As of this writing, President Trump has not conceded the race. However, it is clear that Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States, and the Bay Area’s own Kamala Harris will be vice president. Once these results became known, Street Spirit spent some time asking encampment residents to share their thoughts on the outcome. Although many of those approached declined to go on record, those who did agree to share had surprisingly diverse views.
LaTonya West didn’t have strong views on the presidency, but about Kamala Harris, she had this to say from her West Berkeley encampment: “I feel great. I feel she’s very powerful. She has my best wishes, I’m glad she is of color. I wish her the best— not only because she is of color but simply because she’s a woman. She pushed; and it’s hard for people of color to get to where she is.”
West Oakland’s Sean Thomas said, “I’m happy to see that Trump is out. Trump’s a moron and anything’s gonna be better than him, so I guess as long as Biden’s coming in, things are looking up, right?”
With regard to Vice President-elect Harris, he had this to offer: “I think having a female vice president—I mean, one, that’s something new, you know what I mean? Our country hasn’t seen that yet, so that’s positive. I think it’s something we need right now, with everything that’s going on, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the police brutality. So I think a little diversity is maybe something we can all appreciate and will bring us together.” A.J. and Larry Jackson, despite being brothers, were divergent in their levels of interest in the election. When A.J. admitted not knowing who had won, his brother Larry explained, “The Democrats. The ones for the people. The 99 percent.” Regarding the outcome, Larry said, “I’m ecstatic.”
Larry is not a fan of the current President, “because of the way he monopolizes; he owns prisons, universities…So the way he monopolizes stuff—I’m interested in money management but when it comes to stuff like that, and rights—civil rights and stuff—I’m more for the people.”
When asked if he thought the election outcome would make a difference, he answered, “Yeah, because of the voting, on how we’re going to have more opportunities to seize things to keep us off the streets, to keep us in a lower mentality, to help us get out of the ghetto or improve the ghetto.”
On Berkeley’s Shattuck Avenue, Michael Johnson spoke enthusiastically about his vote. “Of course [I voted]! I voted here!” He continued, “I think Biden is a winner. I mean, he can’t be that bad, but the bottom line is ‘we will see;’ we don’t know. Nobody knows, man. They say one thing, they do something else.”
When asked, “What about the guy he replaced? Johnson answered, “I don’t know, I liked Trump. He gave you a piece of his mind. He didn’t hold anything back, man.” Regarding politicians in general, Johnson offered, “they’re not speaking another language. They’re not coming from another world.
“I know one thing,” he added. “You’d better know who’s president. Because they’ll lock you up for 72 hours if you don’t know the president, who won the world series, and what year it is,” he said, likely referring to the fact that involuntary holds are commonly forced upon people who live on the street.
Asked how he felt about the election, another individual, who introduced himself as “Dr. Elliott—Ke’Juan Elliott,” responded, “That’s a hard one, because you’ve got Donald Trump, and then you’ve got this…other gentleman. Donald Trump, he actually did a lot to build up the economy.”
When asked, “So what do you think about Kamala Harris?” Elliott didn’t hesitate. “Kamala Harris? She should have been president!”
When asked what he thought about the election, Joel Bailey laughed. “I think I would’ve taken that couch (gestures) over Trump, probably.” But when I asked whether he really thought having Biden and Harris in office would make a difference, he said, “To be honest, I don’t think it will make much of a difference. I think they’re all just a face for the same people; the money traces back to the same hands anyway. It’s just giving people the illusion of choice, to make people think their vote counts. Sadly I don’t think it does. I hate that it’s like that, but everything is so money-motivated these days…”
Still, Bailey believes there are reasons why unseating Trump is a good thing. “He inspired people to do things that a lot of American people have been looking for an excuse to do for a long time. I think that he’s the face of the alt-right people; they see him as an inspiration. He realizes he can go on television and say anything he wants because he’s President. And I think that’s dangerous. I think that a mindset like that is kind of dangerous.”
Shannon Kestner, who goes by “Abby,” explained that people in Bay Area homeless encampments are often isolated from what’s going on in the rest of the world; they’re focused on more basic issues.” She explains, “The only reason why I found out who won was because I was riding my bike, and this car almost hits me and honks their horn. I was like, what the ***? And then I was like, Oh. OH. And then I was going around the stores asking myself, ‘why are they all boarded up? Are we gonna have another riot? Why are we going to have another riot?’”
As far as Trump leaving office, Kestner didn’t think there would be much impact on her life. “Because ‘homeless people’ is not part of this society that people care about. In normal society world we’re [seen as] the thieves bla bla bla bla bla. Actually, not everybody’s like that. But the few bad ones give everybody a bad name.”
Abby continued, “I’m actually really worried about it because at least Trump got us EDD,” she said, referring to the Employment Development Department funds that were made available by the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March. “Without the EDD money, I don’t know where I would be. So I’m really happy for that aspect. Although I’m not for Trump. I don’t like Trump. I don’t like what he’s done with the border. I don’t like the things that he’s caused with immigration. I really don’t like the impact that he’s had on us.”
Adding that she hopes Biden will provide more support to people of all economic classes, “not just the people with the money,” she said she hopes positive things will come out of it.
But she cautioned, “I’ve also heard through the grapevine that Trump doesn’t want to leave. I didn’t even know that was possible. I have a GED, you know, but I didn’t even know that was possible.”
Erin Spencer, a veteran and a self-described anarchist, didn’t vote because he says he doesn’t want to endorse a system he doesn’t believe in by participating in it. He said, “Voting for the lesser of two evils is still putting evil in power. I’m not going to put my imprimatur on evil. It just doesn’t happen. Why would I do that?”
Regarding the candidates, he said, “Biden won, did he not? I don’t know anything about Biden except he’s a politician. Trump? I knew a little about him. I’d have preferred him for another four years. But that’s mostly because we’ve already had four years of Trump. And we haven’t had four years of Biden. Does that make sense? It’s this whole comfort level/familiarity of, ‘Well, at least it’s this talking head…because in the end, it’s not the presidential election that makes a difference in the running of the country, it’s the legislators—the representatives and the senators—who ultimately decide what we can do and what we can’t. And once those start getting as much coverage as the national elections, then we’ve got something to move forward on.”
Ted L had a different take. “I’m the kind of guy, I don’t care who’s in; I’m going to support whoever’s in the White House…I don’t want to be left out,” he added; “and by ‘left out,’ I mean as an American.” For Ted, a key aspect of being an American is supporting whoever the country elects to fill the position.
Thomas Brouns is a documentary filmmaker and student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. He has served four overseas tours as an American diplomat and is a retired U.S. Army officer.