Dear Hillary, I Wanted You To Win, But Now I Want Something Bigger
By Beejoli Shah
I believe in attrition the same way other people believe in meritocracies. Showing up may be half the battle, but waiting everyone out until you’re the last woman standing is the under-discussed other half — “under-discussed” probably because everyone except me has figured out it doesn’t work very well. I tried it, for instance, on an elementary school crush who dated nearly every pre-teen girl in our fifth grade class. Despite my feelings waning by the time we hit middle school, it took his recent nuptials to a mutual friend to make the ten-year-old inside of me accept that Eric wasn’t going to eventually run out of girls to date and finally come around.
For someone who foolishly tattooed “Let go and let God” on my foot when I was 23, I rarely move on from a desire, no matter how quixotic. I’m told a better word for this trait is “stubborn.” Which is why, for this sacrilegious Indian, you’ve been something of a Saint Jude figure: the political patron saint of hopeless causes. In this case, that cause is women who don’t take no for an answer, even in the face of overwhelming odds (and in some cases, two decades of other girlfriends). Your presidency wouldn’t have just been a hammer to a crystalline cliché; it would have been a victory for the many earnest women who never learned how to play it cool, the ones who resisted the urge to bow out gracefully, against better judgment.
Throughout your campaign, I heard the stories: about how you never forgot an aide’s birthday, or a constituent you spoke to personally, no matter how many years prior. I was assured time and again that your commitment wasn’t to the office but to the people; that your promises were less empty than most politicians, because you’d gladly trade all the accolades for effective action. But just between us girls, let’s drop the pretense; you may have wanted to win to effect change, but you also wanted to win to finally have won. You paid your dues, you put in the time, you earned your shot. I get that. I respect that. I believe strongly in the palliative powers of vindication.
And then came the loss. I didn’t realize it in the immediate aftermath, but while much of the world was mourning the loss of what you’d have been able to do as president, I was mourning the loss of who you would have been: a woman rewarded for not having thrown in the towel, after years of vehement opposition. Though I’ve publicly opined about how much you could do as our first female President, your victory was privately far more symbolic. Insert-any-Democrat-here could execute the basic Democratic values I hold dear, but I was much more excited by the narrative of someone so vehemently disliked being able to persevere regardless. Which is why your loss flattened me in particular. If in 2016, a qualified woman whose only crime was trying too hard still couldn’t be rewarded, what chance did I have at being anything more than an almost-but-not-quite shaped stain on history?
Two days after your loss, I was warned about threats being made towards people of color in my neighborhood. I woke up to a swastika painted outside of my front door. It wasn’t my first incident of racial vandalism surrounding the presidential campaign — two weeks earlier someone wrote “Go home Muslim” on the side of my car and “TRUMP” on my windshield, in raw egg, which baked onto the paintwork in the Austin heat. The swastika wasn’t even the most remarkable example of the spate of hate crimes I’d seen unfurl over the past week: a Muslim neighbor’s daughter was hit by a makeshift Molotov cocktail thrown onto her patio earlier that night. It was enough to galvanize friends and family into far more action than I could have ever imagined. One friend took it upon himself to talk to my neighbors about an informal neighborhood watch. He met, befriended, and recruited multiple neighbors in a matter of minutes; I’d lived in my apartment for 11 months and still don’t know what my upstairs neighbor looks like. Another friend’s parents took half a day out of their vacation to Austin to buy and install security cameras in the apartment I’m living in for just three more weeks. In the time it took a crudely constructed swastika to dry on my wood paneling, I’d become absorbed into a community whose only skin in the game was taking care of their own.
Which brings me back to us. For years, the legend of your little-seen likable side was just that: a legend. A footnote on your legacy of machine politics, intended to soften your image in an environment not known for its portrayal or perception of women, and humanize you once you earned your rightful win. But watching the outpouring of support from friends, family, and neighbors I couldn’t be bothered to befriend, I realized for the first time what I’d missed: building a community. It’s not that wanting to win isn’t a valid reason for participating; it’s that if you’re waiting for attrition to work its tenuous magic, you need a reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Your eyes may have been on the 1600 Pennsylvania prize, but your raison d’être wasn’t the win, or what you could do on a global scale from the office. It was a win for every single person you met on the way up: the aides, the constituents, the detractors. All the people you’d be representing had you become our president.
I’m learning to let go of my need to win. I’m becoming more involved in my community on a participant level, rather than jumping straight to homeowner association councils and city leadership panels. I’m appreciating the journey for what it is — a chance to effect change — instead of what it could be or what it represents.
While I still would argue that little is more fulfilling than vindication, perhaps there is one thing that edges it out: not needing vindication at all.
Lead image: WikiCommons/Gage Skidmore