It is Friday afternoon, November 6, 2020, in Philadelphia. A huge block party is taking place, a “Count Every Vote” rally. There are joy, happiness and love despite the anxious days past and the uncertain days ahead. The unity of diversity is what the American ideal is about. This afternoon in Philadelphia no matter what the outcome of the election will be or whatever lies ahead for the American people, this is American democracy at its best. The revelers did not know if the next day, November 7, 2020, Joe Biden, their favorite son, would win the presidential race.
Joseph R. Biden Jr did, and he became the 46th President of the U.S., his running mate, Kamala Harris, the first female and woman of color to become Vice President.
Gathered this afternoon are Philadelphians of all ages and all colors, not practicing social distancing but wearing masks. There is no anger, no shouting, no guns and no rioting. There is no hate, only love. There is only the energy of a people united to celebrate what is best about America - its diversity. A female and male disc jockey encourage the crowd to clap for democracy. There is “dancin’ in the streets” - elders to toddler’s sway to the rhythms and move to the “Electric Slide.” Posts on Facebook come in from Ireland, Australia, Germany and around the world praising the celebrants on their living and demonstrating American democracy.
It is appropriate that a celebration of this sort should take place in Philadelphia. The city founded by William Penn and Quakers (the Society of Friends) was dedicated to peace and love. The “city of brotherly love” was named by its founder William Penn, who chose the name from the Greek terms “philo” meaning love and “adelphos” meaning brother. Penn signed a peace treaty with the Lenape tribe, and while slavery was tolerated early on, the Quakers were the first organized group in the Thirteen Colonies to oppose slavery.
Philadelphia is a city that mirrors the diversity of America, a reminder of all that is good about both the city and the country. Philadelphia is the city where escaped enslaved sought freedom, in which free blacks were business owners and the principal owners of catering companies. Philadelphia was a prime destination for African Americans during the Great Migration and is home to immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Southern and Eastern Europe as well as Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Philadelphia has not always been a beacon of fairness and justice. From early slavery to the nativist treatment of the Irish, it has had its share of bad press, especially in 1985, when the police firebombed the headquarters of MOVE, a radical black power group. In this act, for which later the City Council apologized, 11 people were killed, 61 homes destroyed and 250 people left homeless.
This afternoon in “Philly,” however, was one of love, friendship and unity; a time when the diversity of the city and of the country demonstrated what the best of America could be. Philadelphia is considered the birthplace of the American ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity because it was the location of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Perhaps this afternoon in Philadelphia was channeled by the Irish and African indentured servants who on Saturday afternoons when finished with their toils sang Irish folk songs and danced to African rhythms to celebrate – together. There was a time in America before the ruling elite created “whiteness,” “blackness” and racism that those from different ethnic and cultural groups worked, lived, and loved together as human beings. Philadelphia on the evening of November 6, 2020, was a reminder of that time.
As we close the extraordinarily difficult year of 2020, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, economic hardship, deep political divisions and protests against racism and police brutality, America needs to be reminded of its principles and values. As we enter the new year of 2021, can America transcend the deep divisions and become the America celebrated on this afternoon in Philadelphia? Can the wonderful diversity that makes up America be appreciated and celebrated? Can Americans overcome the cultural conditioning of separation and stereotyping fostered by white supremacy ideology? Can Americans acknowledge their history and grow to respect and value all of its citizens?
Only our unity and our humanity to each other will determine if we learned the hard lessons taught by the pandemic and if the reality of America will match its stated ideals. November 6, 2020, in Philadelphia offered a glimpse of that America.