A vote for dignity

I have just cast my ballot in the 2016 presidential election. Never has voting ever felt so momentous or my one vote so important.

I have been wondering since last spring how I could respond to the presidential election situation in the US and have found myself paralyzed and unsure what I could do to make a difference. What could I say about this election to my grandchildren and how could I justify my actions or lack thereof years from now? Will I be forced, at the end of it all, to admit that I have fallen into the “appalling silence of good people” as MLK has called it?

I have considered writing my thoughts on the matter, but wonder to whom I would write and who would listen in the end anyway…and do I have enough strength in my convictions to stand for something instead of merely against something else. Can I offer any thought that would hold any weight or does my background and experience make my thoughts so obviously tilted in one direction that they are easily cast aside? I am a member of the educated elite. I no longer even live in the United States. I naturally lean to the left politically and no longer consider “liberal” to be a pejorative name. I have not lost a job due to globalization. I do not worry that I will be out of work next month. For a hundred reasons, my voice feels useless in the context of what I perceive to be the profound disillusionment in the United States.

And yet, I need to do something, to say something. To only vote feels like an important, but insufficient response in the face of this election. And so, I write as an American, as an Atlanta-native, as an immigrant, as a Christian, as a mother — and I have decided to light a candle each day from now until the election for the country, for vision, and for healing.

I understand the appeal of Donald Trump’s message — the desire to “clean the swamp”, to start fresh and to speak plainly. It feels like a chance of new life or a potential return to something simpler and more straightforward (though I’m not sure that life really ever existed). I agree that partisan politics and big money lobbying have run amok in Washington. The consolidation of wealth has brought challenges that we as a people have not yet learned to manage. Some old social problems feel so entrenched that it seems difficult to know how to fix them without a complete make-over. New threats appear that are borne of situations too complex for simple answers. Yet, a hateful and isolationist approach cannot be the solution. Additionally, there is nothing that I see in the record of Mr. Trump as a businessman that leads me to believe that he is a person who is capable of leading the extreme makeover that he has proposed.

In my work as a doctor, I have the privilege of meeting people from all positions in society. In the exam room, it matters not whether a patient is a billionaire, unemployed, artist, computer executive, teacher, plumber, doctor, refugee, immigrant or native-born. When a family steps into my clinic with a sick child, each is worried and loving and hopeful. Each stands naked facing an issue over which they have little control no matter what brand of purse lies on the floor next to their chair. All want the best for their families and for their children. In my line of work, I see the struggles people of all incomes and backgrounds deal with as they face illness or, heaven forbid, the death of a child. Life is difficult, and we do not need to make it more difficult for each other through calling names or allowing hateful rhetoric to be given legitimate voice. Doing so does not only belittle the other, but we diminish ourselves in the process.

I believe that we all have biases that are natural given our fragility as humans. They lead us to favor those like ourselves and make us somewhat distrustful of those who are different, and it is important that we recognize these biases. Taking care not to act on them, is not just political correctness, but is appreciation that some of our natural instincts are not particularly helpful. Speaking these biases openly and using them as justification for hateful action does not make us authentic people so much as it minimizes our shared humanity.

As much as I understand the sentiment that we need something different, I have to respond by saying, not this way. I too have had concerns about Secretary Clinton as a candidate, though I am not sure on what basis. I do not worry about the concerns of her having public and private thoughts/conversations. We all have private and public sides and few of us would be happy for everything that we have ever said or written to be tried in the court of public opinion or aired on social media. I also wonder whether even I, as an educated woman who has faced my own hurdles and gender challenges, carry an odd, deep bias against having a female president. Clearly, there are justifiable concerns and she does not get a free pass merely because of the temperament of her opponent. I appreciate the concerns of thoughtful conservatives who worry about the potential impact on the Supreme Court, and I feel the difficulty of the situation in which they find themselves. I have no easy answer, but know that allowing hate to become the voice of their agenda cannot be the best way forward. As I have carried these reservations into the election season, I have surprisingly found that I have largely been reassured when I can filter out the rhetoric. I am impressed by her thoughtfulness, her courage, and her strength as she continues to respond calmly to questions and often to reflect on her own actions and the import and complexities of the situations she faces.

And so, today I cast my vote — for the first female major party candidate for the presidency in US history, for a long-time public servant and for a vision of a country made better by our differences and our shared community. In casting this vote I am hoping both for a landslide victory and for humility and hard work from the victor. A landslide victory will send the message to the world that the United States of America is not a country of crass language and hateful rhetoric. We are not a country that cares only about its position in the world or abandons those in need when we can help, even if it is at personal sacrifice. And at the same time I pray that in the aftermath of that landslide victory, the winners will not forget to listen to what this season has said about where we are as a society today and to the valid concerns of all citizens — including those who have so vehemently voted the other way. We have a difficult path ahead, but the nation and indeed the world depend on our efforts. I don’t know what my role will be beginning on Nov 9th, but am ready to search for it no matter what occurs. For now, I vote, I write and I light my candle with a prayer for the county and for healing when it is all over. May we find a way forward together as a nation that respects the dignity of all who call the US home and honors the great traditions of our country.

“Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future and the wellbeing of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today.” Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation