On Saturday, November 7, 2020, Cameron Coyle and his friends, Dan Weiss and Jonny Blando, headed down to Wilmington, Delaware to witness the Victory Speech for President-Elect Joe Biden. The trip was unforgettable and momentous, and here Coyle writes about his experience being at the center of the political world for one night - and what he learned from it.
Deafening, high-pitched cheers erupted as Joe Biden’s croaky, blue-collar voice echoed. It was just past time to get the show rolling in Wilmington, and every member of the mask-wearing throng stood with aching knees hoping to catch a glimpse of the monitor ahead.
It became clear quickly, however, that we would have to wait a little longer.
Expecting a colorful blue background highlighted by red stripes and white stars, the screen faded in upon a scene of colorless emptiness. Out of the shadows, a little woman began making her way toward a podium on a lonely stage.
Biden continued. “Ella Baker, a giant of the Civil Rights Movement, left us with this wisdom.”
“Give people light, and they will find the way.” His voice sliced through the crisp autumn air. A slight breeze picked up. “Give people light,” he reiterated.
Now, as solemn piano chords turned somewhat hopeful, Jennifer Hudson sang along to Biden’s message from his acceptance speech at the DNC last August. Images of recent acts of violence and protests flashed across the monitor, intermixed with Martin Luther King Jr. marching in Selma and Klansmen lighting a cross ablaze in an unnamed field. Perhaps it was the cool night air or the energy of the crowd around me, but whatever it was, the video was hitting a nerve.
The Democratic nominee paused to reflect on how the violence from Charlottesville, Virginia impacted him and his decision to run. His voice dropped. “Remember the violent clash that ensued between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it?”
“That was a wake-up call for us as a country - and for me, a call to action.”
When finishing up my workout at the gym Saturday morning, notifications began popping up on my phone with the announcement that Vice President Biden was projected to win the state of Pennsylvania, giving him the election and the Presidency. The previous eighty plus hours before that moment consisted largely of flipping through cable news channels and sleepless nights. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I could now sleep comfortably knowing who should become our next president.
It was not long after I arrived at home when my friend and ZTP Director of Digital Enterprise Dan Weiss texted me. The newscasters certified that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were set to make their victory speech at 8 PM that night in Wilmington, Delaware. “Wanna go?” he asked. I had plans later on, but I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. “Let’s do this.”
Dragging along a couple notebooks and my infamous 3D printed bust of Zachary Taylor, I squeezed into Dan’s car along with Jonny Blando, who helped the Project in the past filming and editing videos. The three of us were off, and in the car ride we talked about the results, political ideology, plans for the Civics Club we were spearheading at school, and what our plans were to get as close to the action as possible.
Entering Wilmington, our navigation grew spotty. I guess Delaware’s LTE services were unprepared for the thousands upon thousands of Americans pouring into the city. Traffic built up as we tried finding where to park the car.
At a red light, we stopped. On the concrete median walked a homeless woman with sunken cheeks and dirtied curly blonde hair. She wore a white shirt accented with stains, and held a cardboard sign asking for money or food.
I tensed. I grew a little hot under my white collar and looked down at the bumper of the car ahead. Growing up in a suburb far away from direct harm or poverty, my experiences with the underprivileged have been few. As a young kid visiting the Big Apple on day trips, I was conditioned to walk by and don’t make eye contact. Now I stood out more than ever, sporting a navy blue suit and Vineyard Vines American flag tie. I felt uncomfortable, and in these foreign surroundings “on my own” as a high school senior, my training kicked in.
The red light lasted longer than I expected. The woman continued walking towards us, looking into the cars ahead one by one, hoping a compassionate driver would deposit some funds into her collection can. I gazed at the black bumper of the car ahead, nearly motionless.
Suddenly, a rustling. Cool air blew back my hair as Dan rolled the window down on my side.
My trace was interrupted as a five dollar bill entered my line of sight. “Give this to her,” Dan urged. I hesitated for a quick moment, my eyes looking at him to communicate some unexplainable bewilderment. As if this act of charity was some sort of condemnation of my training. But she was less than a car length away now, and I couldn’t let myself get out of it.
By nature, I would say I’m initially shy. When meeting someone for the first time, I sometimes feel like I tend to trip over my words as recite preplanned phrases. What to say to a stranger who I thought I could barely relate to?
“Here you go, ma’am.” I stretched my arm out the side window, doing Dan’s will.
She smiled through silver teeth, beaming with spirit and hope. The light turned green, but before we were off and running again she thanked us. “God bless you,” she repeated as we drove off.
We drove around Wilmington, struggling with Google Maps until we located a half-filled parking lot near the train tracks where we pulled in, parked, prepared, and left our car, embarking on a journey that met its destination near the media tent about a half-hour later, under a majestic American flag suspended by thick metal cables that was by my estimation around 150 feet long (it was yuge). We were absorbed by the growing crowd, jubilation emanating through the masks underlining relief and joy at the election results, with media outlets scanning the crowd for great photo ops. Some found the 3D printed bust of an obscure president enough to warrant a click of the camera - one news outlet, VOA’s Russian division, even stopped to interview us three.
Dusk turned to dark. But that moment with the homeless woman - that metallically beautiful smile - stayed with me.
Partially it was because I was embarrassed. Ashamed at my initial reaction, I immediately got to chastising myself for being so misguided, so wrong in my approach. It was the first time I ever gave money directly to a stranger without expecting anything in return - no guitar on her shoulder, no business to peddle. Hell, it wasn’t even my money.
Perhaps living in a two-story house with three bathrooms and a large yard brings on a certain illusion. With discussions on racial and social justice dominating our current political landscape, I believed that I could deal with one person individually as equally and as fairly as the next - friend or foe, light or dark, old or young, man or woman or other, liberal or conservative or libertarian or green.
But that stained T-shirt and cardboard sign undermined that grand philosophy very quickly.
The overarching theme of that video, blaring over the diverse group of spectators gathered that November night, was a return to love and decency. Jennifer Hudson and the Black Eyed Peas sang convincingly, provoking loud individual cheers and whoops. The singers turned to God above for a helping hand. “People got me, got me questioning: where is the love?”
Divisiveness has gripped and polarized this nation too long. Where is the love? And why has our national character degraded to such a degree? This country was politically designed for its people to speak candidly and openly about how to steer our American ship through waters both stormy and serene. Unfortunately, Americans don’t have many thoughtful and nuanced conversations anymore. Whatever the root cause may be - technology’s betrayal of the conception of open-mindedness, the rise of the 24-hour news cycle, a drastic shift in the current political party system - demonization and “hate” have been granted a sizable role in the United States circa 2020, and even the best of us succumb to those vices from time to time. To cure our nation, we must cure ourselves first, and expect out of ourselves those morals which we hope could once again someday define our nation.
I thought back to that woman on the concrete median with the silver smile. On a different day, in a different place, surrounded by different people, I know I would have kept staring ahead, unemotional and cold to my fellow American. But that small and decent act made our country a little kinder, a little more compassionate, a little stronger - and even a little more unified.
My transformative moment in Wilmington was not what I envisioned. It was not my idea, and it wasn’t my five dollar bill. I think I needed that moment, though, to understand what “loving thy neighbor” actually meant, and how those values could bring our nation towards a path of light.
“So the question for us is simple,” President-Elect Biden observed. “Are we ready? I believe we are.”
Cheers, admiration, silence, and then an organ, followed by Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” In the frenzy that ensued, flashes of red and blue sirens indicated the arriving onslaught of limousines transferring Vice-President-Elect Harris and President-Elect Biden to center stage. Old Glory, fluttering above our heads, illuminated our lot.
“Will you practice what you preach? Will you turn the other cheek?”
-”The Love,” Black Eyed Peas & Jennifer Hudson