On the election, and the days after
The day of the election, I donned a white blazer, blue top and red pants. Election day is a good day to feel patriotic; as I stood in line to vote I felt a vague sense of kinship with my neighbors. We were here because we cared about our community, our country, each other. I felt proud to wear my political affiliation on my body, to display my allegiance to a woman I found inspiring. As I stuck the “I voted sticker” on my lapel, I thought about how I wanted to save it for my daughter, and tell her how in my lifetime I had witnessed the election of both the country’s first black president and the country’s first female president. When I walked out of the office that evening, my colleague and I cheekily complimented each other on our pantsuits.
The night of the election, I started to watch the returns at a bar, then moved to a house party. As the night went on a sense of fear, tension and dread had descended over the party. Every so often, someone would disappear onto her porch or an empty bedroom to cry, rail at the racists and homophobes, or some combination of both. I took to pacing the kitchen, reassuring myself that there are checks and balances, that we’ve survived bad presidents before, that there were states where the vote was close enough that it could warrant a lawsuit or demand for a recount. At least twice we would be sitting in our host’s living room, watching the screens, and someone would just burst into tears. I did not feel like crying, and worried that it made me look callous. Finally, folks started to file out to find solidarity or protest in front of the White House; a friend had texted encouraging me to come but I didn’t feel safe or energetic enough for it. We closed the door and I finally let out one soft, wrenched, sob.
The day after the election, I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach. At 2 or 3 a.m. I had finally fallen asleep, the results from Pennsylvania dashing the last of my resolve. My host dressed in black; it wasn’t until I saw her put on a black shirt that I realized that’s what I was feeling — grief. I thought about how I could focus on emails and paperwork; she thought about how she would help her students process what just happened.
Since the election, I’ve been accused of taking “world events” too personally. The first comment out of my mother’s mouth the next morning was to criticize Clinton for not giving a concession speech on Tuesday night; my dad told me that I was ‘taking it too personally’ and ‘we’ve had right-wing presidents before’. I was surprised at my own surprise; of course people would blame her instead of acknowledging that racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia had won the country. Of course it’s easier to call someone crazy than take on the responsibility that would come from acknowledging what is happening to them.
The truth is that this happened, and is happening, to all of us. I spend my evenings and weekends worrying about my friends and colleagues who are now even more vulnerable to harassment and persecution, whose safety and livelihoods are now on the line. I, and so many other women, had been going to work believing that if we worked hard enough and did a good job, that we would succeed. We watched the returns expecting to see those dreams become more solid, if not yet reality. To see that dream proven false for yet another woman, in such a public way, has made it harder for me to cling to it.
I do think it’s time to move past the shock and grieving stage, not because those feelings aren’t valid but because we don’t have time for them anymore. The inauguration is in 62 days. I have not stopped grieving, but those feelings have now started to crystallize into something harder and sharper.
I’m tired of waiting for my turn. I’m tired of being told that ‘things will work out’, because they didn’t, and they won’t without us. Inaction implies complicity, and we no longer have the privilege of living on autopilot and hoping for the best. The greatest political act is to live intentionally and truthfully; the need for great political action is now.