On the morning the election was called—sleep deprived from a marathon of watching Steve Kornacki explain ballot returns on color-coded maps—I felt a kind of happiness that I never want to feel again. The Trump era in the White House would soon be over.
I started crying at 11:24 a.m. when MSNBC made the official announcement, and I did not stop for hours. I felt the tight springs in my body, wound up and red hot, begin to release and cool. I felt relief washing through my veins and over my skin and deep in my stomach, over the tangle of knots that had gathered there for the past four years. I felt my existential depression begin to melt away and reveal a core of enduring hope. I felt, psychologically, the way I imagine it might feel to have your knees banged into tables and your toes stubbed by steps constantly for four years before suddenly experiencing the warm numbness that takes over to replace and cease that hurt. I felt the joy of reaching a long-awaited ending; there was no room for the euphoria of a new beginning.
Walking outside in downtown D.C. after the news was out was like waking up from a fitful sleep. An alarm rang out, and it didn’t stop all day—a symphony of car horns and strangers jubilant and shouting at each other. My ride share driver told me it had been constant for a few hours everywhere he went. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “You might be my last ride for the day. I want to celebrate, too.”
Spontaneously made plans had me going to Dupont Circle to meet up with Virginia State Delegate Danica Roem—the first trans person to be elected to a state legislature in American history—and there was nothing to see and hear but joy along the route. After four years of watching Donald Trump viciously attack everyone from undocumented immigrants to members of the press to LGBTQ people to military families, there were a lot of us who wanted to make their elation known. The barrages of car horns were near and far, everywhere and unyielding. It sounded like a symphony.
I intentionally got dropped off at Logan Circle to walk the six or seven blocks to Dupont and observe the celebrations along the way. Everywhere I looked, there were Biden-Harris signs being waved by strangers. Others were wearing Biden-Harris shirts. Strangers were going to hug each other and then remembering COVID protocol and touching elbows instead. Some literally jumped up and down together. Even for the typical unguarded joy of D.C. residents, this was something on an entirely different level.
“Democracy is not a state, it is an act,” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would say a few hours later, quoting the late congressman John Lewis in her victory speech. All over the country, supporters were proving it. They had voted, and now they wanted to dance.
Against the background of honking and cheering, there was music being played, live and on speakers, on seemingly every street corner. The players in a small jazz brass quartet were having the time of their lives and earning well-deserved dollars from strangers for their labor. There were people dancing in places in D.C. where I have never seen people dance: in front of the CVS, on the steps of the Metro, literally and dangerously in the streets of the traffic circles, and it all made perfect sense. Of course we’re dancing.
Slowly but surely, I felt that initial, complicated happiness give way to something more authentic and full in the spirit of community. I was happy to see strangers happy, and they were happy to see me happy. We were alive, and we had made it to this day. There was reason to be excited and hopeful for the future. I decided while walking downtown that I didn’t ever want to leave this moment of collective joy.