Moments after Philadelphia announced the votes that allowed Joe Biden to capture the presidential race on Saturday, his supporters took to the streets for a spontaneous celebration that erupted across the jubilant city.
In a raucous, joy-filled showing, thousands converged on Independence Mall, marched down Market Street with drums, danced on trolley tracks in West Philadelphia, banged pots and pans in South Philly, and gathered in front of City Hall.
» READ MORE: How Joe Biden won Pennsylvania
“I’m just so excited,” said Zeke Goldsmith, 22, who jumped up and down outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center with fellow Drexel student Collin Shotwell after the race was called, waving their rainbow pride flag in the air. “The country is still really divided, but this is a great first step.”
During a year that has forced people to stay apart, on Saturday they came together by the thousands to experience the historic moment — whether standing distanced on stoops to cheer, honking from their cars, or joining the enormous crowds, mostly masked, in Center City and other neighborhoods.
People of all ages and races cheered, wept, embraced, and danced. They banged noisemakers, raised fists in the air, donned costumes, waved signs and flags, and popped champagne.
“Bless democracy!” one woman belted out amid afternoon celebrations, her long bellow piercing the Center City din.
The scene was echoed in cities across the country, from New York to San Francisco, and in front of the White House. But with Pennsylvania’s flip to blue handing Biden the electoral votes he needed to win, an extra pride laced the Philadelphia hoopla.
Signs read “Good things happen in Philadelphia,” “Philly says: Donald Trump you’re FIRED,” and “Thank Youse.” Drawings of Gritty waved in the air, and a gigantic, glittery bald eagle bobbed above the crowds, carried by several people through Center City.
“I was watching at home and when the last 3,000 votes to call Pennsylvania came from Philly, I thought, I have to be out in Philly,” said Bren Thomas, 32.
"The road to the presidency went right through Pennsylvania, made a U-turn, and double-parked right here in Philadelphia,” said Trina Dean, an executive member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, to a roaring afternoon crowd on Independence Mall. “Good things happen up in this jawn.”
For many of Biden’s supporters, the day was about relief as much as joy — a deep, profound sense that what many described as a trauma-inducing four years would end. Many said they had cried repeatedly during the day as the Democrat’s win — and the public revelry — brought a catharsis they had not dared to hope for.
“People are just happy and feeling a sense of joy and relief that we can kinda start to take care of ourselves again,” said Chelsa Clofer, cheering in West Philadelphia, “instead of cringing in fear on a daily basis. That alone is gonna make a huge difference in our lives, like, right now.”
For Peter Puthenveetil, 32, a Jefferson Health emergency-room doctor, the news made him “optimistic for the first time in several months.” For Liz Kramp, a midwife from Havertown who brought her 10-year-old daughter Vivienne, it felt “like a fog has been lifted from my soul."
And for Mayor Jim Kenney, who addressed a crowd of 1,500 or more on Independence Mall shortly after the race was called, the joy was “almost like a second Super Bowl.”
And it wasn’t just about Biden. Heightening the celebration for many was Sen. Kamala Harris' historic victory as the first female vice president-elect and first Black and South Asian woman to reach the White House.
“We’ve always tried to encourage ourselves and just know that we achieve anything we want, but to actually see it happen so soon and with such an amazing woman just really means a lot to us,” said Rachelle Small, who was at City Hall with friends from Temple University.
Many also lauded the large turnout of voters of color for Biden. Walking down Market Street with a megaphone, activist Samantha Rise shouted: “Have you thanked a Black woman today? Philly did that!”
The energy was palpable across the city. A party broke out next to Clark Park, where by midafternoon some 500 people were dancing in the street, banging pots and pans, and waving Biden-Harris signs as a band played. On Broad Street, a man on stilts in a Biden shirt and red-and-white striped pants posed for photos with revelers. In Old City, people cheered from their windows and steps as cars drove by honking.
Bright Kelly, 34 of Mount Airy, leaned on a mailbox, livestreaming the celebration surrounding him for his TikTok following. Kelly needed the mailbox, he explained, because he hasn’t slept since Election Day.
“I know that sounds crazy, but it is true,” said Kelly. “I got it into my head that if I could stay awake long enough, they’d … call it in the right direction.”
Mickey Hart Goodson, of West Oak Lane, went into Center City on Saturday morning to order a Thanksgiving turkey and was still there when the city erupted in cheers over Biden’s victory.
“Now I don’t have to worry about my health insurance for the next four years,” said Goodson, 54 and a cancer survivor who cried tears of joy. Wearing a shirt that said “Black Voters Matter,” she said Biden’s election is the first step in healing “the hatred and division.”
She joined hundreds of other Philadelphians who crowded outside the Convention Center, where the city was counting votes soon after the race was called.
The area had been the site of celebratory “Count Every Vote” demonstrations as ballots were tallied inside and the race swung in Biden’s favor. But on Saturday afternoon, the mood reached a new level of joy. The crowd chanted “Biden! Biden!” and yelled “Go home!” to about a dozen supporters of President Donald Trump who had gathered to protest the vote count.
Amid the jubilation there was caution. Oz Gamel, 42, of Mount Airy said he was pleased with the outcome but hoping for significant change toward racial equality, noting that he does not like Biden’s record on mass incarceration.
“While I am happy that we have a better option, it’s still part of the same system, and we have a lot of work to do. I hope people don’t let their guard down,” Gamel said. “We’re like, yeah, you in office, Biden, but start slipping and we’re gonna come for you too and hold [you] accountable.”
By evening, thousands were marching and dancing in front of City Hall, beating drums and cowbells. Dirt bikes roared up and down the street and passing drivers laid on their horns.
Claudia Morris stood on the steps of City Hall with her arm around her 8-year-old granddaughter, Savannah, watching the celebrations unfold.
“I feel redeemed; I feel like a newborn baby,” Morris, 57, of West Philadelphia, said, adding that she cried and her “knees buckled” when she saw on the news that Biden had won. “Trump was not right as president. A president of the U.S. needs to be a president to everyone, not just your supporters."
Staff writers Cassie Owens, Erin McCarthy, Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Aubrey Whelan, Amy S. Rosenberg, and Vinny Vella contributed to this article.