What PSSU’s Election Night viewing party taught me about partisanship

The virtual event wasn’t a typical election gathering, but it was enlightening

Photo courtesy of CBS News.

By Emma Jean, Staff Writer

Disclaimer: As a queer white cis woman, I only speak from my own experiences, and cannot speak on behalf of racialized or trans people who have experienced harm because of these ideologies and the policies and attitudes that spawned them, nor do I intend to. 

It had been three years, 11 months, and 26 days of waiting, and somehow it was finally here. The US presidential election was set for Tuesday, November 3, 2020, and every day leading up to it, a lurking dread sat in my stomach each time I looked at the polling. To commemorate these near four years of turmoil and a chance at a future, the Political Science Student Union (PSSU) decided to throw an election night viewing party over Zoom, complete with trivia and prizes.

A way to watch the election with built-in breaks to relax? Of course I was in. Not to mention, it would also be nice to share the evening with whoever was there, but that was something of an afterthought. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the students that participated in this event alongside me would stick with me the most. 

In an interview with The Peak, Christina Salvador, the PSSU president and an organizer of the event, told me that “this event is a space to approach these issues and maybe learn in a comfortable environment[ . . . ] that gives everyone a chance to voice their own opinions.” 

Boy, were they right. 

At 7:00 p.m., the night began and the event quickly grew to around 25 participants; even through the screen, the nervous and somewhat awkward energy was palpable. A CBC feed begins to play as students shouted over it to talk to their friends. People repeated new Biden-positive state totals as they come in, giving thumbs up each time. At 7:14 p.m., a voice pipes up. 

“Wait, are all of you guys Democrats?” 

A PSSU moderator then chimes in, reminding everyone to stay civil. The feed, which made other participants hard to hear, stops. Someone asks the student who asked about democrats if he is one. 

“Nope, I’m rooting for Trump.” 

You could have heard a digital pin drop. Someone asks him why. 

“Well, I’ve got a stake in finance in the states, and I like the way he’s been handling China and Jerusalem, so I’m on his side.” 

“Well . . . that’s okay!” says a moderator. The room grew silent yet again, and after a comment about Mike Pence, he ensured everyone that he has gay friends. 

Why are you voting against their rights then, I think. Someone soon gets called a cuck, and a no-swearing rule is established. Unfortunately, that doesn’t jive well with my instincts when I’m stressed. To be honest, the event wasn’t helping on that front. An ideological challenge from a group that doesn’t think I, and many, many others, should have the full rights of a human being wasn’t what I wanted or was expecting. 

Someone suggests that everyone introduce themselves to break the ice, and in a round-robin fashion, we all say our names, majors, and political alignments. The range in responses is both wider and slimmer than expected. Most identified themselves as some version of a centrist; some with political parties, some as whatever ‘creates the greatest good’, and some as whatever ‘elevates women’. 

I soon found myself realizing that I might be one of the only firmly left-wing students in attendance. 

As a communication student, the term “echo chamber” is thrown around a lot in my classes. It’s usually used in the context of social media as a place where people see their opinions parroted back to them on an endless loop, and while I certainly don’t have that in real life — three different federal parties are represented in my family alone — I can’t completely deny it online. This event, however, was far from an echo chamber. 

Attending a Christian high school, this certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve been outnumbered, but it wasn’t something I was expected to experience at this event. I would soon find out that we all had one thing in common: a desperate investment in a Joe Biden win.

As the results took their sweet time rolling in, the conversation warmed and the point of discussion became anything under the political sun ranging from Christy Clark’s ties to SFU (“we don’t talk about that here”), to Palestine, to, as it flip-flopped, what individuals would have actually deserved to win Texas (answers: The Rock, Kanye West, Andrew Yang). As California is called yet the midwest looks uncertain, a student predicts that Biden will only get 244 electoral votes, losing the presidency. 

But after about an hour of lively discussion, I noticed the Trump-supporting student was nowhere to be found. 

At times, our political differences were barely noticeable. We all hollered as Biden picked up states and worried when they were close. But at times, these differences were all I could think about. 

Around 10:30 p.m., a student began to theorize about how their political hero, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would be able to handle all of this better, noting how cute she looked with former president Ronald Reagan. As if the election didn’t have my adrenaline pumping enough, it took my remaining nerves to keep a calm voice as I tried to articulate that the hundreds of thousands of people who died of AIDS while they refused to lift a finger made it hard for me to have any respect for either of them. 

Then the New York Times would call a state again, and we would all pump our fists in unison. It was something to see everyone ranging from a “card-carrying member of the Conservative party” to a democratic socialist disagree about everything under the sun, and then share the same joy each time a state turned blue.

Around 12:30 a.m., the results stalled and only six students remained. Rather than worry closely about election numbers, most students were wrapped in blankets, leaning back in chairs and beds, and musing loosely about academia, workplace drama, what they want out of life, television recommendations, and anything in between. This was a very different picture of election night than I imagined, but despite the palpable election tension I felt, it was a much kinder ending. 

As I closed my eyes, trying not to fall asleep, students were jumping over themselves to offer wisdom to a first-semester political science student. This was the sort of generosity of spirit that makes me a glimmer of optimism about the world and informs my political philosophy. If all these students can be generous with their time to help each other out, maybe we can too on the issues that plague our neighbours we feel removed from in our policies that would make their lives safer and better. 

This wasn’t about ‘all sides coming together’; we’re well past that when an ideology causes active harm to a large portion of the population. But meeting a broad range of people across the political spectrum reminded me that we’re all capable of being well-intentioned and caring for our fellow human and if that’s the case, a version of politics where we act on what those interests are rather than our own is possible, especially for those who are left behind by the housing crisis, drug policy and a deeply racist colonial system. It may not be there now, but I believe it could be.  

I had naively assumed that the night would end with all of us either ecstatic or despondent. How the night actually ended was at 2:00 a.m. with midwestern stalemates, heated arguments about Nietzshe, and an exhausted me trying desperately to butt in to bid the participants a goodnight. 

In a final act of goodwill, a student recognized my foggy mental state and swiftly barged in between the debaters to offer me the floor one last time to thank them for their company before I hit the hay. My goal had been to stay for the entire event, but as participants furiously raced to their bookshelves to cite their philosophical sources, I realized that, much like the election results we so desperately craved, this argument was just getting started.

It’s difficult to decide what to conclude from all of this. Does the election of Joe Biden, whose presidency will likely change nothing for the lives of many people but everything for others, mean a cause of celebration or a sobering look at how we got here? How do you see the value of a variety of political perspectives of others while acknowledging the damage they have caused? In those cases, I think that it’s possible to do both. 

As Christina from PSSU said, “I find if you approach politics from your own perspective, you’re never really going to be challenged.” As I see it, this isn’t about drifting towards the centre in an attempt to be balanced; it’s about knowing how to work with people you disagree with to create a better world. 

As I write this, Joe Biden is ahead in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona, and with 253 electoral votes, it’s almost certain that he’ll win. I cried and hugged my dog when I saw that Georgia and Pennysvania had flipped blue, and I felt more optimistic about the potential state of American politics than I have in a long time, especially seeing a new wave of progressives coming to congress. The election of Joe Biden may not mean immediate positive change, but just like seeing the good-heartedness in so many of these students, it leaves the door open to a future worth being hopeful for. 

Update: Joe Biden is the 46th President-Elect of the United States of America, and Kamala Harris, a child of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, is the first Black person, first woman, first Black woman, first person of South Asian descent, and first woman of South Asian descent to be their Vice-President.

Still, the fight for equity and inclusion, as well as issues related to social and climate justice, does not stop with Biden and Harris being elected. Whether about the crime bill that Biden drafted in 1994 that disproportionately impacted Black people or Harris’ track record on issues related to trans and sex work issues, we must continue to hold leaders accountable for the purpose of protecting the democratic principles that govern a country.