Voting in America’s most liberal state:

'Deeply Personal'

Lila Carrillo feels that the painful rhetoric of this election cycle has at least gotten people to talk about the election.

Biz Herman

Across the San Francisco Bay Area, the political mood has changed from one of apathy to one of resolve.

Speaking to young women across the Bay Area about the upcoming election — in which the first female presidential nominee is running, but also in what has been a particularly toxic election season — many had conflicting feelings. 

According to the Bay Area Center for Voting Research, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco all rank among the top ten most liberal cities in the United States, making the Bay Area the most liberal region in the country. Yet, despite having a popular incumbent Democratic president campaigning for a Democratic nominee that is running with what has commonly been referred to as the most progressive Democratic party platform in history, excitement in the Bay Area was far from palpable.

Instead, the election seemed to be mirroring tensions that had been increasingly felt in the region over the past few years. The issues that have accompanied the tech boom – economic inequality, displacement, gender disparities, as well as questioning the very identity of a place that is both changing so rapidly and remaining so deeply entrenched in its existing norms – seemed to be a microcosm of the conversations taking place at the national level. And for many, these conversations have been deeply personal.

As the campaign progressed and both rhetoric and stakes started escalating, women spoke about resolving to get involved rather than become demoralized. Leading up to this final week, many spoke of increased involvement and attention to this election cycle.

 

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Sonia Perez, 24, lives in Fairfield, California, and has worked in education.

Perez is predicted as highly likely to vote, according to the voter propensity model used by the data firm, Catalist. According to Catalist, voter records are assigned a likelihood ranking based on the individual’s relative likelihood of voting, according to historical voter files and individual level voting behavior.

Perez’s behavior confirms the highly likely voter ranking conferred to her by the model; she’s closely following the election, and plans on voting for Clinton next week. Perez has been civically engaged for years, mostly interested in local politics in high school, but coming to learn more about national level politics when she was able to vote in presidential elections for the first time in 2012.

Now, she says, she tunes in even more closely, getting a lot of her news from her friends via social media. “People in my network, they post a lot,” Perez said. “To have a candidate like Donald Trump running—it’s hard to watch, to be honest, just hearing and seeing what he’s been saying, especially about women.”

 

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Lila Carrillo is an operations manager at Equal Rights Advocates and co-founder and vice president of political affairs at LATIN@ Young Democrats of San Francisco.

“The generation before us talks about how they haven’t seen anything like this,” Carrillo said. “You can’t escape it, which is—it’s exhausting.”

But, Carrillo maintains, the fatigue might be worth it.

“It’s definitely lit a fire.”

Carrillo notes how the nastiness of the rhetoric this election cycle has gotten people talking about the election who might not have done so before.

“This shift of having folks talking about, not just the presidential election, but how that trickles down to our everyday lives,” Carrillo said. “It has definitely gotten folks that I normally don’t see talking about politics.”

Many say this shift occurred around the time of the conventions last summer, others during the presidential debates—both being times when the stark differences between the candidates were brought into particularly high contrast.

Identity has been at the heart of a number of these conversations, particularly the role of gender and race in shaping modern America. As means of communication are democratized and a wider swath of voices are making themselves heard, the two major political parties have taken very different views on what this means and how to address it. The conversations that have resulted on either side of and across the aisle have been unlike those seen in previous political cycles.

 

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Rachel Bernhard, 29, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at UC Berkeley and studies the role of gender in politics.

She thinks that the effects of these conversations may stick in a way they previously hadn’t, particularly with the allegations of sexual assault against Trump by multiple women, and the highly gendered rhetoric that has dominated both the commentary of and back-and-forth between the candidates.

“It’s been a big year for discussions about women’s role in society and women’s rights,” Bernhard said. “We’ve seen a lot of public discussion of issues like sexual assault, for instance, which I think has really made it to the broader public in a way that I think some of those conversations didn’t necessarily, previously.” Similar conversations around issues of xenophobia and racism have become increasingly common as well, as well as the various ways in which these identities intersect. For some, bringing these issues to the fore has been key to beginning to tackle them.   The impact can be mixed, though, Bernhard notes. “On the one hand, it can be very validating to people, people finally acknowledge there’s a problem,” she said. Yet, at the same time, it can feel overwhelming and disempowering. “We just haven’t seen any change on this even though we’ve been fighting for this for so long,” Bernhard said. “Why are we still living in this world?”

In the tech industry, which has come to dominate the Bay Area, such conversations have also become increasingly common.

 

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Y-Vonne Hutchinson, 35, is the founder of ReadySet, a diversity solutions firm that helps tech companies attract, retain and grow diverse talent. Previously, she worked as an international human rights and labor rights lawyer.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson, 35, engages with such discussions full-time as the founder of ReadySet, a diversity solutions firm that helps tech companies attract, retain, and grow diverse talent. With a background as an international human rights and labor rights lawyer, Hutchinson said that her first instinct upon moving to the Bay Area two years ago was to take a practical look at what could be done, finding out what was happening from a policy perspective.  

Hutchinson subsequently co-founded Project Include, which recently published a handbook with 87 recommendations for tech companies looking for concrete steps they can take to increase diversity and inclusion in their firms.

She said this shift from theoretical to practical is one that she has seen mirrored in her own approach to political engagement, as well.

“I grew up with this distinction between the political and the personal,” Hutchinson said. “More and more, I’m finding that really doesn’t exist. The political beliefs that we hold, the political values that we espouse, the political candidates that we support have very real impacts on the personal lives of people.”

Hutchinson wasn’t alone in this sentiment. Women, and particularly women of color, spoke about the direct impact they saw this election having on their lives. Stakes and anxiety levels are high. It is November, and soon the outcome of the election will no longer be spoken about in the abstract.

 

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Alexandra Tran, 19, is a sophomore at UC Berkeley and hopes to double major in computer science and philosophy.

Raised in a liberal home, she found herself gravitating toward Libertarian philosophy when she arrived Berkeley. She founded Cal Libertarians to foster more philosophic debates about the Libertarian tradition, and thinks that educating more people about the principles of Libertarianism is key to expanding its following.

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