Yesterday was a good day. Like so many others, I heard the news of Donald Trump’s loss not from TV pundits, but from spontaneous cheering in the streets. By the time I had grabbed a pot to bang outside, cars in the streets of my New York City neighborhood were honking wildly, and dozens had already poured out to celebrate. Many hours (and many drinks) later, millions of us across the country were still out dancing and celebrating.
Collective political joy is generally rare in the United States, but it’s been in particularly short supply this year — or, to be more specific, since late February. The effervescence generated by Bernie Sanders’s primary win in Nevada feels like a lifetime ago, washed away by the Democratic establishment’s consolidation on Super Tuesday and the subsequent pandemic. So even though Joe Biden is a billionaire-backed neoliberal, we deserved every ounce of glee we could get.
Of course, none of this diminishes the severe shortcomings of Biden and the Democratic Party, as underscored again by the absence of a congressional blue wave and recent leaks about Biden’s possible cabinet appointments. Nor should we miss a beat in pointing out that Trump is the product of four decades of bipartisan neoliberalism and that only a bold agenda of transformational change can prevent Republicans from taking back power in 2022 and 2024.
But the main reason that millions took to the streets was not to celebrate Biden’s victory, but to celebrate Trump’s defeat. For anybody who participated in the revelry, it was hard not to notice that Biden himself was somewhat of an afterthought.
Here were some video highlights from across the country.
Central Los Angeles witnessed this dance party and sing-along to “Since You’ve Been Gone”:
Now everyone is singing along to Kelly Clarkson. pic.twitter.com/l6l2KdAQqf
— James Kim (@TooManyJames_s) November 7, 2020
All throughout the United States, the simple-but-on-point “Fuck Trump” was a crowd favorite, as seen on CNN:
I may party just one more day and start work on Monday cause this video is sending me ????? pic.twitter.com/qh75PAbu1m
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) November 8, 2020
Variations on the theme of Trump getting fired were also common:
People in front of the White House singing, “you about to lose yo job.” pic.twitter.com/cDHgd8HJFB
— Maishanu (@Mss_Deeynah) November 7, 2020
And in front of the White House, thousands trolled Trump by dancing together to “YMCA” by Village People:
Washington, DC is literally inaugurating Biden and Harris today. pic.twitter.com/VYRQr83S4U
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) November 7, 2020
There’s a world of difference between yesterday’s outpouring and the celebrations after Obama’s 2008 victory. Twelve years ago, illusions were widespread that a committed progressive had just been elected. Today, many people understand that the only way to win transformational change is to organize from below and in the halls of power to force the new administration and Congress to concede to our demands. There will be no honeymoon for Joe Biden.
In fact, the truth is that Trump was defeated despite Biden and the Democratic establishment, not because of them. So it’s particularly justified for us to own this victory. In that spirit, my highlight from yesterday was participating in a thousands-strong, brass-band-led, champagne-bottle-popping rendition of Queen’s “We Are the Champions”:
Thousands singing We Are the Champions at Grand Army Plaza pic.twitter.com/Zhr3v9yzD0
— Eric Blanc (@_ericblanc) November 7, 2020
Our task now is to channel that sense of victory and hope into a mass working-class politics. Biden will continue to do everything possible to lower popular expectations. The Left should be doing the exact opposite.
Why should we quietly accept Biden’s pledge that “nothing will fundamentally change” for the rich and powerful over the coming years? As seen in the labor movement of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and (in a more limited form) the concessions to social movements made during Obama’s second term, mass protest and independent organizing can win national-level changes against corporate Democrats.
Doing so this time will be easier if the Democrats win the Senate, since it would not only remove Republican veto power, but also deprive establishment Democrats of their favorite excuse for inaction. But as the 2018 educator strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona demonstrated, disruptive working-class action can force even the most reactionary politicians to retreat.
In the coming years, we will have to push back against the efforts of establishment Democrats, and the inclinations of many elite liberals, to simply return to the pre-Trump status quo. Regardless of who controls the White House and Congress, the United States remains a deeply unequal, antidemocratic, and billionaire-run country in a world hurtling toward climate disaster.
Despite what Biden would have us believe, a return to “normalcy” is neither desirable nor possible. As Nina Turner noted this morning in the Washington Post, “a return to ‘normalcy’ is simply a circuitous route back to Trumpism.”
If Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer have their way, American politics will remain in its current impasse, where Democratic centrism leads to popular disappointment, the further growth of a racist, reactionary right, and the rapid return of Republicans to power.
Escaping this vicious cycle won’t be easy, but it is possible. It requires passing reforms that make a material difference in the lives of millions. It requires democratizing the United States’ anti-majoritarian political institutions. It requires deep organizing in our workplaces and neighborhoods to revitalize the labor movement and to elect hundreds of democratic socialists to office at all levels. And, ultimately, it requires building a party by and for the working class.
There’s no point in sugarcoating Biden’s politics or in assuming that yesterday’s victory will automatically translate into meaningful change, even if the Democrats manage to take back the Senate. But Trump’s eviction is one worth celebrating.
Effective organizing thrives on hope, not despair — and in times like these, we need every win we can get. We should do everything possible to lean on and harness the eruption of collective joy seen yesterday. Because to win the world that working people deserve, we need to stay in the streets.