Last Tuesday night, I watched the map of the United States turn bright red and I felt a fist grip my heart. I had been trying to do homework and watch election coverage at the same time, but I’ve never been the best multi-tasker. As the night progressed, my notebook fell to the side and I found myself intently reading Washington Post coverage, analysis and speculation. Hours passed in minutes, and Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House went from assumed to unlikely to impossible. I wanted to stay up until the end, until every vote was in, because in my persistent optimism I waited for a deus ex machina, I waited for my own state to turn blue at the last minute. But, as we all know now, that didn’t happen. Michigan is still unaccounted for. I ended up falling asleep, feeling genuinely afraid of my own country, of the people who voted for Trump and his sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and racist rhetoric.
Needless to say, the next morning was painful. My heart still ached, and I still felt afraid, lost in my own country for the first time. Who were these people? Did they hate me too, because I’m a woman and Jewish? Are they sitting next to me on the Commuter North? Are they the swimmers I’m guarding at the Central Campus Recreational Building? But as the day passed, and I went through the motions of a normal Wednesday, I overheard conversations all over campus about how we can get through this together, and that we can’t give up. I saw chalkings all over the Diag, proclaiming that this is still home, that we all belong here, that love is strongest of all. And throughout the day, I felt my various communities within and outside of the University of Michigan offering immeasurable support to one another. Being there for one another, because what else could we do? I felt loved, supported and heard by my friends and family. As I experienced this outpouring of love, my hope began to come back. It was also sad, to see my friends crying, fearing they will be persecuted simply for being themselves. Wednesday was bittersweet; I could feel the genuine fear of my friends who were the target of Trump’s rhetoric. I also felt the strength and optimism of a people that will not let hate prevail on this campus, in this country or in the world. I felt more determined than ever before to make a change, to push the government in the direction of justice.
Because, as disillusioned and helpless as I’ve felt time and time again, I know that the American government, though in some ways corrupt and owned by Big Business, is still for the people and by the people. We have to speak up. We have to make it impossible for them to compromise our autonomy over our bodies, to intersect our communities and wildlife with pipelines, our right to have clean water, and our right to marriage equality for all. I know this seems overly optimistic, but there are reasons why I feel this way.
The week before the election, I watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, “Before the Flood.” It was about climate change, the politics around it and the science of our devastatingly changing climate. As anyone who has ever seen a film about climate change can imagine, it got pretty bleak. But near the end, DiCaprio showed how public opinion can change the actions of politicians. There was a clip of President Barack Obama in 2008, saying he was against same-sex marriage. The reason he said this was because he thought the majority of his constituents felt this way, and he did not want to lose their votes. Clearly, as Obama felt public opinion change, he changed his own position on same-sex marriage. Our opinions count. Our voices matter. We just have to use them.
As a white, female, Jewish college student, I don’t really know why people voted for President-elect Donald Trump. Not only did he spout hateful rhetoric through the entire election, but I’m pretty sure he is the least qualified person to ever run for president. But I’ve been working to understand where his voters were coming from, because I cannot just write them off. Though we have many differences, fundamentally they’re just people, like me. We will not get anywhere if we ignore these individuals, because that is what caused Trump to be elected. Love trumps hate, and that doesn’t mean only loving the people who voted for Hillary Clinton. Showing compassion to all people, and really trying to understand them, is the only way to keep moving forward.
We need to think about what our country stands for. America: the land of the free, the home of the brave. A nation of many different cultures, religions and ethnicities, living together, and thriving. Or a nation that builds a wall? A nation that threatens to burn women in hijabs? A nation with swastikas spray painted on walls? That is not my nation. I refuse to accept that as the America I’ve grown up in. I still believe that love is strong. If we meet each other, and really try to understand each other, I think that hate will fall away. We are all just people, and we have a responsibility to treat each other the way every person inherently deserves to be treated, regardless of politics.
Now, almost a week has passed since the election. This time last week, I was straining to get a glimpse of Obama over the shoulders of three extremely tall men at Ray Fisher Stadium, feeling the hope that Obama’s speeches provide. Last Tuesday, I was elated, thinking that last glass ceiling was about to be shattered. Since last Wednesday, two crime alerts have been sent out, regarding ethnic and religious intimidation that occurred on campus, right near my house. If this is happening here, in “liberal” Ann Arbor, I’m scared for the rest of the country. But also, there has been a protest against this intimidation, and many have gathered in the Diag to show their support for tolerance and love. Today, I feel a bit less optimistic than I did last Wednesday. I think the reality of the next four years is starting to set in. And yet I refuse to give up hope. I will hold on to love and optimism, and tolerance, and I will not stop advocating for a compassionate and empathetic understanding of all people.