The California State Capitol building, surrounded by gates. (Pendarvis Harshaw)
he lawn around California’s State Capitol building was eerily quiet on the morning of Election Day 2020. Well, that was aside from the malicious noise coming from the leaf blowers being used to wrangle the fresh fall foliage.
Kind of ironic that California is “leading the nation in low-carbon green growth” as Governor Newsom told reporters earlier this year, but using garden tools that cause more pollution than pickup trucks.
But aside from that, the epicenter of politics in California seemed a bit removed from the vibe that was pushing storeowners a few blocks away to board up their storefronts.
I took a lap around the Capitol Park. There were a handful of cops and a few folks setting up a stage for later in the the evening. There was also a guy on the sidewalk drinking a 211 and doing pushups, and a mail carrier driving slowly around the campus while listening to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” loud enough to drown out the leaf blowers; aside from that, there wasn’t much action.
There were no political signs or protestors, yet. But that was sure to come. On this morning, there were just people biking by, taking in the monuments and even a couple birdwatching as a hummingbird made use of a fountain in the State Capitol Park’s World Peace Rose Garden.
I took a photo and waited for the bird to fly away before introducing myself to the duo and asking them how they’re feeling on this election day.
“I’m very apprehensive,” Elena, a 63-year-old woman from Washington, D.C. told me. “We’d like to see a nice clean democratic victory, with no violence and no problems. And a return—a complete return—to democracy the way it’s supposed to be.”
Sitting next to her on the park bench was Lawrence, 66, also from the nation’s capitol. He was just as anxious as Elena. “We’re traumatized from four years ago,” Lawrence told me, while squinting against the bright morning sun. “We’re praying and begging for a good solid victory that doesn’t tear the country apart, and both sides can get on with the business of governing.”
A short walk from them, just outside of the Civil War Memorial Grove, a 29-year-old from Los Angeles named Jennifer was holding on to similar hopes for this election. “You should all be ready to go vote,” she told me, urging people to use their voices. “And then, just try to be peaceful. Don’t be obnoxious and over the line, just put your vote in and watch what’s going to happen.”
Less anxious and more excited was Cole, a 32-year-old from Sacramento. “I always like elections,” he told me, as he puts his phone down in order to converse. “I love America, and this is a very American day. ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ has been stuck in my head all day. So I’m just excited to see what happens!”
Not nearly as excited about Election Day 2020 was Chris, a 23-year-old from San Diego. “I’m really just trying to just escape all of it,” he told me. And oddly, by walking through the tree-lined Capitol Park on a crisp fall day, he seemed to be getting away from politics. “I’m in Sacramento, and there doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of tension right now regarding the election, it feels super calm. It doesn’t even feel like it’s Election Day.”
Unfortunately, someone just had to disturb his peace—and that someone was me. “I wasn’t thinking about the elections until you came up and asked me,” Chris said with a laugh.
Espen, a 21-year-old from Colfax, told me he wasn’t pressed about politics either. But instead of being removed from Election Day, he was literally working as the backbone to the process. “We’re here doing the election technical support for six different voter centers in the downtown area,” Espen told me. "We’re basically making sure all the systems are working well for them: their printers and their network connectivity, their laptops that they’re using to print and get all of the ballots for the voters coming into the centers ... so it’s cool to see how they operate and stuff.”
When asked if he was anxious about elections, he said, “Na, I cast my vote and whatever happens, happens.”
Sitting on a bench near N Street, Matt Evans, a 62-year-old man from Sacramento told me he’s feeling optimistic about Election Day 2020.
“I hope that we get a change in leadership,” Matt tells me, before pausing to search for a diplomatic way to express why he feels change is needed. “The environment that the current president has created is just—a lot of the ugliness in this country has been allowed to come to the surface, and I’m about tired of it.”
Matt says he’s navigating the anxiety that comes from thinking about what has happened in the past. “The way they have the Electoral College and everything, just like 2016, there is a possibility that (President Trump) might be able to manipulate it and get in again,” Matt said.
“That makes me a little anxious, a little nervous,” Matt admitted. “In fact, so much so that I’ll probably be looking for another country to stay in if (President Trump) goes in again. This doesn’t feel like this is my country right now.”
Matt, who has recently retired, said that his children and grandkids are the only things keeping him here, otherwise he’s ready to leave. “I’ve been to other countries, I’ve traveled a lot. And I’ve found that as a Black man, I’m treated a lot better elsewhere. So, why wouldn’t I?”
Not too far from Matt, on the lawn between the Purple Heart Monument and the Westminster Presbyterian Church stood Stacy. The 34-year-old Sacramentan was setting up a tripod for a selfie video, as she told me she’s energized by seeing so many people engaged in the process of government.
Her interest in politics doesn’t necessarily come from the prospect of changing the people in office, but from changing the way people in America interact.
“I consider myself a person of faith—a Christian,” Stacy told me. “So, as a Black evangelical ... I’m really paying close attention to my fellow followers of Christ, and how we look at how our nation is becoming more and more divided. And I’m hoping that this will stir up a revival, and people will look for creating a church, a government and a nation that looks like heaven—diverse.”
I thanked Stacy for her time, as I did with everyone else who conversed with me on what is sure to be one of the more memorable days of a very eventful year.
I left the Capitol for a few hours, only to return later in the evening. As the sun set, there was much more action happening in the area. A growing Trump rally was unfolding where an empty stage stood earlier this morning, and a lot more cops were present all around the Capitol building.
When I wrote, “there were no political signs or protestors, yet,” I knew that wouldn’t last long.
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