OPINION: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the electric slide

People dance in the streets to celebrate President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the U.S. general election in Midtown Atlanta, on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
People dance in the streets to celebrate President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the U.S. general election in Midtown Atlanta, on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

It was Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ moment, but when I think of the 2020 presidential election in years to come, my mind will be filled with the diverse group of people in streets across this country doing the electric slide.

Before it became the Black Lives Matter protest dance, the electric slide was a staple at Black parties and weddings and family reunions.

And what I saw Saturday after Vice President Biden became President-elect Biden looked to me like one big happy family.

Watching, I felt a smile slide across my face and my heart dancing with them.

I was starting to wonder if these United States would feel like that ever again. It felt good, like the thing for which I’d been longing. Missing.

I realize we weren’t the perfect family. There is no such thing. But we felt, well, united.

It was in stark contrast to the past four years.

And yet, both, according to Gayle Alberda, might explain the reaction we witnessed moments after Biden and Harris were declared the winners of this year’s election.

Gayle Alberda is an assistant professor of politics at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. (Courtesy of Fairfield University)
Gayle Alberda is an assistant professor of politics at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. (Courtesy of Fairfield University)

Credit: Photo courtesy Fairfield University

Credit: Photo courtesy Fairfield University

Alberda, an assistant professor of politics at Fairfield University, said that more often than not, people take to the streets when they don’t feel heard.

But this celebration occurred because their voices were heard.

“It is a beautiful thing to see people celebrating Biden’s victory in the streets as well as people protesting Trump’s defeat,” Alberda said. "This is the heart of democracy.”

Watching it play out, I thought a lot about Congressman John Lewis and his hard fight to secure the voting rights of Black Americans.

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No matter who we voted for, he would’ve been overjoyed that record numbers of us turned out to cast our vote.

That we did it in the midst of a raging pandemic made it all the more historic, but that wasn’t all.

Alberda pointed to several notable trends, including a potential shift in both Senate and presidential races in Southern states like North Carolina, Texas and Georgia.

“People have moved from more traditionally liberal areas, such as the Northeast, to more conservative areas like the South and Southwest,” Alberda said. “When people move, they take their values and political ideology with them. Over time, this changes the makeup of the electorate, creating more competitive elections.”

Also of note was the number of millennials who turned out to vote compared to baby boomers. Millennials were not only the largest voting bloc this time around, she said, but they are becoming more and more engaged in politics.

“As they continue to age, they will only become more active voters,” Alberda said. “This will likely change the dynamics of the electorate.”

Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but one thing seems clear: The electorate is tired of the status quo, the divisive rhetoric, and the extremism.

“We all want America to live up to the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution,” Alberda said. “Biden acknowledged that with his call for us to actively choose to see each other not as enemies, but as Americans.”

For the record, I don’t feel emotionally attached to Biden or Harris, but it’s hard to ignore the significance of their election, to not feel proud and quite frankly relieved.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

Biden is the oldest person to become president and the second Catholic ever elected. And Harris is now the first woman, first black, first Indian, and the first HBCU alum to hold the second-highest elected position in the nation.

That’s worth more than a few dance steps.

Add to that the fact her election comes during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and that it happened in a year that an unprecedented number of women ran for office from both political parties, Alberda said, and you have what amounts to the proverbial icing on the cake.

More importantly, I see in them the capacity for compassion and empathy I found lacking in 45.

I know some will read that and see it just as more proof that I do not like President Donald Trump. They are wrong. I just don’t like his ways.

I don’t understand how he can claim to be pro-life, for instance, while showing little regard for the living. Separating migrant families arriving illegally at the border might be pro-choice but it isn’t pro-life.

Suing to take away health care from the sick may be pro-choice but it is not pro-life. Refusing to wear a mask in the midst of a pandemic may be pro-choice but it is not pro-life.

The contradiction is startling.

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Will things be different under a Biden-Harris administration?

That is my hope.

I hope they won’t just talk about upholding American values like fairness, justice, and the freedom to live with dignity but put in place policies that will guarantee them.

This might surprise a lot of people, but I don’t have a problem with wanting the best for angry white men but not to the exclusion of what’s best for frustrated black men or women, for that matter. I don’t have a problem with giving corporations tax breaks but not at the expense of the middle class and working poor. We all know the benefits do not trickle down or result in more jobs.

I think it’s safe to say that more than half of America feels the same way.

In his victory speech last week, Biden said the time has come to put the past behind us and reunite as one nation.

He’s right. And if we’re lucky, this will not be our last time dancing in the streets.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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