I got essentially no work done last week, which is fine, because we were all glued to a variety of screens, anxiously refreshing page after page and caring more about Nevada than we ever have, probably. On Tuesday, the first election day, we drove around rural southeastern Michigan to see what was happening. No militia/terrorist activity was apparent — in fact, aside from the fact that plenty of people were out and about in the middle of a Tuesday, there was relatively little evidence that an election was taking place. Polling places didn't seem to have lines, probably helped by the millions of absentee ballots cast in Michigan. The closest thing to election drama we saw was in my hometown of Pinckney, where two tables were set up with petitions to recall Gov. Whitmer and, vaguely, to restore freedom.
Despite seeing pretty calm scenes and some anti-Trump sentiment (including "RACIST" scrawled across a Trump-Pence sign in Dexter, MI and a massive "DUMP TRUMP" sign in our own neighborhood on the border of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti), I went to bed with trepidation. And woke up with my stomach in knots. Repeat for three days, and that's my week. I knew how riled the right had gotten; I worried about voter turnout; I alternated between avoiding news and refreshing the vote counts ever 42 seconds.
I finally allowed myself a glimmer of optimism late on Thursday, I think — whatever evening it was that Georgia was inching closer and closer to flipping. On Friday, I was feeling good but still felt like the rug could be pulled out from under us. (I still feel like that.) And on Saturday morning, as we were having a tense coffee, it was finally called by the cascade of networks and Twitter was flooded with videos from New York and Philly and Atlanta celebrating. After watching the networks for a little longer, we grabbed our signs and cameras and headed to downtown Ann Arbor, hoping to join in the celebration. We live in a windy post-war neighborhood on the outskirts of town populated mostly with retirees. Normally, we appreciate the quiet, but we wanted noise!
I was immediately disappointed by what we saw as we drove down Washtenaw and began to enter town. Instead of students flooding into the streets to celebrate the win, gaggles of frat and sorority kids were clad in Michigan gear and were already deep into their beer pong. (Michigan lost. More schadenfreude.) None of them seemed to notice what had happened, or maybe they had already taken it for granted days ago. Still, I thought, once we get closer to Main Street where the adults are — liberal academics and whatnot — there will be some crowds.
Instead, we passed people quietly eating lunch. A single couple, clad in Biden-Harris swag, strolled by with a flag; another Subaru was apparently doing laps to try to spark some honking, with some success. But aside from that, you'd have thought it was a perfectly normal Saturday with nothing of note happening.
It might be Midwestern restraint, I thought, folks being too polite to make a ruckus. But I worry that underlying that is a dual threat: well-off white people feeling like things are back to normal, they're not affected by Trump's rude presence anymore, so it's all good; and feeling like the win is nothing to make a ruckus over.
To the latter point, I personally disagree. I know Biden and Harris are not perfect and need to be held accountable, need to reckon with their flawed records, and so on, but by god, the main thing today is that for many, many of the issues we care about, we will have an Executive Branch working with us, not against us, and that can go a long way. A president and vp who will denounce white supremacists and who will not threaten journalism and a free media? Leadership who will repair our important international relationships? Sign me tf up. The first woman in the executive, and a multiracial, Black, Asian-American woman? Yes please!! (You'd best believe I just ordered her memoir from my local Black-owned bookstore.) So I think it's worth making a ruckus over. We have to celebrate the wins, even if they're partial or temporary or imperfect. So we honked.
To the first point: things may be creeping back to normal, but 'normal' isn't good, pandemic notwithstanding. To the people who were expecting a landslide, I just want to say: have you seen Trump's approval rating over the last four years? Turnout was high on both sides, yeah, but what were they expecting? For Trump to get 10% of the votes? His latest Gallup approval rating was 46%, and he garnered just over that (47.6%, as of Monday) in the election. That 71 million people voted for him and that it was —is— this close are two of the least surprising things to happen in 2020. Anyone who says differently, polls be damned, is fooling themselves.
So when I saw everyone just eating lunch, I couldn't help but think: are people complacent already? (Yes.) It's not even over: Trump hasn't conceded (though foreign leaders seem not to care), and the fate of the Senate hangs in limbo until January. Those are the immediate fights, but we have to make the most of the next four years, when we have relatively progressive leaders. It's fine to take a breath and feel relief and joy, but we can't let that relief slowly turn into the blind eye and blissful ignorance that many of us have been in for years. And we have to start now, to keep the momentum going and keep the conversation going.
Some organizations you can contribute to in Georgia and incredible leaders to look up:
- Fair Fight (Stacey Abrams)
- Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda (Helen Butler)
- ProGeorgia (Tamieka Atkins)
- New Georgia Project (Nsé Ufot)
- Georgia Stand-Up (Deborah Scott)
I did get some of the celebratory vibe I sought later in the evening, when Harris and Biden gave their acceptance speeches. I saw some activity on Twitter and decided to take another spin downtown, just in case. At first, it looked like more of the same: students sitting at bars, wandering around in party apparel, sports blaring from tvs. One man was wearing a flag as a cape; one woman held a Biden-Harris sign. But still, none of the jubilation I'd expected.
We wandered over to the Main Street area, which has a couple of blocks cordoned off for outdoor seating. Nothing, really, until we glanced up at some windows when we heard whooping; three signs were plastered up, reading "Donny, you're fired!" It was shortly after 8 p.m., and as luck would have it, we arrived in a spot with several tvs set up and tuned to one of the networks just before Madam Vice President-elect was set to take the stage. So we camped out on a bench and watched a crowd gather to watch, cheering loudly as she took the stage and delivered her moving speech. By the time Biden jogged out and said his first "My fellow Americans," people cheered long and loud. Students and older folks, mostly white but not completely, watched the address and cheered for science and climate change, for Black women as the backbone of America, for a competent response to the pandemic. (More scattered applause for coming together; the crowd seemed reluctant to forgive the other side.) It was energizing and emotional and I was glad to be there. I just hope everyone who was there, myself included, can keep paying attention, can keep putting on the pressure and holding elected officials, local, state, and federal, accountable.
Because we've still got work to do.