Hope, healing, history: Reactions to Election 2020 by the people who had the most at stake

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As soon as I heard the news that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were officially going to be President and Vice-President of the United States, I went outside and put up a sign.

It is on our front lawn, and it says, “In our America; Love Wins, Black Lives Matter, Immigrants & Refugees are Welcome, Disabilities are Respected, Women are in Charge of Their Bodies, People & Planet are Valued Over Profit, Diversity is Celebrated.”

Then I took a deeper breath than I have in the past four years and noticed what a beautiful day it was. I glanced down at the sign, confident in the fact that the sentiment it expressed was finally true again.

When Sonia Martinez, a mother and grandmother, and a leader in the local Latino community, heard the news, she said she was “overwhelmed with emotions.”

She cried, prayed, and thanked the Latino community for their courage.

“These last four years have been particularly heavy for me because of the racial divide that the current administration has created for all the diverse populations,” Martinez said.

“In the end, those plans for division did not work, especially with Latinos,” she said.

Martinez says that “at the end of the day, Latinos think of their families and protecting each other,” and that it is time to move on to a new administration where they are not forgotten. 

“I want to see unity for all in our country,” she says.

For some, Kamala Harris, the first woman, Black person, and first South Asian to hold the office of Vice-President, symbolized the direction towards which the country has pivoted.

“She is a game-changer for the United States,” says Alexandria Thomas, a student at Mohawk Valley Community College. 

As a mixed-race young woman, Thomas notes that “there aren’t many people like me in politics today.”

The MVCC student feels that Kamala Harris’ victory is the best thing that could have happened this election cycle.

“The country has been struggling with systematic racism and sexism for years, but this has been brought out into the light by our current President,” Thomas said.

“Kamala Harris proves that skin color and sex do not matter, and should not disqualify you from any position,” Thomas added.

“There is no one that looks like me in the White House, or in any real positions of power [in this administration],” says Teisha Miller, a young woman who is active in the Black Lives Matter movement. “I lacked hope.”

This was the second Presidential election that Teisha Miller was old enough to vote in.

When Barack Obama was elected President, she said she lived
in Harlem, and she remembers how her block was filled with
people cheering the historic moment. 

“My hope went up one thousand percent,” she recalls.

“It was the beginning,” Miller said, adding that “now to see a black woman get elected to the vice-presidency feels even bigger for me…Someone who looks like me!”

Miller said that she is very inspired by the results of the election. 

“I always knew that women around the world could one day lead where men have always led,” she says. “But seeing it actually happen makes it so much more real to me.”

This echoes the sentiments of Alexandria Thomas, who is only a few years younger. 

“I am so glad to say that every person of color that has been shut out of a leadership role, or even a 9-to-5 job, has someone to look up to,” she says.

“This is the start of a more inclusive government. The type of government we have wanted for years,” added Thomas.

“Representation is so important,” Miller said.

“In 2021, we as women, and women of color, will finally have representation in the White House,” Miller added.

On Saturday, Chelsea Sherrod re-tweeted a viral video of Kamala Harris, calling Joe Biden to congratulate him, adding the comment, “My grandmother couldn’t even vote, man…wow.”

I asked Sherrod about
her grandmother, who is named Susie and is 78 years old.

“She didn’t vote until she came up to Connecticut in 1968,” Sherrod said, explaining that her grandmother came of age in Mississippi long before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 allowed her to vote.

“She cried a lot [Saturday],” Sherrod said.

“She’s seen so much in America; from explicit racism in the segregated South to Jim Crow laws, to a Black president, to now a Black woman as vice-president,” she added.

Sherrod says that her grandmother never thought she would see this happen and was overcome with emotion.

Chelsea herself describes the election as “monumental.”

“Representation is so important,” she says. “I put a lot of emphasis on that because being Black in America and being a Black woman, there are so many people, institutions, societal ‘norms,’ telling you what you can’t do.”

“Seeing Kamala Harris in office will show me and other Black women and girls of color that you can do anything, you can be anything,” Sherrod added.

For members of the LGBT community, the stakes couldn’t have been any higher in this election.

“We were looking into the abyss with Trump in office,” Michael Brown says. “He claimed to be a friend to our community, but he was the opposite. His policies were divisive and designed to set the gay community back decades.”

Brown has been an activist in the gay community since the late 1970s. 

“There was no way I was going to watch what we fought for in the last 40 years, all of our gains, be lost,” he insists. 

This is so important to him and gay Americans like me because we don’t want the next generation to face the same hate and bigotry that we had to overcome. 

“We didn’t want to see this better, safer world we fought for trounced,” Brown explained. “So it was imperative that we trounce Trump.” 

Brown describes Joe Biden as a true friend of the LGBT community, noting how Joe Biden was even ahead of President Obama in supporting Marriage Equality and how he is coming into office to promise a more inclusive cabinet.

“It’s going to be a continuing battle,” he admits. “So Joe Biden needs to know that we have his back.”

“Trump’s persecution and demonization of the trans(gender) community was enough reason for me to oppose him,” Branwen Rhiannon Drew, a transgender woman told me. “It means my very survival.”

Drew added that it is time for “all underrepresented communities to become active citizens and oppose the hatred and bigotry that Trump represented and used to build his power.”

Sarah Reeske is the Upstate New York Organizer for the Indivisible Project, a nationwide grassroots organization whose mission is “to elect progressive leaders, rebuild our democracy, and defeat the Trump agenda.” I joined the organization after attending the first local political protest in the days following the election of 2016. 

I wrote a profile of Reeske in January of last year. In our interview, she recalled seeing  a picture of a little girl in Barcelona, Spain, carrying a cardboard sign saying, (in response to the Inauguration of Donald Trump), “I march for America.” 

For Reeske, that was a moment both galvanizing and cathartic. She said to herself, “What does she know at 8 that I [didn’t] know at 30?”

That was the beginning of her political awakening, which led to her rise as a local progressive community leader. I wondered what she would say to that little girl, who would now be twelve if she had the chance.

“I would thank her for showing up,” Reeske said. “I would tell her that she got me to show up, and that had a ripple effect. That’s why we have to show up every time-because we never know who’s watching the example we set.”

Ethan Pavlus is a former student of mine. He has been Tweeting me regularly since the election heated up. He graduated last spring, and a few months later, he struck up a friendship over Twitter. While I never talk about politics at work, Ethan told me this past August that following me online inspired him to get more interested and that he wants to take an active role in shaping his country’s future. During the past week, he kept me updated on the numbers reported in battleground states. I asked him how he felt about the results of the election.

“The outcome was so important to me because we need to restore decency and honor to the White House and have a president who will work for all Americans,” he said. 

Ethan was a lot more confident than I that the results would break in favor of the Biden/Harris ticket; nonetheless, he was excited when they did.

“It felt amazing,” he said. “To me, it was inevitable for weeks and months that they would win, and for it to become a reality was just incredible. It was a relief because we waited for days to find a winner, and we were waiting for them to call Pennsylvania.”

My close Twitter friend Michele McCarroll lives in Pennsylvania. I asked her what it felt like to live in the key battleground state while the vote count was still undecided. 

“My county is Schuykill; it is heavily Republican, perhaps were three Biden signs in my town,” McCarroll reports. “I was scared at first, but I like to think my state is filled with good people.”

Like many of us, she expected a landslide and was “crushed” when that didn’t happen; but held out faith that Philadelphia “would carry” the ticket.

“I am proud as a peacock that my state secured the Electoral College numbers,” McCarroll says, “But I talked to no one other than my husband and my mom about the election. I wanted to bang pots and pans on my front porch when Pennsylvania was called for the Democratic ticket, but I didn’t because my neighborhood would be mad. I celebrated watching MSNBC and with my friends on Twitter.” 

As in ours, conspiracy theories and falsehoods are being spread about voter fraud and perfectly legal mail-in ballots’ validity in her area. We have both seen these originate with Donald Trump himself on Twitter. However, the social media site has taken the steps of flagging several of his tweets with a disclaimer disputing his “claim” or with links where people can educate themselves on how “voting by mail is safe and secure.”

“I was shopping today at a Lowe’s, and I listened to a group of men complaining about ‘the cheating of the vote.’” McCarroll laments, “So, proud and happy as I am that Philadelphia pulled it off, I don’t get to celebrate.”

For her and me, the celebrations are in the form of tweets or the sign affirming the American values of equality and human rights that I put outside the house I share with my husband. There is, for many, irrepressible joy in a country where equality and optimism, particularly the younger generation, had been so long occluded.   

“I feel liberated!” Alexandria Thomas says, “I am so excited that finally, the system is starting to change.”

“There has never been anything we haven’t been able to do when we do it together,” Ethan Pavlus added. “When America is together, we are unstoppable. I hope we come together and truly become great again.”

Ron Klopfanstein will be talking about his columns on the last Monday of each month at 5 p.m. in “The Hot Seat with Cassandra Harris Lockwood” on 95.5 FM “The Heat,” Utica Phoenix Radio. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/Ron
Klopfanstein

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