A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Election reflection: SRJC students weigh in on Biden, division and two-party fatigue

Photo illustration by Lilia Epstein
SRJC students weigh in on the outcome of the 2020 election.

Ally Lubas chats with me over Zoom while she sits at her desk in a bright, sunlit room. She’s cheerful, but always speaks carefully. A self-described anti-violence advocate, Lubas always tries to see both signs of the political coin.

“I cared who got elected, but I knew regardless that I’d be nervous with either presidential candidate. You never know how they’re gonna handle things,” she said.

Weeks out from a nail-biting election, Santa Rosa Junior College students like Lubas reflect on the path to political progress within a politically fractured nation.

Lubas is the head of marketing for the SRJC’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter and the vice president of marketing for the Petaluma campus’s Student Government Assembly.

Though not affiliated with any particular party, Lubas identifies as “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.” She feels she is constantly walking on eggshells because of her beliefs.

“I’m pretty freaking sick of it,” she says. “If I try to tell people, ‘Oh, well, I might lean more towards the right’ people get all freaked out like I’m this terrible person. That’s economically, though. Socially, I’m totally liberal. I feel like there’s this misunderstanding and miscommunication.”

For Lubas, political tension has caused her problems to escalate from minor miscommunications into online attacks.

Following George Floyd’s murder in May, protesters took to the streets in Sonoma County demanding police reform and political action. Demonstrations were mostly peaceful, but some businesses were vandalized and broken into.

Lubas’s job was in a high-risk area for break-ins.

“When I found out that there was a possibility that my [workplace] got looted and that there was a possibility that I might be no longer working, that made me worried,” she said. “I’m a hard worker, and a lot of that money goes towards school. Of course I’m not going to want that.”

Lubas pleaded in an Instagram post for people not to turn to violence and vandalism in the wake of tragedy. The post didn’t exactly go over well. That night, Lubas became a target for those who believed that the protesters’ reactions were justified. Once childhood friends accused her of being a racist as well as a Ku Klux Klan member.

Before her post, Lubas had spent her evenings signing seemingly endless petitions and donating to charities supporting Black Lives Matter and justice for victims of police brutality.

The accusations towards Lubas didn’t stop overnight, however.

“It got to the point where the bullying was so bad that I had to get off Instagram for a few months,” Lubas says.

She sighed and paused to think. “I just wish that people were a little bit more kind to each other,” she says. “I see Democrats getting mad at Republicans and Republicans getting mad at Democrats. I think we need to somehow find a way for both parties to see eye to eye. I do think Biden is a good fit in that he wants to bridge the two parties. That is major.”

For students like Lubas who don’t neatly fit into either of the two established parties, it’s difficult to find footing in such a historically divisive climate. “So many people like myself have felt lost about which side they’re on. I could see a rise in third parties [with our generation], that’s for sure,” Lubas added.

Other students see the results a bit differently. Joe Gurrola, an SRJC student who identifies as independent, sees Biden’s victory as cause for major celebration.

“I am really happy to see the right team win,” he says. “It’s really common to say come election season, it’s OK to disagree and that [wasn’t] true this election. That is not true for this man. The sting of [President Trump] will be a black eye [that] we look at over the next 20 to 50 years of U.S. history.”

Gurrola looks forward to an increased environmental reform, the U.S. rejoining the Paris Accord, and the undoing of the Trump Administration’s strict immigration policies, especially towards DACA Dreamers.

Despite being hopeful, Gurrola maintains that it isn’t over yet. “I don’t know a single Joe Biden supporter who isn’t aware there is major work to be done to repair this country to its core,” he says.

In Gurrola’s opinion, the time is now for political and justice reform—if people are willing to work with Biden and Harris.

“I think honesty, transparency and accountability can really come in like a wave in American politics, and I think that is only possible if people are willing to take a more bipartisan look at things and stop thinking the other side is worthless and the enemy,” he said.

Gurrola thinks it was disappointing that Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, did not get to debate with Trump and Biden.

“It’s [also] unfortunate that jackasses like Kanye [West] can make a mockery of our system,” he added. “The back-and-forth tug-of-war makes minimal progress in either direction.”

Though many believe this kind of thinking is what led to President Trump’s election, Gurrola believes much of the dissatisfaction with the political system is merely ignorance and misplaced hatred.

“America does not take anything seriously past the Republican and Democratic argument, but it’s also extremely fed up with career politicians and the lies they tell for decades sometimes,” he said.

Gurrola continued, “Every four to eight years is just an argument to wipe out each other’s stuff as the middle class gets stretched out farther and farther.” He added, “I hope that whether it’s libertarian, new party development, liberal-conservatism, socialism…the best way to make this country great is to rethink a lot of how this works.”

The president of SRJC’s Young Americans for Liberty sits with his back to a Gadsden flag, it’s coiled snake and “Don’t Tread on Me” motto blaring West Below’s opinion on personal freedom.

While the Young Americans for Liberty is not directly affiliated with the Libertarian Party, Below’s approach to both leading his group and his assessment of California’s election results skew decidedly libertarian.

“To be blunt, people are fed up with overreaching statism and tyranny in California,” Below said.

For many Californians, the 2020 election was not without surprises. While Biden won by a landslide, the state proposition results were a gut punch to some but a welcome change for others.

Voters failed to pass Proposition 16, which proposed reinstating affirmative action, but approved Proposition 22, which will allow rideshare and delivery apps to classify drivers as independent contractors.

An advocate for limited government, Below had his own answer for why a historically progressive state might be shifting. “People are becoming more and more opposed to [statism] because they’ve been living in California for a while. They’re coming to the conclusion that more government is not the answer.”

Below adds, “If you’re talking to someone in government, or in the media, or in a position of power, the main thing you have to ask yourself all the time is, how does believing [in] what they say benefit them?”

When Delashay Carmona Benson picks up the phone with clanging pots and pans in the background. She’s clearly busy, but SRJC’s Student Government Association president always finds time to chat.

Benson is also co-president of the Black Student Union and has her finger on the pulse of how SRJC students are holding up—without judgement.

“This is a diverse college. We have a lot of students with diverse backgrounds. With each background, comes a different struggle,” Benson said. “I think now we’re seeing more of an awakening to diversity.”

Like Lubas, Gurrola and Below, Benson also believes the two-party system can be a recipe for division.

“I don’t like how divided the country is. I just feel like we shouldn’t have to choose one party or another. Whoever is the president of the United States should be the president of everyone, not just what party you believe in. They should listen to the voice of all the people,” she said.

This issue particularly hits home for Benson, who has an undeniable pull to issues that disproportionately affect people of color.

“Joe Biden’s background did so much damage to the BIPOC community and so did Kamala’s. [Harris] lined her pockets with private prisons. Joe Biden is famous for the ‘one, two, three strikes you’re out’ [bill]. My people are constantly going to jail unjustly,” Benson says. “Would he feel that way if he hadn’t been running? Because he hasn’t done anything to change it since he did it.”

For Benson, the Biden and Harris win doesn’t feel like much of a victory. She vowed to hold both of them accountable for their actions throughout the next four years.

“It doesn’t matter who’s the president as long as they understand that all lives need to matter, and they won’t matter until BIPOC lives matter. It doesn’t matter who’s in any office—locally, statewide or federal. The struggle continues,” she said.

Like most of us, Benson is exhausted from 2020. She sees it in the students, who are stressed, depressed and losing hope for positive political changes.

“It’s really rough out here for students, more than ever,” Benson said. “I think social media does not help. You wake up, and boom, somebody else got killed, or boom, more fires. It’s been insane. So many things have happened now that we probably will never get back to normal. Let’s hope that [after COVID] we’re gonna come back to a big change.”

But Benson is hopeful. While unimpressed with the presidential election and proposition outcomes, she is thrilled with Sonoma County voters’ passing both Measure O and Measure P.

Measure O will provide the county $25 million in mental health and addiction services annually. Measure P will expand the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) to ensure more transparency with law enforcement and the public.

“[Measure O is] gonna bring SRJC a lot of funding that we need, and we’re going to be able to use that funding for hiring more therapists. We’re dealing with COVID, more fire seasons, having to work online and living at homes with families,” Benson said. “They’re reaching out more and more, and we need to fill that gap so we can be there for our students to help them get through and to succeed.”

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About the Contributor
Lilia Epstein
Lilia Epstein, Staff Writer
Lilia Epstein is a communications major in her fifth semester at the SRJC and first semester writing for The Oak Leaf. After a semester pursuing a TV writing and production degree at Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Lilia switched gears due to the COVID-19 crisis and moved back home to Santa Rosa to work towards a communications degree at the SRJC instead. While she has always been passionate about writing for film and TV, this is her first time writing for a news organization. She hopes to transfer to either UC Berkeley or UC Davis in the Fall of 2021 — hopefully in person.

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