Across the Aisle: Berkeley and Michigan Students Discuss the Election

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By Sofia Gonzalez-Platas

As I walked into the room where the panel was about to take place, I was welcomed by a screen showing the faces of 12 students from Macomb County Community College looking back at us — eager and reluctant.

On the other side of the screen, the students from Macomb County could see 10 UC Berkeley students sitting down alongside professor Harley Shaiken, chair of the Center for Latin American Studies and the mastermind behind this discussion.

The majority of students involved in the panel from UC Berkeley were students from Shaiken’s class “The Southern Border,” and an invitation was extended to all students who wanted to participate. Before our panel commenced and while the speakers were in mute, professor Shaiken encouraged us to be open-minded and respectful — this activity was not supposed to be a debate but a conversation.

Michigan went through a stunning shift from blue to red during this election. Having voted for Barack Obama twice in the past, Michigan was accredited for placing Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for the presidential election because of the influence of white working-class voters.

Macomb County is the third-largest county in Michigan, and its vote made the difference for this election. On the fateful Tuesday, Nov. 8, Trump took 54 percent of the vote in Macomb County against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s 42 percent. A strikingly different picture than what happened in Berkeley, where Trump took 3.2 percent of the votes compared to Clinton’s 90.4 percent.

Talking about politics is difficult enough. Born and raised in Mexico City, I felt compelled to speak about this election because my country and its people were silenced and severely attacked by Trump’s divisive campaign and hurtful rhetoric.

The opening question addressed people’s feelings regarding the election results. The Michigan students were the first to speak, acknowledging that this election had proven divisive for them, particularly because of Michigan being a swing state.

Trump’s campaign, Macomb students expressed, triggered people’s emotions and concerns — “he tapped into people’s fears,” some of them explained. That he certainly did. And, unfortunately, because of the election results people in the United States will be living in fear for far longer than just a political campaign, students from UC Berkeley responded.

The discussion veered into the realm of economics very quickly. Macomb students explained how middle-class workers were experiencing an economic crisis with the disappearance of the auto industry in Detroit — unemployment skyrocketing and small businesses suffering to stay afloat. For Michigan, Clinton represented the past, an establishment that did little to help the working class in Macomb. Trump, on the other hand, gave economic promise and hope to a forgotten and downtrodden middle-class. He ultimately vowed to Make America Great Again — a promise that many individuals who struggle to make ends meet in Michigan wanted to hear, and something that UC Berkeley students could not comprehend given the man’s proposed political platform.

Macomb students vehemently described how Trump visited Michigan eight to nine times throughout the campaign while Clinton visited them once or twice — a difference that proved significant to them.

Many acknowledged that Trump addressed crowds that possibly did not understand economics or the extent to what he was proposing, but ultimately the levels of enthusiasm that this man created were exceptional in comparison to those Clinton ever reached. Good ol’ Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, excited people in Berkeley and in Macomb as well — that was something both sides agreed on.

Ultimately, the conversation reached a hopeful tone. Both sides agreed that conversations like this one, even if it only lasted for one hour, are necessary and essential — however awkward and difficult they may be — in order to move forward.

As Millennials in the United States, we have the immense privilege to be surrounded by communication tools every single day — platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter help our thoughts and ideas travel faster and wider than ever before. This communication accessibility, however, is a double-edged sword because it can be easy to feel disarmed and shut down by the information overload it provides, not to mention the misleading sources that spread quickly.

As time passes by, however, we need to move away from this shock and instead embrace communication. Let’s sit down and talk to one another, even if we don’t necessarily see eye to eye. The most valuable conversations are, in fact, with people who do not agree with one’s opinions. It is time to understand how this so-called “American Tragedy,” could have possibly happened but, most importantly, it is time to move forward, empathize and reconcile.

The United States I used to hear about growing up in Mexico represented unity and prosperity. If there is any country in the world that can recover from such political and social division, it is the United States — that I am sure of. But we need to learn to talk and hear one another again, there is no other way around it.

This article was previously published in The Daily Californian.

portraitSOFIA GONZALEZ-PLATAS is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley double majoring in Political Economy and International Development Studies. Outside of class, Sofia is involved with the Public Service Center and Golden Bear Orientation, and has been a writer for the Daily Californian since her first year at UC Berkeley. She hopes to work on immigration policy and education after her graduation. 
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