Crepe-paper streamers festooned the trees, confetti littered the ground, and a DJ started another day of dancing outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Artists distributed hand-printed “Count Every Vote” banners. Someone set out a bucket of fresh yellow roses, because democracy. The first Gritty of the day arrived, carrying an accordion. And news crews from around the world set up their lights, cameras, and microphones.
This was the scene Friday in Philadelphia as the vote count set Joe Biden ahead by a margin approaching the crowd size at your typical (pre-pandemic) Sixers game. The hundreds flowing in were increasingly confident that Biden had won the whole jawn. And Philly, even on the day before Biden took the presidency, was ready to take credit.
“We love that Philly is going to send it over the top for Biden after this president’s stupid comments about ‘bad things happen in Philadelphia,’ ” said Sheila Ballen, 55, who had come with her wife, Susan Crawshaw, 58, of West Poplar, after they tired of watching the vote count on television and listening to the news helicopters rile up their dogs.
“It’s good that Philly is going to be seen in a good light. Maybe they can stop talking about booing Santa, throwing snowballs at Santa. We’re the birthplace of democracy — and we’re taking that back today.”
Biden’s 63-point margin in Philadelphia eventually made up the difference in a state that swung to President Donald Trump four years ago and still has large red swaths.
On social media, the love has been flowing in — and Philly has been basking in it.
Dan Stuart and Dana Shukovsky, both 31, of Center City, each wore a different “Bad things happen in Philadelphia” T-shirt. Both were purchased within minutes of Trump’s early accusation of election fraud, an insult this perverse city chose to take as a compliment. (Stuart: “If you say something bad about Philly, it’s our town motto the next hour.”)
It was in a similar impulse of solidarity that when they saw news reports of police intercepting a truck of armed men coming from Virginia, they decided it was important to show up and support the “Count Every Vote” crowds.
“I like that people all over the country are attributing this [victory] to Philly — but Philly is attributing it to Gritty," Shukovsky said.
Dan Blacksberg, 37, of West Philadelphia lugged a trombone up the street, ready to join the Kol Tzedek Synagogue Simcha Band for a mix of klezmer, samba, and Action News theme music.
He’s been feeling the brotherly love, fielding text messages of gratitude from friends and colleagues around the country, he said.
“People say that we’re an underdog, or we’re not the best city in the world," he said. "It’s time to let that go. There’s a lot of amazing stuff happening here, and has been for a long time.”
City councilmembers and state lawmakers showed up in Gritty gear. The “Leave Philly Alone” T-shirts everyone was wearing finally started to make sense. A chef from South Philly Barbacoa, the acclaimed restaurant helmed by an undocumented immigrant, chopped lamb for free tacos.
As Biden expanded his lead, Tanja Dixon took a dance break from working at the Amazulu Gift Shop at Reading Terminal Market.
“This brings me back to the old-school block-party days,” said Dixon, 52, of South Philadelphia. “I’m really proud of my city! We came out and voted. Now we all got to stick together to make this a better world. This is a time to unite.”
For those who did the hard work of knocking on doors, registering voters, and getting out the vote — the attention felt well-deserved, if not overdue.
City Councilmember Kendra Brooks said the attention on the city is nice, but what’s important is what comes next: sustaining the energy to effect change. “We showed that Philly will stand up and fight for the things we think are important,” she said.
Charles Patton, 36, who was laid off from his job as a cook at Philadelphia International Airport in March, was among the Unite Here organizers who knocked on 300,000 Philadelphia doors for Biden, largely in low-income Black and brown communities.
In his view, there’s no doubt that work pushed Biden over the top.
“People really want to see a change in our city, and it showed at the polls," he said. "When it comes to democracy, our city will never give up fighting.”
For others, the attention was perhaps misplaced.
“It’s wild to watch that type of interest now,” said Makayla Maddison, 30, of West Philadelphia, as more news crews streamed in. “Philadelphia has been part of a lot of fights lately. I definitely wish they could have been out here when we were fighting for immigrant lives, during our multiple battles to defund the police, and when we raised our voices about the multitude of issues that still plague this city.”
But the party continued. A half-dozen more Gritties showed up. And more missives of Philadelphia gratitude flowed in.
“Philadelphia held it down for the nation!” Sam Rise, a local activist, told the crowd. "Change only happens when we make it happen. And guess what: Philly’s making it happen. It’s a Philly jawn.”
Staff writer Anna Orso contributed to this article.