By Alan Judd, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(CNT) City News Talk #atlanta-ga
At 11:45 a.m., whoops of joy erupted in Midtown Atlanta. Pots and pans clanged in rhythm. Car horns bleated. At 10th and Piedmont, people danced in the street.
Minutes later, angry crowds assembled outside the state Capitol and across downtown at the CNN Center. Some carried signs that declared “STOP THE CHEAT” or “FRAUD.” Others carried guns.
Across metro Atlanta and the nation, news of Joe Biden’s presumptive victory over Donald Trump in a bitterly fought presidential election released strong emotions on Saturday. Some had been held in check during four days of watching returns come in; others, pent up over four of the most tumultuous years in American history.
Elation. Relief. Defiance. Apprehension. All emerged as metro-area residents processed the election’s outcome. As did, in small doses, hope.
“The whole thing was just like a long football game that went on and on,” Angela Wells said on the Marietta Square. “And the last four years have been so divisive that people actually hate each other.”
For many Georgians, this was a presidential election unlike any other. Republicans had easily claimed the state’s electoral votes in the past six campaigns, but this year Georgia was competitive (and remained too close to call Saturday evening). Despite the coronavirus pandemic and a struggling economy, nearly 5 million Georgians voted for president in what has become a battleground state.
“No one in our city and in our community can say that their voice doesn’t matter,” said Jason Hudgins, president of the Westview Community Organization in southwest Atlanta. The organization, he said, “literally touched every home in our neighborhood with information about voting.”
But neither the election nor the reaction to its outcome resembled anything from a civics textbook. Many Trump supporters repeated and amplified the president’s unfounded claims that Democrats stole the election from him. And even many who were happy to see Trump defeated also worried about what happens next as the nation takes on the daunting task of binding its wounds.
‘Every vote counts’
In Midtown, Lee Thornton embraced his friend Michael Cabe and wept.
“I wanted to be with somebody and just celebrate,” said Thornton, 53, a principal at a real estate firm. “The weight of the world has been lifted from our shoulders.”
Cabe, 33, a human resources professional who identifies as LGBTQ, stood outside his house, which was decorated with flags bearing Pride and Human Rights Campaign logos. But he decided the American flag would be the one he waved.
“I finally feel safe,” Cabe said.
Trump, he said, made people like him feel less valued than other Americans.
“We just proved him wrong.”
Biden’s victory — or, perhaps more to the point, Trump’s defeat — was personal for many people who said they felt marginalized during the past four years.
Kris Felder, 36, a DoorDash delivery driver from Conyers, parked her car and stood in the rainbow-painted intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue, pumping her fist in celebration.
“You have all races, all religions, whether you’re gay, straight or whatever,” said Felder, who is Black. “Everyone’s out here for one reason, and that’s to love one another. It just shows you every vote counts, every vote matters.”
For Tiffanie Moore, who celebrated at Freedom Park in Atlanta, the election’s outcome means she can move past difficult conversations with her young niece about Trump’s behavior as president.
“For her to see some of the mean things Donald Trump has said, I felt bad that she didn’t understand it,” Moore said. “I want her to know that we can have different and difficult conversations with one another with civility.”
‘It’s not right’
Outside the CNN Center, civility was in short supply.
Members of a self-styled militia and other Trump supporters stood on the west side of Centennial Olympic Park Drive, trading obscenities with pro-Biden demonstrators across the street. Some of the militia members dressed in combat fatigues, wore facial coverings and strapped handguns to their waists.
“Free people coming together,” militia leader Chris Hill said into his phone as he streamed the protest live on YouTube. “It’s now or never. Trump 2020. It ain’t over yet.”
Gesturing toward CNN’s world headquarters, he added, “Nothing that comes out of this building is true.”
Janelle Bowen, 53, drove more than 50 miles from Pike County to join the protest.
“All of our rights are going to be taken away,” Bowen said, adding that she didn’t think Trump should concede. “We will protest, vote again, whatever it takes to get the legal votes counted.”
At the CNN Center and at the Capitol, Trump supporters insisted that fraud gave Biden the victory, repeating the president’s baseless claims that the election was rigged.
“I think everyone knows it’s not right,” Daniel Labrecque said at the Capitol, where about 200 Trump supporters protested. “I think every Democrat thinks it’s highly unlikely Joe got more votes than Obama in 2008. It’s not looking legit right now.”
The crowd around Labrecque chanted, “The gates of hell will not prevail.”
“I think if Joe Biden is inaugurated,” he said, “you’re going to see a lot more of this.”
Away from the protests, other Trump voters echoed vague claims of impropriety in counting votes.
John Herbert, an attorney from Milton, said he thought the election was stolen from Trump’s 70 million voters, even though Biden received 74 million votes.
The courts, Herbert said, will ultimately choose the winner. “Thankfully,” he said, “Fox News doesn’t determine who the president of the U.S. is.”
Steve Beacham, the owner of a mortgage company in Alpharetta, had expected Trump to win in a landslide. But he said he accepts the results — and thinks the country is more likely to unite under Biden.
“Most Republicans, we all know Trump is a narcissistic guy, but we like his policies,” Beacham said. “We enjoyed someone that was a businessperson and running the country more like a business.”
‘Work to do’
Many voters on both sides worry about what’s to come.
“I feel sad,” said Greg Todey, a real estate investor from Milton who voted for Trump and worries that fraud might have tipped the election. “There’s no way to know. I don’t want to go around accusing people of wrongdoing.”
At the same time, Todey worries that businesses under financial stress will simply give up when Biden takes office.
“If you’re running a business and hanging on by a thread and trying to keep folks employed and people are saying they’re going to raise your taxes, it’s very troubling.”
Stephanie Stuckey, a former Democratic state legislator, is concerned about how enemies forged by the campaign might reconcile.
“Someone just ripped up my Black Lives Matter sign and stole my Biden sign in my front yard,” Stuckey wrote Saturday on Twitter. “Sigh. We still have a lot of work to do in this country to restore civility and respect.”
Deirdre Bembry started that work shortly after the race was called.
Bembry, of Newnan, gathered her sister and their children, ages 3 to 13, for a trip to downtown Atlanta to visit a grand mural of John Lewis on Auburn Avenue. The late congressman and civil rights leader, who died in July, was jailed, beaten and belittled in his decades of fighting for voting rights.
“I just felt it deeply important to show my kids what was behind everything that is happening with our election and why this is probably the most important election of our lives,” Bembry said. “And for their future.”
Staff writers Alia Malik, Adrianne Murchison, Shaddi Abusaid, J.D. Capelouto, Maya T. Prabhu, Chris Joyner, Christian Boone, Janel Davis and Imani Dennis contributed to this article.