After days of waiting for results to trickle in from battleground states, New York City erupted in celebrations on Saturday after Joe Biden was announced as the winner of the US presidential elections by numerous media outlets – and congratulated by heads of state around the world, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
From the subway to the streets, people were cheering, banging pots and pans, waving flags, and singing songs. Scroll.in visited Columbus Circle, one of New York City’s busiest traffic intersections which also happens to be opposite the luxury Trump International Hotel New York. For once, there were no complaints about traffic jams as cars and buses honked and celebrated with people on the streets while passing by.
“It’s a big relief, we’re really upset four years ago, and now we’re crying tears of joy,” said Nehal Siddiqui, a native New Yorker who, wither her husband Shehzad Siddiqui, had brought their two children to participate in the celebrations.
The celebrations are a reaction to the election results finally being declared by America’s major news networks, days after voting ended, and amidst a backdrop of potential unrest with incumbent President Donald Trump continuing to insist that he had won and that Biden’s victory was fraudulent.
Despite those claims, Biden – who is on track to win 4 million more votes than the incumbent did nationally, and to potentially pull in 306 votes in the electoral college, compared to Trump’s 232 – has begun preparations to take over on January 20, as is customary.
Alongside him on the day will be Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to occupy the post. Harris is also the first woman of Black and Indian-American heritage to win a position in the White House and, with the 78-year-old Biden having suggested that he will only be in power for one term, would be the front-runner to compete for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024.
“She just broke so many barriers,” says Anusha Kumar, an Indian-American PhD scholar at the City College of New York. “I was truly feeling hopeless that I may not be able to change anything, or that our immigrant communities might not be able to incite change. But Kamala Harris changes that... I feel powerful and I’m sure Kamala does too.”
What does Kamala Harris mean to Nehal Siddiqui, who had brought her children to Columbus Circle? “A role model,” she said, pointing her daughter in her pram.
Kenny, a traffic policeman, was dancing with people on the street at every signal change. “As a lifelong New Yorker, he’s the worst thing to happen to us,” he told Scroll.in, referring to former President Donald Trump, whose hometown is New York. “He’s gone, and we’re celebrating!”
The end of Trump’s tenure, which was filled with rhetoric that was often openly racist and anti-immigrant, may not signal the end of the politics that he embodied. Results show that Trump received millions more in votes compared to his 2016 total, and ran a far tighter race than polls had suggested. Moreover, Democrats did not capture the Senate as expected, which will be an obstacle for Biden’s progressive agenda.
For many, those concerns and fears are very real – but don’t need to come in the way of celebrations.
“It feels like our country has won independence,” said Mohit Agarwal, a New York City resident, who was dancing to loud music in the street near Columbus Circle. “It’s a brighter future for diversity, equality and inclusion — a brighter future for my daughters to look forward to.”
Shivani Mehta, a public health professional, did touch upon her hopes for what the new administration would signify.
“I’m very relieved that we got Trump out, but I hope that we use this energy to push for progressive change,” she said. “It’s incredible that Kamala Harris has been elected, I really hope Biden and Harris push to make our country inclusive.”
Nearby, a group was chanting “Trump is gone but the struggle ain’t over — Black Lives Matter!”
In addition to Harris’ presence in the race, the 2020 election also seemed to feature Indian-Americans in a much bigger role than before, whether as a potentially decisive constituency, in their ability to mobilise voters or in the willingness to put money into the race.
In a press release, the group South Asians for Biden thanked the South Asian community for voting in unprecedented numbers and organizing to get out the vote. “Notably, because of these efforts, our community will have direct representation in the executive branch with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, who will be the first Black and Indian woman to hold her office,” the group said.
Deepa Sharma, attorney and communications chair for the group echoed this sentiment.
“In this election, America turned out in record numbers to affirm our country’s decency by electing President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris,” Sharma said. “This is a victory for democracy, a victory for women, and a win for the communities that have had to painfully endure a hostile administration for the past 4 years.”
Sanjeev Joshipura, executive director of Indiaspora, an organisation that focuses on the Indian-American community put it in simpler terms: “For Indian-Americans, Diwali came early,” he said. “We now have a vice president and so many elected officials at the federal, state and local levels... Indiaspora had the privilege of hosting Diwali at VP Biden’s official residence in 2016 and we now look forward to doing the same with President Biden in the White House!”
Photos: Vandana Menon