Sorry not sorry, but the jubilation that erupted across the land was not really for Joe Biden. Upon crossing the 270 electoral votes threshold, the public enacted a necessary and cathartic release from the teeth of Trump’s white-supremacist tyranny. We rose to meet the high stakes of the election with ballots and bodies on the line. On the Sunday following the election, the New York Times print headline pronounced, “Biden Beats Trump.” Wrong. We, the people, did that. And on November 7th, we reaped the miraculous harvest of our outrage on the streets across America and beyond.
Public protests once filled the same streets now transformed into block parties. Photojournalists captured the impromptu gatherings and spontaneous joy that emerged in the distinct style of each city. In the Black Lives Matter plaza in Washington DC, folks were angled in synch doing the wobble. In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a deejay set up turntables and a speaker on a brownstone building’s entry steps, transforming the sidewalk into a dance floor.
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Novelist and poet Alice Walker once declared, “Hard times require furious dancing.” When the COVID-19 pandemic first relegated multitudes to stay indoors, veteran hip-hop artist and deejay D-Nice turned the concept of house-party on its head. He played hours-long sets on Instagram Live, creating community vibes through music and light-touch emceeing. One magical set started to trend on social media. Less than 100 viewers ballooned to 1,000 plus, including all kinds of celebrities.
In the following months, D-Nice deejayed virtual voter-registration parties co-hosted by Michelle Obama and other luminaries. On Election Day he held court as America’s deejay with a marathon session to encourage folks to stay the course on the endless lines. Other producers (head nod to Verzus series) and grassroots activists took notice and followed D-Nice’s lead to make the work of democracy festive and fun. In the same vein as mutual aid, creative artists and organizers not only brought water, masks, and hand sanitizer to the polls. They also brought pizza, other food, and wedding jams.
Like throwback mobile parties, Joy to the Polls and the Election Defenders mounted speakers onto flatbed trucks and unleashed the power of music to diffuse any toxic fear meant to suppress voter turnout. In an interview with the Guardian, Nelini Stamp, an organizer of Joy-to-the-Polls and National Director for the Working Families Party, explained, “We wanted to figure out a way so while people are outside of the polling station, we can bring them a feeling of safety and a feeling of joy.”
At an early voting site in Southwest Philadelphia, Klinton Cooper gave new meaning to the term line-dancing by leading the Mississippi Cha-Cha Slide on a school ramp while waiting for his turn at the voting booth. In contrast to the images of Trump supporters’ ire and intimidation, Cooper’s groove in the pocket felt like the sun peering through the clouds. This moment went viral and helped reassure potential voters that there was positive support at the polls.
Sharon Chischilly, a student photojournalist, captured another moment of radiance when she overheard music familiar to her from her Navajo Nation upbringing. Following her intuition, Chischilly spotted Ashkia Randy Trujillo, a Diné and Pueblo Native American, slip out of his open car door onto the roadway between cross-traffic. Trujillo twirled his Chicago Bulls cap above his head, and light on his feet, began to dance against the headlights, and rapturous cacophony of honks and cheers. Trujillo’s performance became public art and an archive of joy.
Trujillo’s performance reminded me of a passage from the novel There There, by Tommy Orange, a Cheyenne and Arapaho Native American: “To dance as if time only mattered insofar as you could keep a beat to it, to dance … like you were trying to dodge the very air you were suspended in, your feathers a flutter of echoes centuries old, your whole being a kind of flight.”
These brief departures of flight reveal our shared humanity in motion. Throughout this waking nightmare of the last four years, we rescued ourselves with no white saviors in sight. We risked our health and safety to turn the key to unlock a new tomorrow. And with drums, dreams, and bullhorns, we will take the streets and march when it’s go-time again.