure on one of the great questions facing a torn nation. But with the election settled, or nearly so, many pivoted to another: What happens now?
Trump said Saturday he would not concede, and his campaign has launched court cases in several states aimed at contesting or halting ballot counts. Georgia, one closely watched state, will re-count its votes for the presidential election and hold runoffs in January for both its Senate seats, which will ultimately decide which party controls the chamber. And though Biden pulled ahead decisively, with more than 74 million votes in his favor and a projected win in the Electoral College, another 70 million Americans cast ballots for Trump, revealing a country still starkly divided.
Mazelle Etessami, a second-year student at Harvard Law School, said Biden’s victory felt like “a weight off your shoulders,” even as she wondered what would come of the country’s deep partisan divides.
“We have a lot of work to do across the aisle, but I think this is a moment for democracy,” Etessami, 24, said on Saturday afternoon as she weaved through a lively crowd assembled in Harvard Square. “Today we celebrate, and tomorrow we get to work.”
With unusually balmy weather providing a pitch-perfect fall day, thousands of jubilant voters emerged from their pandemic hideouts to celebrate together. “We Are the Champions” blared from a loudspeaker at a Harlem apartment as passersby cheered on the streets below. At a farmers market in Maine, a band gathered to play “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Elsewhere, Americans marked the Biden victory with fireworks, car horns, chants, and homemade signs.
“It’s surreal, I feel like I’m free from the clutches of evil,” Lola Faleit, a 26-year-old human resources manager in New York City told the Associated Press. “I feel less worried for my immigrant friends. 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.”
In the Boston area, where voters overwhelmingly backed Biden, the reveling ranged from a quiet block in Somerville interrupted by residents clapping to a cyclist’s shouts of "Biden! Biden! Woo!” to a cacophonous outburst of church bells in Jamaica Plain, while crowds cheered in the streets.
Car horns, loud music, and dance moves erupted across the region. Drivers and pedestrians alike trailed Black Lives Matter banners, pride flags, and American flags.
Minutes after learning the results, Matthew Wozny left his home in Boston’s West End, bought an American flag for $12 at a hardware store, and then ran through the Public Garden with the flag draped across his back.
“I think there are patriots in this country and we need to reclaim the American flag,” said the 28-year-old, who works in tech and identifies as an independent. “I’m just so proud of so much of this country.”
Alan Balsam, 69, of East Cambridge made his way to the State House on Saturday afternoon, guided by “a spontaneous urge to be part of the celebration.” He lived through the resignation of Richard Nixon, and in some ways, he said, Saturday’s celebration reminded him of that. “A spontaneous rupture of joy,” he called it.
Also outside the State House, a few dozen Trump supporters gathered with American flags and signs that read “Stop The Steal” and “Audit the Vote.” As Biden supporters also began to gather, verbal confrontations broke out between the two groups.
“Not even close!” Biden supporters chanted. One shouted, “Go home, you lost!”
“I got facts!” responded one Trump supporter, wearing a T-shirt with an image of an assault rifle and the words, “Come and take it.”
Trump supporters have gathered in scattered demonstrations across the country since midweek, when the president began casting doubt on the election process. Few confrontations have turned violent, but elections officials in several states said they feared for the safety of ballot counters as angry crowds gathered outside their workplaces, the Associated Press reported.
Dueling demonstrations and the Trump campaign’s lawsuits revealed a country still on edge.
“I started crying,” said Sandra Pelkie, 59, of Brookline, a Democratic Party activist. “I dropped to my knees, kissed the ground — no lie — and cried and cried.”
Her joy was tempered by thoughts of Trump’s remaining months in office. “The next few months I think are probably our most dangerous that we’re gonna live,” she said. “I hope they rein [Trump] in. This is not over obviously.”
Even provided a peaceful transfer of power, a Biden administration will assume office amid a once-in-a-lifetime public health and economic crisis. The United States' COVID-19 case counts in recent days have reached all-time highs. Millions remain unemployed, in danger of eviction, and mourning the loss of loved ones who have died in the pandemic.
Some voters said they were hopeful that Biden is prepared to unite the country and restore a sense of normalcy.
Tracy Bailey-Gates, a 59-year-old political independent from Pocasset, said she was relieved by the call in Biden’s favor, and hopeful that politics would become less divisive.
“I’m hoping for a more positive future,” she said.
Ivelise Barrera, 30, of East Boston, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Argentina 30 years ago, said she was troubled by Trump’s falsehoods and his administration’s policy of detaining immigrants. Biden’s challenge, she said, is to “undo a lot of the things that Trump did.”
“That’s what I’m hoping,” said Barrera, who works at Newbury Comics in Faneuil Hall. “Make it better.”
Yet some were less sure Biden could heal the country’s deep divides.
“My uncertainty stems from a lot of the damage and a lot of the hurt and pain that Trump contributed to. And I just don’t know yet how that’s going to manifest,” said Bernadine Desanges, a 30-year-old Suffolk Law student who lives in Hyde Park.
Still, Desanges said she took pride in the work of Black women — from ordinary voters to national figures such as Georgia politician Stacey Abrams — to elect Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman, Black American, and Asian American to occupy the office of vice president. That organizing would continue, Desanges said, regardless of who is president.
“My community and I, we’re going to show up,” she said. “We’re going to continue to push the envelope.”
Mireille Mamariza, 31, and her wife burst into tears of relief at the news. “I feel elated. I feel like I can breathe again,” said Mamariza, who had joined a march in Copley Square looking for others to celebrate with.
Mamariza said that as a Black, queer immigrant, her elation was qualified by what she knew would not change under Biden. “Even when Biden is president, we’ll still feel unsafe,” she said. Now, “if something would happen to me, my story might not be disregarded.”
Like the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the difference, she said, is a simple feeling.
“It’s hope,” she said.
Globe correspondent Lucas Phillips contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press and The Washington Post was used in it.
Dasia Moore is the Globe Magazine's staff writer. E-mail her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @daijmoore. Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi. Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @steveannear. Deanna Pan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @DDpan.