Early last Tuesday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn, walked the five minutes from my house to Angell Elementary School and eagerly hopped in line to vote in my very first presidential election. I was giddy at the prospect of finally getting the chance to not only perform my civic duty, but also to cast my vote for the first female presidential nominee in our nation’s history. Afterward, I displayed my “I Voted” sticker on my shirt with a sense of immense pride. I spent the rest of the day a bundle of nervous energy, but unequivocally hopeful and excited for my country’s future.
Later in the evening, as I watched the numbers roll in on CNN’s numerous screened walls, my elation from earlier in the day began to wane. As Wolf Blitzer frantically flitted across the room reporting Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and even New Hampshire as too close to call, I grew wary. As I saw the polling data from The New York Times and FiveThirtyEight slowly take her chance of winning from around 70 percent down to less than 30 percent, I was overcome with dread. And then they called Florida. And Ohio. And Pennsylvania. And Wisconsin. And most likely, Michigan. All in his favor. I felt a combination of soul-crushing devastation and paralyzing fear I never imagined I would experience in my lifetime.
When my dad called me late Tuesday night, I couldn’t hold back my grief. I cried real, gut-wrenching tears I didn’t know I could muster in response to a political election. He comforted me, telling me again and again that I would be fine, my family would be fine. But I wasn’t crying just for myself. Despite the fact that I am a woman, I am a white, educated, middle-class person whose life will most likely not significantly change in the next four years.
But so many millions of people in this country may not be fine. I cried for the Muslims in this country — built on freedom of religion — who are terrified they will be banned for their faith. I cried for the immigrants who helped build this country who don’t know whether to pack their bags now or hope they won’t be deported. I cried for the LGBTQ community who must now endure a vice president-elect who has advocated for increased funding to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” otherwise known as conversion therapy, to cure their supposed moral wrongs. I cried for the women in this country — myself included — who have been told that even if you rise to the highest ranks of your profession, you will still be beaten out by a man with fewer (or no) credentials for the job. And I cried for the half of this country that is so unhappy with our system of government that they felt the need to overhaul it completely by voting for the new president-elect.
And yet, I realize my empathy is not enough. Writing this article and speaking with my other privileged friends is not enough. Posting messages of solidarity on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram is not enough.
While it is true that we must come to terms with a president-elect many of us so vehemently opposed, we do not have to accept the bigotry, violence and hatred that has erupted in the wake of his victory. Things such as “daily lynching calendars” at the University of Pennsylvania, swastika graffiti on numerous storefronts nationwide and also the Muslim student forced to remove her hijab at the threat of being set aflame on this very campus are completely, incontrovertibly unacceptable. We — especially those of us who are privileged enough not to face prejudice and intolerance on a daily basis — must not fall silent. We must join in the protests, stand up as allies and hold each other accountable for our actions. Failing to act is an act in and of itself. Complacency is acceptance.
Looking around campus on Wednesday and speaking with a number of students, I realize many people share my pain. This has been a difficult pill to swallow for so many of us at this university. Ninety percent of votes from student-heavy precincts in Ann Arbor were against the winning candidate. But despite all of this, if we also lose our faith in humanity, we let them win all over again. The messages chalked on Wednesday throughout the Diag of “You Belong Here,” “You Are Loved,” “You Matter” and more reminded me that there is still so much good in this country. We must work together to fix the major social, economic and political problems that led half of our country to vote against the system. We must work together to guarantee the safety and freedoms of all Americans — white, Black, immigrant, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, gay, straight, trans, young, old and every single person far and in between — because these people are the very foundation upon which our nation stands.
It may seem like there is nothing we can do now, but I assure you this is far from the truth. Action starts today. Tell someone you love them. Take a look around and find the beauty in this world because there is still so much of it. Stand up for all of those facing growing marginalization and suffering from despicable acts of hatred we have seen increase in the past few days. Participate in protests and sign petitions. Write letters to your representatives. Regardless of their side of the aisle, remind them of your values, your priorities and that they represent you. Take action for social change, whether that be by donating to an organization, joining a campaign, participating in a movement or anything else that drives a cause you care about. Think critically about blindly following party lines. Though they seem a lifetime away now, midterm elections take place in two years. Think about your personal values and how to pick candidates — on either side — that actually represent these values. And finally, find your passion and pursue it vigorously. We all have so much to offer, and together we can work for a better tomorrow.
Today we are afraid. Today we are hurt. But today and every day, we are not defeated.
Melissa Strauss can be reached at email@example.com.