The air was electric Saturday afternoon and an infectious mood swept through people as they poured onto Pacific Avenue Saturday afternoon following the announcement of the election of former Vice President Joe Biden to the presidency of the United States.
An impromptu dance party broke out as activist Curtis Reliford’s Peace Truck blasted Cajun-style zydeco music over the speakers, echoing down the corridor.
“I’m happy! I’m happy,” Reliford repeatedly told the crowd, as he knelt down on one knee. Each time the crowd responded with louder and louder cheers.
The celebration began early Saturday afternoon at the clocktower. As the crowd grew, it drew more honks from the passing traffic. The celebration began moving down Pacific, eventually landing in front of the Regal 9 cinema, dissipating sometime after 3pm.
Although Biden had been leading in the returns for a few days, political enthusiasts nervously awaited the official announcements on razors’ edge, as election departments in key states continued counting ballots. Major news outlets like the Associated Press, the New York Times and Fox News each made the call Saturday morning. The election marks a historical moment, as Biden’s running mate Sen. Kamala Harris will be the first woman, the first Black person and the first Asian American to serve as the country’s vice president.
“We’re here to celebrate freedom, democracy, equal rights, social justice, everything,” said Lena Fancher, who held up a sign that read “Go Joe!”
Ballots are still being counted, but Biden won over 79% in heavily Democratic Santa Cruz County, according to the most recent returns
For Fancher, the election went beyond politics. Biden, she believed, would make the nation’s government function better.
Longtime Santa Cruz resident Sally Benyola said there had been so much at stake for the country in the election.
“The whole world is celebrating right now,” she said.
Benyola and her sister, Sherree Nicholas, both voted for Biden in the election, and they quickly came downtown when they heard the news. They are ready to see the country move in a new direction that focuses on equality, empathy and science, they said.
“Biden believes in climate change,” Nicholas said. “And let’s not forget we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, which Biden said will be the first thing he addresses.”
It’s a claim the president-elect referenced again later that evening.
During his acceptance speech Saturday night, Biden told Americans he would announce a team on Nov. 9 to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. “It will be built on a bedrock of science,” he said.
Despite all the celebrating, Santa Cruzans said they know the work of a democracy is never finished. Fancher, a Bernie Sanders supporter who voted for Biden, said that, although she enjoyed the win, now is not the time to feel a false sense of security.
“My hope is he begins to work on social justice, healthcare, and LGBTQ+ rights, which is personal for me,” Fancher explained, adding that she will use protests to hold Biden accountable.
For others, the worry lies not in what Biden will do, but in the damage Trump has already caused.
Going forward, Benyola worried Trump supporters may riot. “He incites his base,” she said.
“And that this feeling of elation will die to be replaced with negativity and fighting again,” Nicholas added.
But the air was still filled with joy as Santa Cruzans rejoiced and let loose.
“It’s felt like the last four years I’ve been wearing a weighted blanket and now I can take it off,” Fancher summed up with an elated sigh. “Now I can breathe.”
Check out all of our 2020 election coverage.