‘Glimmer of hope’: Berkeley community reflects on election night 1 year later

retrospective_danielkim_file-copy
Daniel Kim/File

When Fernando Cruz Escalante first saw the election results, he was stunned. Stunned and numb.

At first, the UC Berkeley senior said he didn’t know how to take in the fact that Trump was the next president. But when he saw the people around him beginning to chant and resist, he turned to his friends and joined in.

It’s been almost a year since Nov. 8, 2016, and Cruz Escalante still refuses to call Donald Trump his president.

“I remember that when the results were red, I just felt that darkness creeping through my soul in a way it hasn’t done before,” Cruz Escalante said. “I’m very adamant about saying things like, ‘He’s not my president,’ because I remember that being my resistance and hope.”

The national results stunned most of Berkeley — only about 3 percent of the city’s residents voted for Trump, even less than the percentage that voted for third-party candidate Jill Stein. In the aftermath of Trump’s win, a wave of activism and political change has taken over the city known for its progressive culture and liberal ideals.

Cruz Escalante remembers waking up for his 9 a.m. class on Election Day, and feeling a growing anticipation as he went about his day.

Back then, he was a legal permanent resident in the United States, and so he wasn’t able to vote. He added, however, that he Snapchatted all his friends that morning to remind them to go to the polls.

“I felt like in a lot of ways, my voice didn’t matter,” Cruz Escalante said. “(But) I guess I was active in that way.”

Fernando Cruz Escalante/Courtesy.

Fernando Cruz Escalante/Courtesy.

That same evening, Cruz Escalante went to Sproul Plaza to watch the election results. A crowd of about 2,500 people gathered on Sproul Plaza that night, according to UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich.

After several major national news outlets reported that Trump won the election, more than 200 UC Berkeley students flooded the streets of Berkeley and began marching toward Oakland, chanting “Not my president.” Cruz Escalante was among the ranks.

“I thought of my family, and I thought of my friends and loved ones when I was marching out there,” Cruz Escalante said. “I was scared, but I felt like love I had for them gave me an energy that has given me all my life.”

UC Berkeley senior Ilsa Carrillo, who helped organize the march, said she “was in complete disbelief” when she saw that Trump had won the presidential election. She added that she didn’t “even have the words” to properly describe her emotions that night.

But Carrillo knew she had to do something in response to Trump’s victory. She and several of her friends went to Sproul Plaza and approached people, attempting to convince them to march through the streets as a unified front.

“It wasn’t anything planned — it was just more out of rage and anger,” Carrillo said. “That feeling of being enraged just made the march seem like so much faster, shorter. I felt like we got to Oakland in like 20 minutes when I know it was hours.”

Carrillo said the group had originally planned to go all the way down Telegraph Avenue, but in the heat of the moment, several people started running onto Highway 24, where one woman was hit by a car. After the accident, many protesters exited the highway and continued marching to Downtown Oakland.

“We knew there were other protesters there as well and we wanted to keep it to the community, not just tied to our campus,” Carrillo said. “We wanted to demonstrate that under this administration, we … won’t stay silent and in the shadows.”

Some protesters, including Cruz Escalante, were so traumatized by the accident that they decided to walk back home and grieve privately.

But the very next night, some of Cruz Escalante’s friends decided to march back to Oakland and protest again. The resiliency among his peers, Cruz Escalante said, gave him hope. He went on to participate in all of the protests in the nights following the election.

Organizing against Trump

The morning after the election, thousands of East Bay high school students flooded the UC Berkeley campus to protest Trump’s election, including hundreds of Berkeley High School students who had organized a walkout that day.

Camila Rice-Aguilar, now a freshman at Brown University after graduating from BHS this year, helped organize the walkout. She, like Cruz Escalante, felt a kind of hopelessness because she too was unable to vote in the election — she was only 17 at the time.

When the results were announced, Rice-Aguilar said she was in “a numb state.” When she saw her mother crying, she felt like she had disappointed her.

“My mother is an immigrant from Nicaragua, and she’d never voted in her life … (It was her) first time participating in the political process … and on this super momentous day … she was watching basically the demise of what I thought to be a fair and accepting liberal nation,” Rice-Aguilar said. “I felt like I was disappointing her because she was having to observe this and realize that her vote wasn’t going to change anything.”

When the results were called, Rice-Aguilar began to mobilize. She pulled out her phone and started texting her friends, pushing away the worries that were rushing through her mind as she helped plan the walkout for the next day. It didn’t make sense to her to go about the school day as if nothing had happened.

As she marched to UC Berkeley during the walkout, Rice-Aguilar said she felt like she was flailing in the growing uncertainty of the political world, but she also felt empowered and supported by her fellow students.

A fellow organizer, Maya Raiford Cohen, echoed Rice-Aguilar’s sentiments. Now a freshman at Yale University, she said that the walkout was a way for BHS students to express themselves — “a healing moment” for the community.

BHS has a history of walkouts, but in the past, Raiford Cohen said that many of the protests have often been centralized to a single marginalized community. This walkout, she said, ultimately supported people from a spectrum of backgrounds — communities that Trump had attacked throughout his campaign.

“I can’t imagine that day without a protest. I just can’t,” Raiford Cohen said. “If we just had to sit in school and been confined by that it just would’ve been sad. The protest that we had was sad but it wasn’t depressing — it was really uplifting.”

Rachael Garner/Courtesy

Rachael Garner/Courtesy

‘The future of our nation’

But while many community members were in mourning on election night, others were celebrating Trump’s victory.

Naweed Tahmas, UC Berkeley senior and Berkeley College Republicans external vice president, said in an email that he remembered looking forward to voting for the very first time in a presidential election, and using that vote to support Trump. He alleged that just that evening, he and some other members of BCR were assaulted because of their support for Trump. With Trump’s victory announced, he said in his email that he felt “vindicated.”

Some BCR members had even anticipated that Trump would win the election. UC Berkeley sophomore and BCR member Pranav Jandhyala said he was actually surprised that people were so shocked by the results.

Jandhyala said that he thought the election “really changed things” over the last year. He has been embroiled in the free speech issues that have occurred on campus recently, such as the Milo Yiannopoulos protest Feb. 1 and protests during the canceled “Free Speech Week” event, adding that he believes they “directly stem from Trump’s election”

“(The protest) is something I have never seen before in my lifetime, and this is a very integral part of our nation’s history that I’m seeing before my very eyes, because I don’t think anything like that has ever happened before,” Jandhyala said. “I’ve never seen so many people at once so scared about the future of our nation.”

A bittersweet victory

On Nov. 8, 2016, Trump wasn’t the only victor. In a City Council race marked for its progressive platforms, current councilmembers Ben Bartlett, Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn thought the night was “bittersweet.”

All three council members had expected Hillary Clinton to win the national race. The night of the election, Hahn held a viewing party at her house with her friends and colleagues, including Harrison. Up until they saw the national results, the newly elected council members were happily chatting and celebrating their wins.

Hahn said she felt “frozen” the moment she saw the results. People around her started weeping. Although many people called to congratulate her on her victory, some told her that they couldn’t join her celebration because they were too despondent over the national results.

coloredited_cherrywu_berkeleyvotes_infographic

“Just watching that trainwreck was really difficult in the midst of something that was so joyful locally,” Harrison said. “While we should’ve been celebrating, we were bemoaning what was happening nationally.”

Bartlett said it “felt really great to win” the election with now-mayor Jesse Arreguín, who has been his friend for years. But when he saw the national results, he felt like had been “(punched) in the stomach” and was greatly disappointed in his fellow Americans.

He said, however, that he believes the American people — and Berkeley residents in particular — can persist through this difficult time.

The city has made several moves in the last year to combat Trump’s policies, according to Harrison. She said the council jumped “into action right away” by maintaining Berkeley’s status as a sanctuary city and making efforts to create environmental and housing reform.

“We’ve been through awful times as a nation in the past and … this is clearly one step back. But I know that in the long arc of our nation’s story, we will continue to move forward,” Hahn said. “This is a setback, but I am optimistic that we will recover from this and do better.”

Berkeley’s election of a more progressive council did not come as a surprise to many. Rice-Aguilar said the progressive leadership and policies elected and approved across California gave her a “glimmer of hope” in the face of the Trump era.

For Jandhyala, the local results indicated the growing divide between the values of Berkeley and the country as a whole.

“I think that we’re splintering even more and more as a nation,” Jandhyala said.

Uniting against division

UC Berkeley senior Dulce María López González, who is from Mexico, said that people often don’t realize that U.S. elections affect other nations as well.

On election night, she said she was hit hard with the realization that for Trump to have been elected, there had to be far more supporters around her than she had previously realized. The shock of the thought “scarred” her. But she also remembers feeling incredibly empowered when she saw the community “threaded” together to protest Trump.

“One of my friends once said that if (the election of) Trump did anything good, it was uniting us,” López González said. “And I have seen a lot of unity now and I’m glad about that.”

When Cruz Escalante looks back on the week of the election, he remembers pain. But he also remembers hope. He said the simple chant of “Not my president” united so many people in so many different movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the indigenous rights movement and the women’s rights movement.

Despite the political turmoil of this past year, Cruz Escalante has since become a U.S. citizen — he had his naturalization ceremony just last month.

One year later, Cruz Escalante describes himself as a “more powerful” person because of the growing support of his community. He said if he could go back to tell himself something on election night, he would say “sí, se puede” — “yes, we can” — to remind himself that this is something that he can get through with his community.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more empowered than by seeing how many people came together to protest,” Cruz Escalante said. “Seeing how people still chose to dance and sing (at the protest) really reminded me that our love and our hope and the love that we have for each other are what is going to get us through a lot of the things that we’ve already been through.”

Chantelle Lee is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that Kate Harrison was elected Nov. 8, 2016. In fact, she was elected in a special election in March to fill Jesse Arreguin’s empty council seat.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • Left Unsaid

    Blame HRC and the DNC. If they hadn’t stolen the nomination, Trumpinski wouldn’t be thorn in your side right now.

    • lspanker

      A reasonable analysis, regardless of one’s political leanings.

  • California Defender

    “It wasn’t anything planned — it was just more out of rage and anger,” Carrillo said.

    Against our democratic election. That is the true face of the left. They don’t want a democracy, they want a dictatorship. No elections or at least not ones that would result in anything but their leader “winning”.

    “I felt like in a lot of ways, my voice didn’t matter,” Cruz Escalante said.

    As a non-citizen, his voice DOESN’T matter. In fact, he was a foreigner trying to influence our election. THAT is a clear anti-democratic threat to our nation.