Campus & community, Campus news

Berkeley students reflect on the election and the work ahead

By Ivan Natividad, Anne Brice, Gretchen Kell

three people voting in a gymnasium with a giant painting of an American flag with an eagle head on the wall to their side

Voters cast their ballots under a giant mural at Robious Elementary school on Election Day in Midlothian, Virginia, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

AP Photo by Steve Helber
three people voting

Voters cast their ballots under a giant mural at Robious Elementary school on Election Day in Midlothian, Virginia, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo by Steve Helber)

For decades, young adults — including college students — have been the least engaged members of the U.S. electorate, never voting at rates higher than 50% in presidential or midterm elections. But there is an upward trend in college students and young voters, and this fall, in the 2020 election, nearly 5 million Americans, ages 18 to 29, cast early votes, a far higher number than in 2016.

Below, a diverse group of Berkeley students, historically known for their civic-mindedness, express their deep involvement with the 2020 election — from the presidential race to races in their home states and hometowns to local propositions — as they wait and watch for the last of Election Day results to be tallied.

Using words from “hopeful” to “excruciating” to “disappointing” to “anxiety-inducing,” they agree that this is a fragile, concerning time that demands that people from all walks of life come together for the survival of the nation.

portrait of Apoorva Prakash

Apoorva Prakash (Photo courtesy of Apoorva Prakash)

Apoorva Prakash, fourth-year student, computer science and economics

“It’s been a really tumultuous couple days. I’m so used to knowing the outcome of an election the night of Election Day. It’s two days after the election, and we still don’t know what’s going on. More than anything, I’m concerned with how, if Trump is reelected, it’ll affect my friends who are DACA, my friends who are immigrants and my family members who are trying to immigrate to the U.S. My parents are both immigrants from India. I grew up in Oregon and moved to the Bay Area in middle school. I was having a pretty interesting conversation with my mom — she said that when they immigrated to America, she assumed that all South Asians were voting democratic. Then, when we moved to the Bay Area, we realized it wasn’t the case. It was a big blow for me and a lot of other ASUC officials that Prop. 16 didn’t pass. I have witnessed a lot of misconceptions about Prop. 16. A lot of adults from the South Asian community voted against Prop. 16 because they think it’s discriminatory against the South Asian community, even though it’s been shown that since affirmative action was banned in California, the South Asian population admitted to colleges has decreased. It just goes to show that we have a lot of progress to make. I’m really excited to see more people in my generation running for office. I hold massive hope that what’s happening today will encourage people to fight to end the Electoral College.”

portrait of Kai Koerber

Kai Koerber (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

Kai Koerber, second-year student, data science

“Trump is a man who is willing to tear apart the social contract of America to win the election. That, by itself, was a real eye-opening thing for me. In my own personal experiences in dealing with the corporate world, the lesson I’ve learned is that contracts are only as strong as the people behind them. The same thing can be said in the political world. The laws that we have to support our society are only as strong as the representatives who are upholding them. We’re really coming to understand the fragility of our society. I don’t think anyone really realized how much the president’s role relied on trust and deference to precedents. Seeing how much of that is involved in the political process is incredible.”

Shaadi Ahmadzadeh smiling

Shaadi Ahmadzadeh (Photo courtesy of Shaadi Ahmadzadeh)

Shaadi Ahmadzadeh, first-year student, molecular and cell biology

“I’m from Los Angeles, and during the 2020 primary elections I campaigned for Bernie Sanders. But this year, I voted for the first time, and I voted for Joe Biden. I am Iranian American, and I have a cousin in Iran who called me crying and told me, ‘We can’t afford another four years of Donald Trump. Inflation is increasing here, and the sanctions Trump has put on Iran are literally killing us… Joe Biden is our only hope.’ I think she was like the most influential person on my vote, even though I don’t agree with Biden’s policies. There are a lot of pro-GOP, pro-Trump Iranian Americans in in L.A., specifically. But I went to Iran this past January, and there were protests, and people are dying. They need sanction and relief now, and Trump’s policies on Iran aren’t helping anybody there. Trump’s sanction on medical supplies entering Iran from the U.S. are leaving many cancer drugs and general prescriptions unavailable from reliable sources. Those prescriptions are then sold for insane prices on the black market. My aunt is a pharmacist in Iran, and for her, filling prescriptions from reliable sources gets harder and harder. Also, the first wave of COVID-19 was incredibly dangerous for the aging Iranian population and, coupled with the lack of general medical equipment, it was a recipe for disaster. The pandemic in Iran would most definitely not have been as deadly if there were no sanctions on medical supplies. My grandfather, an American citizen living in Iran, died of COVID-19. He would not have died if his doctors had access to medical equipment.”

Malika Imhotep smiles while talking to another person

Malika Imhotep (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

Malika Imhotep, Ph.D. candidate, African American studies

“I voted in Georgia, where I’m from. There has been a push to turn Georgia blue. I feel some excitement about how this election is challenging some of the things that we just thought were true. Atlanta, my hometown, has always been a blue dot in a sea of red. Now, when you look at the map, there are more blue dots, and that feels really good to see. Following the gubernatorial race in the fall of 2018, when Stacey Abrams was running against Brian Kemp, we’ve had a heightened awareness of the way voter suppression works in Georgia. I think the awareness that people are actively trying to take this right from us has shifted people’s relationship with the practice of voting. I would love to see Georgia go blue, but what I love more is that thousands of people in Georgia are active and engaged. And I want that political activity and engagement to last beyond this election. I want to see us to be able to organize in a way that isn’t just reactionary and instead to realize long-term strategies that are accessible and creative. I’m trying to think on how to fortify the communities that I care about for whatever is to come. Regardless of how the election leans, there will be a lot of work to be done.”

portrait of Blake Danser

Blake Danser (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

Blake Danser, second-year graduate student, Berkeley Law

“I’m trying to stay hopeful and remember that, even if Trump wins, he’s been the president for four years, and it’s been horrible, but a lot of the issues under Trump have been issues for a long time. Having Trump as president has created a culture where some people feel more comfortable with being openly bigoted against transgender people, so I’ve had to combat that a little bit, but I’m grateful that I’m already married, I already have a child. With my military friends, they’re mostly Trump supporters, and that’s difficult. We avoid talking about politics in the military — it’s part of the culture that you just don’t talk about politics. So, when you’re out of the military, it kind of sticks with you. I think what I’m really hoping for is for a return to some level of professionalism and sanity in politics. I think it’s fine to disagree on policy, but I also think it’s fine to be civil and acknowledge that the other side has beliefs, not just malice. I think we have to do that to survive as a nation.”

Srija Manchkanti smiling
Srija Manchkanti, third-year student, molecular and cell biology

“We still don’t know the result of the presidential race, but we do know that voter turnout, and especially youth turnout, is unprecedented. With more people voting for Biden than for any candidate in U.S. history, it’s clear that the push to ‘Go Vote’ has been exceptional this year. From racial justice, COVID-19 and climate change, this election had more at stake than any other one in the past. Though the presidential race is closer than we’d hoped, the results we do know have contributed to the increase in representation that voters have demanded for years. Not only did we elect Mauree Turner, our nation’s first nonbinary state lawmaker and the first Muslim in Oklahoma’s state house, we also chose Sarah McBride, the first openly trans state senator to be elected, as well. While I’m proud of this representation, however, I’m a bit disappointed in California’s approach to its propositions. Given California’s ‘liberal’ reputation, I had more hope for Prop. 16 to pass for affirmative action, and for Prop. 22 to not pass. Though we didn’t get either of these outcomes, I am happy that Prop. 17 passed, restoring the right to vote for those who have been formerly incarcerated.”

David Martinez smiling

David Martinez (Photo courtesy of David Martinez)

David Martinez, transfer student, society and environment

“I’m from the Bay Area, but briefly lived in Miami. I do not have a party preference, as I consider myself more on the radical side of politics. Following the news coverage during this election cycle has left me feeling disappointed and triggered, while watching predominantly white reporters discuss Latinxs’ nuances and complexities and our participation in the American political process. We are not monolithic and should not be approached through such a narrow lens. What’s essential to a Nicaragüens American voter in Sacramento, California, can dramatically conflict with a Cuban American voter in Miami Dade County. Many of these belief systems come from the countries many people fled and immigrated from due to communism, dictatorship or socialism. To ensure Florida remained ‘Trump Territory,’ the GOP emotionally engaged these voters by triggering their trauma through anti-socialist propaganda. They successfully convinced these voters in Miami Dade that there was a chance their autonomy and freedom within our capitalist system could be taken away by Biden and democrats. However, Latinx American voters willingly allowed themselves to be fed information riddled with faulty premises and grossly incorrect conclusions. The GOP’s success in this strategy was dependent on the ignorance of Latinx American voters in Miami Dade County to understand the difference between socialism and communism; they aren’t mutually exclusive. In a socialist society, the government controls regulating trade, monitoring the flow of capital, production, land, etc. That is not happening currently, nor do famous Democratic Socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocate for this shift. In reality, Democratic Socialism within American politics essentially means expanding the welfare state, which is critical to advocate for economic and social interventions to promote social justice. To this point, it’s clear that a new branch of the Democratic Party is emerging, and politicians like Nancy Pelosi ought to pass the baton to the younger generation.”

Portrait of Saida Dahir

Saida Dahir (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

Saida Dahir, second-year student, media studies

“It’s excruciating to wait for every single detail. I just feel that we need to hold whoever wins more accountable. I want to see this country change dramatically. There’s so much we need to fix. We need to start holding politicians more accountable, and young people need to push for what they want to see happen in the future, because right now, it’s such a drastic time. Changing the country is going to have to start at the bottom. I know in Oklahoma there is a nonbinary Black Muslim person on the state legislature — that’s unheard of in Oklahoma. If these things continue to stack up, it’ll change the system.”

Miyako Iwata smiling

Miyako Iwata (Photo courtesy of Miyako Iwata)

Miyako Iwata, fourth-year student, political science

“For a lot of students like me, this is our very first presidential election. And I think this is quite an election to experience. I can say, just as someone who does work on voting rights and getting students registered to vote, seeing the fact that there are people out there who are undermining the integrity of the election, or casting doubt on a free and fair vote, I think that’s something that’s very, very concerning to me. I just don’t think the country has experienced anything like this. So, I think that just adds a whole other layer of not really knowing what to make of the situation. But on a positive note, the California secretary of state released a press release that there was this historic wave of college student voter registration across the state. That’s a really hopeful sign. So, yes, the results are really uncertain. It’s really anxiety-inducing. I’m not trying to minimize that in any sense, at all. But despite all the concerns around that, I still think there’s reason to believe that this turnout is a hopeful sign, and that, hopefully, this continues, and folks are out here participating and making their voices heard.”

Vivek Adury smiling

Vivek Adury (Photo courtesy of Vivek Adury)

Vivek Adury, second-year student, economics

“I’m from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in Northampton County, and that’s where I voted. So, I think that’s even more anxiety-inducing — to not even know what it’s like where our electorate votes are going to go. Politically, there’s definitely that sense of divide in my county, similar to what we’re seeing from these election results. I think the one word that describes how I am feeling right now, is ‘terrified.’ I think I’m really terrified of the people who don’t value the integrity of our elections. This is the seat of our democracy. It has been quite hard to think about, and it’s definitely a privilege to have the time to worry about this stuff. But with school and work, it’s just been crazy to think about the fact that there are people out there, out there right now contesting the integrity of our elections and contesting the integrity of our democracy, because free and fair elections are literally the foundation of a democracy.”

Portrait of Maryam Karimi outside

Maryam Karimi (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

Maryam Karimi, second-year student, political economy and Persian

“I’ve been feeling very, very sad. With what’s happening in Afghanistan, where I’m from, then just thinking about the election here — it makes me so worried about foreign affairs and the U.S. government and how it’s going to affect my home country. I feel so frustrated because I just don’t trust politicians. I support Biden, but I think even if he becomes president, things are going to go on — nothing is going to magically be right just because Trump is not there. Politicians are all the same, some are just better at hiding it. If Trump becomes president, I’ll be mad. But if Biden becomes president, I won’t be very happy because growing up and learning more about politics and how the government works and seeing what these people have done, I don’t trust the system anymore. There aren’t enough people in the government who actually care. I want the government to act as a force that will fight for us and make us feel safe, rather than as a threat to our humanity and to other countries. I want to be sure that the U.S. is working with other countries for the full purpose of bringing peace and making lives better because that’s what we stand for: freedom. I just wish for peace for everyone, here and outside of our borders.”