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San Antonio Area Celebrates Or Condemns News Of Biden's Election Victory With Flags, Car Horns, Vows

The news of Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election swiftly spread across Central South Texas on Saturday, relieving for some the tensions and frustration felt as deeply in these communities as across the nation.

The moment for San Antonio came around 10:26 a.m., when the Associated Press, the news organization on which NPR and TPR rely to call election results, awarded Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes to Biden, the Democratic candidate and former two-term vice president to President Barack Obama.

Throughout the day, the sound of honking car horns filled the downtown streets. One observer tweeted that the "honking celebration [for Joe Biden] in downtown San Antonio is hitting 2014 Spurs championship level."

San Antonio resident Frank Gutierrez waved a U.S. flag as his caravan neared the intersection at Commerce and Presa streets. He hoped the country would reunite with Biden’s victory.

“We need this craziness that’s happening in this country to stop," he said. "The lying, the hatred that has been fueled by this presidency that we’re currently in. It needs to stop. America needs to come back together the way we used to be: United as one."

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg tweeted his congratulations to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. He added, "Together, let's move toward a new era of unity, fairness and understanding."

“This is a day of hope, celebration, and new opportunities," U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said in a statement. "President-elect Biden will be making every reasonable effort to reach across the great divide and bring our country more together. ... With Vice President Kamala Harris, we send a message to the world — diversity is our strength — as this South Asian American and African American woman is a vital leader in saving and enhancing our democracy.”

As the news broke of Biden's victory, a previously planned march/caravan assembled at UTSA's downtown campus quickly turned into a noisy celebration.

Kelly Schaefer roared into the parking lot under I-35 south shouting and smacking the side of her Ford Escape. She stepped out and erupted into joyous cries of victory.

She joined hundreds of other people at the staging area as they celebrated.

“Just so tired of all the hate, all the hate, all the hate," she said. "For the gays, for the blacks, for women. …”

The "Protect the Results" rally was a sequel of sorts to an event in Main Plaza on Wednesday night, during which progressive groups urged election officials to continue counting ballots in the presidential race.

In a statement, the event organizers said the "groups believe the voice of every voter who cast a ballot must be heard, and that a failure to do so jeopardizes the integrity of our elections and democracy."

Demonstrators had expressed concern over President Trump's election night remarks in which he preemptively declared victory and promised to contest the election in court if he lost.

Organizers of the Saturday event said their objectives were to "honor the valid results of the 2020 election, ensure that every vote is counted, and show up to demand a peaceful, ethical election."

Participant Gregory Garcia stood on a nearby sidewalk and held high his Biden-Harris campaign flag.

“We got a new president and a new vice president," he said. "It’s a battle flag. As you can see, it’s very weathered.”

Most cars honked as they passed, and he waved back or gave them the thumbs-up sign.

Garcia said he volunteered on the campaign since day one. After a week of uncertainty, he said he wasn't worried about what might come next for Biden.

“I’m not worried about that anymore," he said. "I’m worried about winning the Senate. Those two runoffs in Georgia. Maybe you’ll see me in Georgia somewhere helping out over there.”

For Schaefer, Biden's election was only the beginning of a larger struggle.

"But we are not out of the woods. We are not out of the woods if we don't turn this country into a true democracy for everyone," she said. "There is another Trump waiting around the corner, and the next one will be smarter. And we need to be prepared for that."

Supporters of President Trump gathered in New Braunfels to express defiance when they heard of the Biden victory.

A rally organized by a group calling itself the New Braunfels Trump Train took place on the town's Main Plaza late Saturday morning.

Hundreds of people gathered, lining the road while holding Trump and U.S. flags. Motorists drove past, honking their horns.

The rally's leader, Randi Ceh, addressed the crowd.

"They think that we're gonna lay down, and we're just going to roll over and we're going to let this election be [stolen] from us," he said. "It's not gonna happen. Now I don't know if you're like me, but I tell ya what, let's see what's gonna happen. ... Trump is always 20 steps ahead of these communists."

The Trump Train moved on to Austin, where more protests and celebrations were taking place.

Biden planned to address the nation at 7 p.m. It was unclear if there were any events planned in San Antonio to watch the speech, rallies to celebrate the victory, or marches to protest President Trump's defeat.

By late afternoon, a dance party was underway at Travis Park. People waved Pride Flags and Biden-Harris signs and cheered.

In recent days, San Antonio police beefed up its presence in the downtown area around Main Plaza and Alamo Plaza.

Police cruisers were seen parked along major streets -- two cruisers per block in some spots -- and police officers stood on sidewalks. This week, in the days and hours before voting in the 2020 election concluded, businesses boarded up their doors and windows.

The downtown area saw several moments of unrest in 2020, including protests over police shootings, marches for social justice and violent clashes in the streets around the Alamo.

When asked for comment on the police presence on Friday, a department statement explained, “In the interest of public safety, we have a number of contingency plans in place and are coordinating with our partners at the local, state and federal level. There will be increased officer visibility to ensure safety.”

The statement did not explain what contingencies those plans were meant to address.

However, city officials this week said that the fencing it placed around Alamo Plaza was in anticipation of potential social unrest following the results of the Nov. 3 election. The city said the fencing was a precaution.

On Monday evening, Steve Parker, owner of the store My Handyman, placed boards on the windows of the H&M store at Rivercenter Mall next door to the Alamo. He expressed frustration over recent protests, but only to a point.

“Just because you don’t get your way don’t mean you have to pitch a fit and destroy things," he said. "I believe in protests. There’s a difference between protesting and vandalizing. I think we just need to grow up and deal with the hands that were dealt to us.”

Shops on the streets around the Alamo saw broken windows during violent protests earlier this year.

On Saturday, videos on Twitter showed Biden caravans driving past many boarded up businesses.

Preparations for potential unrest this week were not limited to San Antonio. Also on Monday night, the Bexar County Sheriff's Office said it was prepared for any problems. Sheriff Javier Salazar said much of his staff was on-call on Tuesday night. He added that they might also enhance the force in subsequent days.

On Friday, the Sheriff's Office responded to TPR's request for an update with a statement. "Currently, we have a plan in place in the event that protests occur," it explained. "[A]ll county buildings and county staff will be safeguarded."

Bexar County supported Biden with 58% of the vote. Texas overall supported President Trump.

Paul Flahive, Steve Short, Joey Palacios, Ben Henry, Dominic Anthony Walsh and Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.

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