Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The watch party let out at half past midnight.
Time restrictions called it an early night. The remaining 50 or so goers, from the original 200 plus, glumly exited the local cultural institution, Sixth & I Synagogue into a ghostly street in downtown, Washington, DC, where the remaining people decided whether to keep watching or to head home.
A mostly liberal crowd, which seemed poised to celebrate the potential of the first woman president in the history of the country, instead watched Hillary Rodham Clinton see her path to the 270 electoral college votes to win the American presidency begin to vanish.
The anxiety had been palatable all night. In fact, it could be staunchly felt through the city streets all week. Monday traffic seemed particularly harsh and irregular; drivers seemed to be driving through the likes of a hail storm and not the typical rush hour traffic. One Uber driver (a taxi service) brought up that he has been in DC for 47 years. He recalled stories from Watergate; he said the city was as anxious as ever.
“I showed up for an hour or two and it was exciting,” said Allison Walther, a two-year DC resident and originally from the state of Washington. “People started to peel off... but by the end it was disbelief.”
As the night wore on, the crowd weathered out. Comfortable in their seats, some buried their faces in their hands, others resorted to their phones, while others pulled open iPads and laptops to check the same statistical forecasts that had failed many liberals in the lead up to this election. The original joyous chatter quieted to a murmur. The time restraint for alcohol serving was up. The popcorn was out. The sound of the voice of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer cut through the anxious air in this DC cultural institution.
Although this election was unique in many ways, setting up a watch party wasn’t Sixth & I’s first rodeo.
The historic building, which first was a conservative synagogue in 1908, has been the home for secular Jewish life since 2004. In 2008 they hosted their first watch party, in the battle between Barack Obama and John McCain.
“It was a way for us to reach out on an occasion that everyone wants a place to be,” associate director Jackie Leventhal said. She helped organize the 2008 and 2016 events, and 2012, she said, was a little less climactic.
A chance to host a watch party was important for the synagogue. The staff thought about hosting debate watching parties, but decided on the election night event.
“We just knew that being in the heart in DC, this is what everybody has been thinking about,” executive director Heather Moran said.
She echoed what many DC residents have been saying over the past month, from Uber drivers to bar keepers, to barbers – a level of anxiety unlike in prior elections had swept the city.
“We are a DC organization, so inherently we feel what DC feels,” Moran said.
One European joined the crowd at Sixth & I. He came to a watch party in the States in 2008 and wanted to be a part of the celebration again. Before he left at the end of the event, he noted what he saw from the room.
“We saw that it is a disaster,” said Hans Bybau, from the Netherlands and dressed in a red, white and blue striped shirt. “The markets are going down. On the other hand, it will be completely different for the next four years.”
The night at Sixth & I proved disappointing for many Clinton supporters.
One watch party goer quipped a sentiment that had been joked about during this election cycle: “So where do we go now... Israel?” Following the night at the synagogue, goers chose their next spot for the night. At the White House, crowds filed in through the night, still at 2:00 a.m. when the race had yet to be called. Some climbed the trees in the promenade in front of president’s home – the same trees that four years ago were places of euphoric chants of “U.S.A.” Now, chants of “F*** Donald Trump” were heard, while others donned “Make America Great Again” paraphernalia and then others just cried on benches on this night in November.