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Column: The kids in Berkeley are not feeling all right: rage, grief and excellent homemade signs

Berkeley residents Cristina Levert, and her daughter Soha, 17, spent Wednesday morning on the UC Berkeley campus protesting the election of Donald Trump as president.
(Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times)

The day after Donald Trump became our president-elect, UC Berkeley junior Kalila Kirk showed up on campus wearing a homemade sandwich board.

The back said: “White America — We Did This. We should be ashamed. We need to change.”

The front: “If you are a person of color, a Muslim, a woman, undocumented, a person with disabilities, etc. you are loved.”

I bumped into Kirk late Wednesday morning, as she stood at the edge of a mass of students who had gathered at the base of the school’s famous bell tower. Most were teenagers who had walked out of classes at Berkeley High School and marched half a mile to the Cal campus.

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Taking turns at an open mic, students shared their raw emotions. Some cried. Some raged. Some were so upset they had trouble articulating their feelings.

“I’m angry,” said Belinda, who gave only her first name. “I’m so [expletive] angry.

Kalila Kirk, a UC Berkeley junior, was dispirited by the results of the presidential election, and the harsh rhetoric of Donald Trump.
Kalila Kirk, a UC Berkeley junior, was dispirited by the results of the presidential election, and the harsh rhetoric of Donald Trump.
(Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times )

“I have a right to be angry,” she said, breaking into tears. “Not all Mexicans are rapists.”

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Kirk listened. “I feel really disheartened and bleak and powerless,” she told me. “I understand why poor, working class people don’t identify with Hillary Clinton, but the Republican Party is not going to help them.”

The only thing that cheered her up, she said, was the success of progressive measures on state and local ballots. Also, Berkeley elected its first Latino mayor on Tuesday.

“Maybe it’s time,” Kirk said, “for Berkeley and California to be the shining light for the rest of the country.”

Or to break off. More than one person on Wednesday here joked that what California really needs is a wall. Across our eastern flank.

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In social media, they’ve been calling it #CalExit.

::

Just after noon, a second protest was taking form at Sproul Plaza. This one comprised UC Berkeley students, who sat quietly for the most part under a banner that read, “Undocumented. Unafraid.”

Fatima Al Khaleef, a sophomore, wore a baseball cap under her sweatshirt hood. Normally, she said, she wears a headscarf, but several times in the past week she’d been subjected to slurs, so she took it off for her own safety.

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“People told me to take it off,” she said. “Go back to where I came from.”

Fatima Al Khaleef, a Muslim-American, worries about Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric
Fatima Al Khaleef, a Muslim-American, worries about Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric
(Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times )

That would be San Jose. Her Iraq-born parents are naturalized U.S. citizens. I asked if she was Muslim. “I’m Muslim American,” she replied.

::

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Berkeley High School senior Soha Levert, 17, and her mother, Cristina, 39, stood in the throng, holding their signs high.

Soha said she woke up Wednesday completely out of sorts.

“I was enraged,” she said. “I wanted to just sit home and isolate myself. Instead, my mom calls me and tells me she is going to go give out free hugs.”

They made signs, and headed out to protest. Cristina’s sign said, “Are we awake yet?”

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Her hope was that peaceful demonstrations like these would be the rule.

“We need to come together like never before,” she said.

A middle-aged woman walked past us, and hesitated for a moment. “How do we stop crying?” she asked, then walked on.

At that moment I had a flashback to 2008. Barack Obama had just become our first black president, beating John McCain in Ohio by 4.6%, a solid win but nothing compared with Trump’s 9-point rout of Clinton on Tuesday.

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I was in Cincinnati, interviewing people at Price Hill Chili, a local landmark. I stopped to talk to two middle-aged white women.

Could I ask them about Obama’s historic victory? They shook their heads no. They were too upset. One wept.

It’s hard for adults not to take these losses personally.

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So imagine how much harder it is for the teenagers and young adults who have been through cataclysmic social upheaval in the past couple of years.

They’ve watched videos of police killing unarmed black men, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and heard the dark Trump rhetoric about Mexicans and Muslims.

They may not fully grasp that the American political pendulum is ever in flux. Eventually, inevitably, it will swing left again.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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