You could hear the cheers up Fifth Avenue for at least a block or two. Ten and a half hours before the polls opened on Election Tuesday, Madonna was in New York City’s Washington Square Park, giving a surprise concert in support of Hillary Clinton. Wearing a stars and stripes ski cap and standing in the center of an emptied fountain, she sang some of her greatest hits, including “Express Yourself,” “Like A Prayer” and “Don’t Tell Me.” The crowd of hundreds—people lucky enough to be walking by, or have seen Madonna’s Instagram post announcing the concert not long before it started—clapped in unison as she sang an emotional rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“This is a concert that is about unifying us, and it’s about keeping America great, not making America great,” she said. The crowd roared approval as she added, “And how are we going to keep America great? We’re going go to elect a president that does not discriminate against women!”
The crowd pressed around the fountain was almost a dozen rows thick. Those in the back could only see the backs of coats and smartphones raised high in the air. Ingenuity was rewarded: Gary Spino flipped over an empty trash can, flipped it over, climbed on top and started filming Madonna with his phone from the back row.
“Somebody texted us and said she was here,” said Spino’s husband, Anthony Brown, who was standing nearby with their seven-year-old son, Nicholas Brown-Spino, sitting on his shoulders. “We were looking so forward to a way to celebrate what we hope will be a new era in American politics. We had to bring our son! We have been fraught. We have been nervous. We’ve been elated. We’ve done everything we could to help Hillary win.Tonight at dinner, Nicholas’s blessing was, ‘Please don’t let the orange bully win!” shouted Nicholas.
Madonna’s decision to perform in Washington Square Park was apt. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the park was a gathering place for progressives, including the Beats and folk musicians like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the Almanac Singers, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. “No backdrop is more efficient at establishing a singer’s political consciousness, sincerity and authenticity than Washington Square Park,” says David Hajdu, the music critic for The Nation and the award-winning author of four books, including, most recently, Love For Sale: Pop Music in America. “There, in that fountain, Madonna sang with the ghosts of thousands of protest singers. As stagecraft, it’s effective, if also pretty obvious—just like a lot of political music.”
In the crowd there were young mothers with babies on their chests: “I can’t vote—I’m Scottish—but he’s American and he might want to live here, and I care a lot about making sure that we choose a progressive candidate for president,” said Connie, nodding toward her one-year-old son.
Gilberto Alvarado, 21, lingered in the park after the concert. “I’m just happy this is about to be over, to be honest,” he said of the election. Alvarado is a political science major at Lehman College in the Bronx, and a former Bernie Bro. “I’ve looked at all the third-party candidates… No candidate is perfect. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because she is the best choice.”
Alvarado was born and raised in Manhattan and his parents are immigrants from Mexico. “This election really touches home,” he said, referring to Trump’s vow to wall off Mexico from the U.S.
Standing beneath the arch on the north side of Washington Square was a man dressed up as Abraham Lincoln, complete with a tuxedo, top hat, and a face that could earn him a very good living as Lincoln’s body double. “I’m 6’4” and 180 [pounds], which is nose to nose exactly what he was. And I’ve got some of the facial structure,” said Bill Warren, 65, of St. Petersburg, Florida. After posing for a few selfies, he channelled his doppelganger and said, “The Republican party has gone downhill. It’s the total opposite of what it used to be. They cannot seem to bring a decent candidate. I was gonna get together and run. Nobody’s been happy. The country’s divided. For a real change, elect a dead president!