Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton sent shockwaves throughout the country, and those shockwaves were especially pronounced in liberal enclaves like Oakland, California. Located in a county that voted for Clinton by a 62-point margin, Oakland is well-known for its robust and liberal protest culture, and its residents have already held several demonstrations since Trump’s victory. Although many Trump supporters view his victory as a crushing blow to a corrupt establishment, demonstrators at a peaceful anti-Trump protest in Oakland I attended on Sunday see things differently. For many East Bay residents, Trump's victory isn't the beginning of new path forward for America. It's the continuation of the old path. Trump's win is proof, they feel, of just how deeply embedded racism and misogyny are and always have been in American culture.
The folks I talked to generally fell into one of two categories. On the one hand, there were those who found themselves disappointed, yet not altogether surprised, that Trump won. While these people were deeply saddened by his victory, their broader perception of the world wasn’t altered in any way after the election.
“No, no change in my perception. No change in my understanding of what human beings are capable of,” says Linda, a secretary and Oakland resident (Like many people I talked to, Linda preferred to be identified by her first name). “While I was hoping that the outcome would be different, I’m not shocked nor surprised, because I try to educate myself on past and current history to understand how humanity simply repeats these cycles.”
Jane Rizzo, another Oakland resident, echoed this sentiment. Though she was initially crushed to learn that Trump had won, she quickly realized that it wasn’t an unexpected outcome — or at least, it shouldn't have been.
“I did know how deep-seated sexism, racism and intolerance is [in America], and I went into this trying to think about that clearly,” Rizzo says. “I felt shattered and devastated that this is where we are. I was still hoping for so much better. But then, when the results came back, I was like, okay, you shouldn’t be surprised. There’s a hierarchy in this country, and they want it back.”
However, many other people were absolutely stunned to hear that Trump had won. These folks didn’t see his victory coming at all, and his election forced them to fundamentally reassess how they view the world around them.
“Living here, I was in kind of a bubble, and I assumed that Hillary would be elected,” 27-year-old Katie says. “But the outcome opened my eyes and made me realize that there’s a disconnect from the Bay Area and Middle America. It’s been an eye-opening experience, and it makes me sad, but at the same time it makes me look inward, to try and make a connection and see how people need help, as far as being educated or having their voices be heard.”
I have lived in the Bay Area for most of my life, and in my observations, this type of reaction is very common in situations like this — that is, when the country or state does something that isn't very liberal. A good chunk of my East Bay friends were positively astonished when Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the California primary, for instance, and I saw similar reactions all around me after George W. Bush won reelection. Realizing that that rest of the world is a lot more conservative than the Bay Area is, I think, a rite of passage for many of the liberals who live here.
“I thought we were better than this,” says Amber, a social media manager from Oakland. “Honestly. It makes me really sad that so many people saw this man and said, ‘yes, he is fit to be our leader.’ It really scares me, to be honest, because this is not what I thought we were capable of. I was in total shock. That really shocked me that this is what America believes, and that’s terrifying.”
The word “terrifying” was not uncommon at this demonstration.
“I used to be an eternal optimist, thinking that good would triumph over evil,” says Sally Baxter, an ESL teacher. “Right now, I am so disillusioned by what has happened. I don’t believe in democracy anymore....I’m terrified. I’m terrified for all of us.”
But despite the widespread dissatisfaction and horror at the fact of Trump’s victory, the overall mood at this protest was not one of despair and despondency. To my surprise, there was an abundance of optimism, compassion, and hope at this event. I’m generally a cynical person, but this optimism didn’t strike me as idealistic. It struck me, instead, as a pragmatic reaction to an unfortunate event. Trump's victory revealed some harsh truths about America, but the healthy reaction to this is to look forward towards improvement, not to shrivel up in despondency and waste away.
“The necessity to always hope that humanity is improving itself, becoming more civilized and more compassionate, is something that I don’t think we can afford to be without,” Linda says.
And she’s right. Because even though it’s hard to be optimistic right now, the only alternative is to simply give up. And as anybody who's spent any time here can tell you, Oakland doesn’t give up.
Images: Seth Millstein/Bustle