The Mercury News

Quiet reflection ushers in Biden, Harris era

- By Julia Prodis Sulek, Laurence Du Sault, Nico Savidge and David DeBolt

There was no violence, no pandemoniu­m, no streets filled with revelry or vengeance.

On the day that President Joe Biden pledged to “end this uncivil war” and Vice President Kamala Harris — the daughter of Berkeley — shattered gender and racial barriers, much of the Bay Area quietly took in the moment and hoped that a true culture change will follow four years of Donald Trump.

“Today was the first day of coming out of the darkness,” said Amelia Ashley Ward, whose Black community newspaper gave Harris her first endorsemen­t as San Francisco district attorney in 2003.

Like many Americans, Ward watched the inaugurati­on

Wednesday morning on television, alone. In the midst of the pandemic, where deaths continue to surge, celebratio­ns for the Democratic administra­tion came mostly in Zoom meetings, phone calls, text messages and powerful silent reflection­s.

In Walnut Creek, women who had marched against Trump’s presidency four years ago stood in their living rooms when the national anthem was played. Joggers in Berkeley took selfies in front of Harris’ childhood home on Bancroft Way. On the famous marquee of the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, where the owner has posted anti Trump messages for four years, he installed new lettering Wednesday that read in part: “Good riddance … our national nightmare is over.” And at Kaiser hospital in Oakland, where Harris was born 56 years ago, a medical assistant paused to sing “Amazing Grace” along with Garth Brooks as nurses streamed the televised inaugural ceremony on a desktop computer.

After division, defiance and the violent siege on the U.S. Capitol, relief settled over the region and much of the country when trouble failed to materializ­e.

In Richmond, Lateefah Simon, who has been a friend of Harris’ since she first worked for her in the district attorney’s office nearly 20 years ago, and her 9-year-old daughter, Lelah, dressed up in their “inaugurati­on clothes” to watch the ceremony.

“We cried and clapped and cheered. It was just really beautiful. We prayed, we sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ we had our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance,” Simon, 43, said. “I want to say it was surreal. But what I told Lelah, I told her, ‘It’s about time.’ ”

One woman walked 4 miles Wednesday morning to Harris’ alma mater, Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley, while listening to the inaugurati­on on the way.

“I’m very emotional,” said Nancy Hanson, a Bay Area resident for 40 years, her eyes watering. “A lot of changes today — I’m happy about all of them. Four years ago I was just so tight, wondering, ‘How are we going to get through this?’ ”

Neighbors near Harris’ childhood home, where homemade inaugurati­on countdown signs replaced “Trump Danger” meters, rejoiced as Harris took the oath of office. Emily Schmookler heard her neighbor Dave Ely scream for joy just before 9 a.m. “I wanted to come scream with you,” Schmookler told him later, “but I had to teach a yoga Zoom class.”

A select few of Harris’ friends from the old neighborho­od received coveted tickets to the inaugurati­on, including members of the Shelton family, who lived two doors down from her.

Sharon Shelton McGaffie and her sister Judy Shelton Robinson — daughters of Regina Shelton on whose Bible Harris was sworn in on Wednesday — received hugs from Harris as she left the dais as vice president.

McGaffie’s daughter, Saniyyah Smith, sat a few rows away and said afterward that she was thinking of the impact on her 12-year-old daughter.

“It just shows her that anything is possible,” Smith said. “She can do it. She can be a trailblaze­r. She can have her own mind, not take no for an answer, believe in herself and break down barriers.”

Biden pledged to unify the country, insisting “my whole soul is in this,” in a tone that many welcomed after Trump’s inaugural address four years ago about “American carnage.”

In Walnut Creek, six of the organizers of the Women’s March Contra Costa — who brought together 5,000 protesters for their first demonstrat­ion the day after Trump’s inaugurati­on in 2017 — held a virtual watch party Wednesday.

“I cried almost through the whole thing, especially when hearing about the 400,000 who have died from COVID-19. That’s monumental,” said Heidi Benenson, one of the organizers. “But now I have this sense of trust.”

In the oncology unit at Oakland Kaiser Permanente, medical assistant Gloria Duncan added some “soul” when she joined in singing “Amazing Grace” during the inaugurati­on. “Knowing what that song is all about … It’s amazing we got through 2020,” Duncan said.

In Sacramento, scores of police and National Guard troops stood protecting the state Capitol, but no clashes ensued. A group of about 50 black-clad protesters who carried “Abolish ICE” and Black Lives Matter flags released a couple of purple smoke canisters before leaving. A Trump supporter blamed social media clampdowns for the lack of dissenters there, saying “I don’t care if nobody else is here. I get my say.”

In San Francisco, where joyful Democrats partied in the streets the day the election was called for Biden, it was far quieter Wednesday. But at Manny’s, a Mission District bar popular with politicos, owner Manny Yekutiel and friends Rob Avrunch and Jeffrey “Mercury” Van Sciver, all dressed in drag, nodding approval and clapping to Biden’s inaugural address.

“It does feel like the nightmare is over,” Yekutiel said.

In Fremont, Tatiana Shrimali, 42, stood in a long line at The Tri-City Volunteers food pantry. She and her husband, both immigrants, lost their IT jobs amid the pandemic.

“For all of us immigrants that come for the American dream, this is like the ultimate dream, to see how people can succeed despite where they come from,” Shrimali said. “It’s a country that gives a chance to anyone, and that’s so wonderful to see.”

Some people were still wary that Trump’s divisive influence might linger.

“I feel good, but I also feel a lot of anger to see where our country is,” said Ivan Stanojevic, 39, sitting outside a cafe in downtown San Jose.

He’s looking forward to the Biden-Harris administra­tion to get underway, but even after their inaugurati­ons, he said, “Somehow, it still doesn’t feel over.”

But Allen Michaan had been planning for four years what he would do Wednesday. Passersby cheered and honked as the owner of the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland put the final touches on his latest marquee: “Good riddance to the racist liar Trump the worst ever U.S. ‘President’!”

Michaan said he crafted the message over two years ago and hung it in his office, waiting for the day when Trump would be out of office.

“I don’t usually hang these myself, he said as he adjusted the ladder. “But this was such an important day.”

 ?? ARIC CRABB — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Lateefah Simon, right, and daughter Lelah, 9, watch the inaugurati­on of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in their home in Richmond on Wednesday.
ARIC CRABB — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Lateefah Simon, right, and daughter Lelah, 9, watch the inaugurati­on of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in their home in Richmond on Wednesday.

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