Stan Shikuma, a Joe Biden supporter, was feeling cautiously optimistic on Wednesday, the day after the election. The Beacon Hill resident had spent the night before flipping between TV channels to see varying election results and avoid commercials. The night was depressing.
But in the late afternoon Wednesday, Shikuma stood under an orange banner that read, “Count every vote,” at the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Mt. Baker Boulevard. He was joined by a group that rose to 50 health care workers, retirees and families who spread out on surrounding street corners. The public display of opinion was met with honks of support from passersby on the busy thoroughfare, said Shikuma.
“It’s frustrating to see what’s unfolding across the nation in multiple states and feeling like you’re not able to impact it,” said Shikuma, who was surrounded by a pile of golden leaves plastered to the ground.
The South Seattle rally was one of several demonstrations in the city Wednesday by left-wing groups and Biden supporters, including protests and marches at Westlake Park and Occidental Park. The groups made calls to “protect the vote” as President Donald Trump continued to lay groundwork to contest the election.
“It’s so anti-democratic,” said Shikuma.
The event was part of a national effort led by nonpartisan campaign Count Every Vote, sponsored by Washington D.C.-based political reform group Issue One, and was planned before Tuesday to ensure the integrity of the election process.
Shikuma, a former nurse, said the event helped him feel empowered amid the tight presidential race. Concerned about racism, the state of health care and the lack of a national plan to address the coronavirus pandemic, he hoped that a new administration would usher in change.
At events in downtown Seattle, voters expressed stress about the Trump-Biden contest mixed with calls for change far beyond a Biden win.
At Occidental Park, community organizers linked the fight to count votes in the presidential election to protests for racial justice that have gone on for more than 150 days in Seattle.
Several hundred people gathered to listen to speakers and then march, calling out chants like “Black Lives Matter” and “This is what democracy looks like.” At the park, a line of young Black organizers held photos of people killed by police across the country.
“These people can’t vote,” said Katie, an organizer for Morning March who does not provide her last name because of concerns about safety and doxxing. Speakers echoed the demands protesters have made throughout the summer, including to cut money from the Seattle Police Department’s budget and redirect that money to Black communities.
Palmira Figueroa, another organizer of Wednesday’s event and a volunteer with the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, said she was not surprised by Tuesday’s close election.
“I’ve been doing this work so long, I knew this country was racist.” But later results in Arizona offered some amount of comfort, Figueroa said. She had made calls, in English and Spanish, to voters there, urging them to exercise their right to vote and help remove Trump from office.
“That gave me hope,” Figueroa said.
Organizers called for an end to the electoral college. “My vote doesn’t matter and your vote doesn’t matter because we don’t live in a democracy,” said Wes, a member of the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America Afrosocialist Caucus who did not provide a last name. “This electoral system that we have is unrepresentative because it does not accurately depict the votes cast.”
As the group marched through downtown, Bess Sullivan, vice president of a local stagehands union, walked with the crowd after months of carefully avoiding crowds because of the coronavirus.
“If we just sit at home, [Trump] may think he can get away with it,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been mad as hell for four years.”
Sullivan and many of her coworkers lost their work when the pandemic hit, leaving them “mourning” a job they love and worried about finances and health care, she said. Sullivan worries about the future of unions under a second Trump term.
A crowd of about 75 also gathered at Westlake Park on Wednesday for a “Don’t let Trump steal the election” rally promoted by local socialist groups.
Nobody in the crowd seemed particularly enthusiastic about Biden. “The only difference between Republicans and Democrats is how aggressively they attack working people,” said Logan Swan, a member of Socialist Alternative. “Would you prefer to be slowly suffocated or set on fire?”
Still, another protester, who declined to give her name for fear of being doxxed, said it would be “unseemly” to critique Biden today: “I think it’s important for us to be all-in, no matter how we feel inside — we need to provide a united front against whatever shenanigans are coming.”
Kailyn Nicholson, who also attended the drizzly Westlake rally, preferred Bernie Sanders for the presidential nomination but is still watching the presidential race anxiously — a Biden win or a Trump win, she said, would demand different strategies from left-of-Democrat activists.
“As long as Trump is in office, people will think there’s too much risk in building something different from the Democratic establishment,” she said. “But if Biden wins, we’ll be able to start building a new party for working people with a Green New Deal, Medicaid for all, taxing the rich. Biden said, ‘Let’s get back to normal’ when what we need is fundamental change.”
At the South Seattle rally, Kathleen Myers, 77, had been invited by her and Shikuma’s mutual friend. She hoped to drum up “moral support for those who think we need to build something in this country that’s being torn apart,” she said. While Myers had preferred Sanders, she cast a ballot for Biden at her nearby drop box several days before the election.
“We need to build from somewhere,” she said as she sat on a chair in the middle of a crosswalk. Nearby, the Franklin High School field sign flashed quotes from racial justice luminaries such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Although she was feeling anxious about the election, Myers said she felt comforted being surrounded by people who were also concerned about the future of the country.
The group’s message was simple in Shikuma’s eyes: “To make every vote count, you have to count every vote,” he said with a slight shrug of his shoulders.