‘Holding our breath’ D.C. demonstrators await results on contentious election night

As people across the country headed to the polls on Election Day, demonstrators gathered in front of the White House.


Katie Goodale

Protesters clash with police during protests outside of the White House on Black Lives Matter Plaza on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Protests began to get violent as police handcuffed a man. Protesters gathered and the police threw a smoke bomb. Only a few blocks away, President Trump holds a private party in the White House.

Rylee Wilson, News Editor

The Ethics & Politics Initiative, a donor-funded enterprise of The Daily Iowan, sent a photographer and editor to Washington D.C. to capture the nation’s capital on election night.

WASHINGTON — As night fell on Washington D.C., a crowd of thousands descended upon Black Lives Matter Plaza outside the White House — where the president was reportedly inside watching vote tallies roll in

Many wore “out with Trump” badges pinned on their coats and held signs protesting the president, and a few vocal supporters of the president sporting “Jesus saves” signs. A truck with musical performers drove slowly down the streets near the White House. 

The next White House occupant was not clear as of 11 p.m. Tuesday night, but the nation’s capital anxiously awaited final result tallies from around the U.S.

As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, crowds were mostly calm, dancing and chanting, at Black Lives Matter Plaza and the adjacent McPherson Square. 

Later in the night, a scuffle broke out between police and demonstrators near the White House. Someone yelled “run,” and according to local reports, police made several arrests. 

Crowds roamed the plaza at night in front of the White House, which is blocked off by a metal fence. A demonstrator dressed up as Donald Trump with a giant clay head, and took photos with the crowd. 

In McPherson Park, a group watched musical performances, and some sat on the ground in front of a giant screen playing CNN election coverage, cheering when states went for Biden. 

Audrey Schrieber, 26, who lives in Washington D.C., said she came out to the White House to stand with others on election night in support of every vote being counted. 

Schrieber said while there’s tension in the city, the windows of businesses boarded up with plywood in town may be unnecessary.

Gail Choate, 52, of Boca Raton, Fla. poses for a portrait outside of the White House fence in Washington DC on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Choate said she came to DC because of the importance of 2020 election. “I thought where do I want to be when the results come in and the answer was in front of the White House.” Choate said. (Katie Goodale)

“I feel in general, everyone in D.C. has been collectively holding our breath today, or the last three months really,” she said. “I don’t think that it will be called tonight, but I do think that the next three months are going to be fraught, whatever way it lands.” 

Rocky Twyman, 70, was on  Black Lives Matter Plaza Tuesday afternoon. He held a sign which read “Join me in prayer for election night peace.” 

Twyman, who participated in the civil-rights movement as a young man, said he’d never seen anything as divisive as this election. 

“I’m an old man,” he said. “I’ve been in many crusades and marches, but I don’t think I could have handled this one. I’ve never seen anything so divisive in my life.” 

In the afternoon, a crowd began to assemble in front of the White House on Black Lives Matter Plaza. Some were in support of President Trump, some preached their faith to onlookers, and others wore masks with the Biden campaign logo or held signs supporting Black Lives Matter. 

A few hundred people had gathered, some by themselves or with friends. They were swarmed by dozens of reporters and photographers awaiting the results from the election.

Polls in Washington D.C closed at 8 p.m. 

High schools and colleges in the Washington D.C. area called off class for Election Day, and some high schoolers gathered at Black Lives Matter Plaza to take in a piece of history. 

Ami Maciel, a high-school senior from Virginia, had his camera with him Tuesday morning and was taking pictures of the scene. He said he came to Washington, D.C. early in the morning to take pictures of the city on Election Day to capture the historic day. 

Maciel said he already cast his vote early for Joe Biden.

“I decided it’s a big year and a big day — especially this year,” Maciel said. “It’s my first year voting so I just wanted to check it out. I was here when the protests were really big a while back when this all started. It’s definitely very different — a lot more chill. Everyone here is just having a good time.” 

Rebeca Guzman, 18, from Maryland, was outside the White House on Tuesday afternoon holding a sign that said “Latinos for Trump.” 

Guzman said she came with members of her church to support the president. 

“We support Trump because of our Christian values and he values them,” she said. “He respects the Bible and religion, and that’s why we support and we’re praying that he becomes the president.” 

With almost every business in the downtown area boarded up with plywood in preparation for possible unrest on election night, some of those who chose to demonstrate during the day were feeling anxious for what could be to come. 

“I hope things don’t get too violent for the safety of others,” Guzman said. “I feel like everyone should respect each other’s opinions, even though there’s many differences.”

Protesters gather on Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House in Washington DC on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Peaceful events are scheduled on Black Lives Matter Plaza until 12 a.m. Just beyond the fence, President Trump prepares for his private election night event. (Katie Goodale)

Felicia Klimpacher, 20, a student at Norfolk State University, was on the plaza on Tuesday, holding a sign that said “Vote him Out.” She said she planned to stay out protesting as long as she felt safe. 

“I’m a woman by myself and a Black woman at that. It’s not really safe for me to be out here,” she said. “I’m going to stay out here as long as I feel safe, and once I start feeling the escalation or the tension starting that’s when I’m going to be like ‘It’s time for me to go.’” 

Many people outside the White House also expressed concern that Trump would declare victory before all of the votes are counted. As of 11 p.m. on Tuesday, Trump hadn’t made a comment on the results of the election.

During his time as a young protester, Twyman said people accepted the results of the election. 

“Trump is saying he’s not gonna accept it if Biden wins,” he said. “It’s just going to be a big mess it seems and more division. I’m hoping for a clear-cut victory for Biden tonight.” 

According to an Axios report, Trump told confidants he would declare victory if he appeared ahead on election night, which the president later denied. 

Klimpacher said she wouldn’t put it past Trump to declare victory on election night. 

“It could go either way,” she said. “I honestly have a feeling that Biden is going to win, but we’re going to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.”

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the night.