In the Bay Area, hope and anxiety
NOVEMBER 5, 2020
As President Trump and his supporters moved to stop the counting of mail-in votes in key battleground states yesterday, local activist groups greenlighted rallies in several Bay Area cities. Their message was simple: count every vote.
Anxious, scared, but cautiously optimistic, hundreds of protesters peacefully gathered in parks and plazas in the aftermath of an unprecedented election night. Together, they stirred a cocktail of emotions as they waited for results.
“There’s definitely anxiety about what’s going to happen,” said Kimi Lee, co-organizer of the Oakland protest and director of the Bay Rising activist collective. “Folks are talking about stopping a coup.”
Rally organizers had been planning the events for weeks in response to the president’s false claims of widespread voter fraud among mail-in ballots, Lee said. “We expected it,” she said of Trump’s preemptive victory declaration. Dozens of similar events, previously planned, took place across the state.
In San Francisco, about fifty residents protested outside the headquarters building of tech giant Twitter, the President’s favorite way to communicate. Protesters said the social media site should ban the President from the platform for spreading hate speech, misinformation, and racism. “If I tweeted out any of the things he says, I would be banned instantly,” said Vara Ramakrishnan, activist and San Francisco resident. “If I attacked Ilhan Omar, if I wished death on various people, I would be banned. But because he’s the president, he’s exempt, that’s not ok.”
Ramakrishnan is hopeful that Biden will win the election but “at the same time, I know what a crook [Trump] is.” Her biggest fear is that Trump will refuse to leave office.
As protestors chanted for the company to remove the President from Twitter, a projector lit up the building with the words “Trump’s Coup App” alongside an arrow pointing to the company’s logo. Organizers said they would be outside of Twitter all week long until the last state had weighed in.
In Oakland, some nearby businesses were still boarded up from the previous summer’s Black Lives Matters protests. Others had erected fresh plywood in the days leading up to the election fearing a reprise of unrest.
“Today is about community, and blowing off steam,” said Megan Nguyen, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate activism group. “I woke up this morning with flashbacks to four years ago.”
Rani Abeysekera and his wife, Dharini, came from Berkeley to attend the Oakland protest. When he came to California 20 years ago, Abeysekera said he could see America drifting toward nationalism and misinformation. Now it’s all coming to a head, he said.
“It’s all so overwhelming,” Abeysekera said. “This is not the way to be a powerful nation in the world.”
Protesters vacillated between cautious hope for a Biden victory and the joyless realization that nearly half of the nation’s voters still supported the president. “There are so many people who think Trump is doing good things,” said Rev. Riana Robinson. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Some protesters fear the election controversy will escalate beyond protests.
“I feel the Trump administration is fomenting violence,” said Martha Hubert, an organizer with Code Pink who attended the San Francisco rally. She was one of many protesters who predicted bloodshed in the wake of a Joe Biden victory.
“The scary part is not knowing” if violence will break out, said Paula Daniels. The Daly City resident said she keeps a gun at home for protection. Daniels hopes she won’t have to use it in the days ahead. “I don’t want to go through that feeling every day.”
Even in the gloom and anxiety of election limbo, protesters found a silver lining: the future. Robinson brought her son, Madison, to the rally. “It just feels important for my son to know democracy is about more than voting,” she said, beaming at him. “We have to keep showing up.”
Optimists like Robinson dotted the rallies, encouraging their children to speak up. Event organizers discussed labor issues and celebrated progressive victories in local elections. They held workshops on how to organize protests, preparing for the fight ahead. The dread of the election mixed with the sunshine. Some people even smiled.
Brian Howey and Steve Rascón are reporters at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.