At around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night outside of the Javits Convention Center in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York, a block party that stretched ten blocks was underway and the energy was palpable. The thousands here and inside Javits were Hillary Clinton's most ardent fans, many of whom had filed in line since the early afternoon, and now waited with exhilaration for the results of the 2016 election to be called, comforted by polls and pundits who anticipated a major win for the country's first female presidential candidate. Indeed, some hoped for a landslide.
They didn't have an inkling of the fate that awaited them and their candidate – that previously predicted blue states would go red, that turnout wouldn't be enough for a deep anger roiling the country, that the most unpredictable presidential candidate in history would take the electoral college even as their historic choice would win the popular vote. Early in the night, even Bernie Sanders supporters seemed ecstatic to be a part of the cheering, American flag-waving fray.
“I have a five-year-old sister, and I just think it’s important for her to see this,” said, Siri Chilukuri, an 18-year-old former Bernie Sanders supporter who had since more than relished casting her first-ever vote for Clinton. She had been waiting in line to get into the Javits perimeter since 2 p.m.
Chilukuri was just one of the many first-time voters, children and preteens with their parents in the crowd of thousands who waited, willingly and excitedly, hoping for a glimpse of the country’s first female president. “It’s really cool being here,” said Corey McCollough, a brace-faced 13-year-old who passed out American flags and was decked out in a matching white two-piece she’d bought with her mother at Ann Taylor the day before, having spotted the #wearwhitepantsuitsforhillary hashtag on Facebook. “America’s come a long way.”
This, of course, was the calm before the storm.
Just an hour before it’d been predicted that Clinton would take the stage for her victory speech, the numbers started to go south, losses the crowd first accepted with rounds of heartfelt boos but that would soon be replaced by an eerie, anxious quiet as the massive TV screens overhead turned increasingly red. Donald Trump, the candidate who replaced the usual governmental experience required for a president with a surplus of violent, vitriolic views, was winning against a candidate known for decades for her temperament and qualifications.
Even as the cheers began to wane, the final results were still a full five hours off. Inside, roars from the crowd on the main floor echoed through the cavernous center in hopeful waves, while the food court below was flooded with those still somewhat jovially in search of alcohol, some shoving their arms with as many as five beers.
The anxiety was unavoidable, thanks to the spread of news screens set up throughout the center: Even the media seemed finally beginning to consider the horror at hand, bringing on statistics’ most trusted sources to confirm that it looked like the worst might really be in store.
“Let’s go back to Nate Silver,” a host said just a few minutes before midnight, turning the camera to the numbers guru behind FiveThirtyEight.
“Let’s go back 150 years," said a black reporter to himself, shoving his laptop shut and heading out after a final foray upstairs. "We know what's happening to my people."
He was hardly the only one to call it an early night: More and more downcast faces made their way out of the center, many declining to speak with a reporter. “It’s a bad night,” offered a somber-looking man, not even breaking stride as he led his preteen daughter away.
As the clock ticked past 1 a.m., the screens shut off, and people were openly in tears. Finally, the question of whether a speech was still coming from Clinton was answered via campaign chairman John Podesta, who took the stage instead. “I know we’ve been here a long time, and it’s been a long night, and it’s been a long campaign. But I can say, we can wait a little longer, can’t we?” he asked the crowd, before urging those gathered to head home, get some sleep, and have a good night before the final results were made clear.
It was a move, perhaps, for the best: After all, a few short hours before, even Hillary’s plainclothes supporters, comparatively casual to those whose passion was so fervent they’d decked themselves out in sashes, slogan tees, and pins, had promised the worst if it came to a Trump win. Several said they’d move to Mexico, while others’ solution were a bit more grim: “Well, the Hudson’s right over there,” said a young woman dressed in an impeccable all-white ensemble, waving her cigarette to the river just a block away.
Michele Mueller, a 66-year-old gun control advocate who’d been campaigning for Clinton since 2008, was making her way down 34th Street, slowly wiping away tears and shuffling the glittery, H-adorned slip-ons she’d made with fellow Gun Sense in America members.
“She was the one,” she said, her voice breaking, before telling a story of a 12-year-old boy she’d met while canvassing, who backed her up when his mother, too busy to follow the election with eight other children, had admitted she didn’t know enough about the candidates to feel comfortable casting a vote.
“He said, ‘Hillary is the most qualified, with 30 years of experience, and the other guy is just winging it. And you can't wing it to be president,’” she recalled. “We always knew we were a divided nation, but this, to me, is quite a shocking division.”
Peggy Louis, another woman in her sixties calling it a night, echoed Mueller’s sentiments. “This is our Brexit,” she said after a grave pause. “It’s everything against people of color and immigration – a whole nasty campaign that’s basically supported white supremacy and said that was a good thing.”
For others, the night was just beginning.
Twenty-two-year-old Mahdee Jackson had just arrived for clean-up duty, and while he’d made a conscious decision not to vote that morning, he was suddenly feeling a bit of regret. “Hopefully it’ll be good,” he said of the Republican’s unexpected presidency. “But the way Trump was talking, it ain’t looking that way.”