This post was written by reporters Brielle Powers and Celine Castronuovo.
The hundreds of students who gathered in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom Tuesday at the GW College Democrats’ watch party started out election night with a strong sense of optimism: Leaders of the group boasted that members had built momentum for Democrats by helping to register 300 new voters across the country.
Throughout the night, students watched CNN’s live coverage on a big screen in the ballroom and eagerly posed with cardboard cutouts of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her running mate Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. Crowds grew so large that news coverage was also projected in the Continental Ballroom next door.
But the atmosphere of excitement soon transformed into one of tension as election results went in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s favor. Students’ chants for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton turned to tears when it became clear that she had lost the race to Trump.
Levi Debose, the vice president of communications for the College Democrats, said he began the night hopeful but later had to accept that Clinton had lost. He said the groups’ members were especially disappointed after phone banking and knocking on doors in places like Raleigh, North Carolina and Philadelphia.
“When something doesn’t go your way, every now and then you have to hold your head and think about what you can do better,” Debose said. “Of course we’re disappointed.”
GW College Democrats President Lande Watson gave the group words of encouragement throughout the night. Before the race was called in Trump’s favor, she said she hoped the organization’s campaign efforts would come to fruition.
“When they go low, we go high,” she said, echoing First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention this summer. “I see a lot of people here who have been either really involved or came to a phone bank or came on a campaign trip and I think it is really great for people to see the culmination of their work and hopefully see a positive result from that.”
But when it became clear that a Clinton victory was unlikely at around 2 a.m., TJ Clark, the College Democrats debate committee chairman, took the stage to address the remaining few supporters in the room.
“I can feel your concern and I can feel your fear. And it’s okay to feel like that right now and it’s okay to feel like that tomorrow,” Clark said during his address. “But on Nov. 10, when we wake up, we’ve got to start fighting again.”
Sophomore Alanna Van Nostrand was one audience member who showed concern as election results came in – staring the screen with her hands on her head.
Van Nostrand said that as a political communication major, she wants to study how Clinton lost.
“People thought it was going to be a pretty comfortable victory for her and I’m just interested in what happened, and that’s part of being a poli comm major. What happened? Even if there is a victory on Hillary’s end, this is not what was predicted,” Van Nostrand said around midnight.
Not everyone at the watch party was disappointed by Trump’s rising lead. Joseph Mills, a 2011 alumnus, came to the Marvin Center Ballroom wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. He said the College Democrats and Republicans had a joint watch party for the 2008 election and that he thought the Democrats’ watch party was a similar event.
He was met with hostility and was eventually asked to leave the event, he said.
“I was just standing there smiling at the results,” Mills said. “I wasn’t mocking people. It’s not cool. This is not the GW I went to.”