Written November 9th, 2016.
I was four months away, four months too young to vote in the presidential election of 2012. My mom set me up to work at the Elizabeth Warren (State Senator of Massachusetts/all around inspiring human being) campaign headquarters in my hometown, knowing I was desperate for some sort of action, to have some type of influence. It was something, it truly was, (and I’m so grateful to my mom for knowing me so well and leaping at the chance) but it wasn’t enough. I’ve been watching and waiting for my chance to vote for the highest office in the country for so many years. Since I was a little girl.
People may scoff, reading this, but it’s true. I don’t know how else to say it.
I am so lucky, so blessed, so privileged to have grown up in such a liberal state, to be supported by my parents and educated about history and politics. I grew up in a household where we swapped stories of the Revolutionary War over the dinner table, where family roadtrips weren’t to Disneyland but various monuments and grave sites. It may sound funny, but those trips, such a huge part of my childhood, were so beloved by me and my twins sister- aged twelve back then, and are now, aged twenty-one. Politics have always been a part of my life, always. I’ve watched every single presidential debate, every single election night since I was four, beginning with the recount of 2000. And I realize that may not be part of the average millennials childhood. But for me it was. I remember it, I do, and the pain the country felt then, and then with a Bush reelection, and onward, into the current day.
The recount of 2000 is among some of my first solid memories, tinted not in sepia but vibrant color. To this day, my parents maintain that my first piece of true childhood artwork was a giant, floating Al Gore head, cut out of a magazine and pasted on a large piece of paper. I – small, disproportionate body – followed, along with a White House in the background, and dancing flowers. And I remember a weekly scholastic magazine, one we read every week in Kindergarten, one with a tear-off ballot in the back, for who we wanted to win the election. Somehow, even in Massachusetts, arguably the most liberal state in the nation, my small crumpled ballot with a floating Al Gore head was the only one of its kind that made it into the ballot box that day. Kindergartners, aged four or five, were just voting for the name they perhaps heard in passing from their parents mouths. And that’s to be expected. It’s okay. This story of mine doesn’t mean much, I know that. But for me, this is one of my most vivid early memories, and American politics is a part of me, and like so many Americans, a part that has truly influenced my life.
Last night I cast my first vote for a presidential candidate, the most qualified candidate ever to run for that office, and watched as like in 2000, like the first election I remember, a democratic candidate won the popular vote but lost the presidency to the system of the electoral college. I watched as white women, women like me, and white men gave Donald Trump their votes, I watched as the map became so red it was bleeding, I watched, with my family, huddled on our couch, crying.
I left my college campus, I left a college class early last night to go home (twenty minutes from Boston without traffic, two hours plus with it) to vote. I’m not sure if it’s truly ironic or just incredibly fitting and incredibly eerie that the class I missed part of was Weimar Cinema, a class that literally tracks the rise of Nazism and the warnings Germany had and did not heed from 1918-1933. I watched a powerpoint with horrific Nazi propaganda posters as I simultaneously watched the clock tick closer to the time I would leave. I watched as my professor described in depth to my four person class about how the people of the USSR and Germany alike would use diagrams of a person’s outer appearance to determine if they were “worthy” or not. This weekend, I saw a production of Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” for the class, and watched how a brilliant parody with Chicago gangsters and literal cauliflower warns its audience not about Hitler’s evil but about how normal people came to easily gave him his power. Like the entire semester, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to our current election season. I thought, despite all recent never-ending election updates, thank god, thank god we’ve come so far.
And here we are. Here we are, a new dawn of a new day of a new America, of a new world. We have not come as far as we dreamed, not as far as we thought we had come. The world watching and waiting, waking up to news that affects all of us, even those who don’t view this outcome as a tragedy yet, even those who voted for a man on trial for rape and endorsed by the KKK.
I go to a liberal, private university, with around 18,000 undergraduates, from nearly every country and belief system on the planet. I am so lucky, so privileged, to have the opportunity to study here, to meet people so similar and different from me, and to learn how we are still, through everything, all so fundamentally connected. I have friends who sobbed today, worried their parents would be deported. Others told me they don’t know how they’ll do so, but “well, I guess it’s time to start hiding my sexuality”. I held my mother and sister last night, (and they held me too), as they cried and tried to mentally prepare themselves for living in a world where the US president mocks people who have a disability. I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech at work, the few full time staff members, who made it in (intelligent, inspiring women) crowded around a computer with myself and another student coworker. We watched, and wept, all of us, as she so gracefully conceded. I was genuinely asked today “what if I get raped after abortions are outlawed?” I don’t have the answers, though I so wish I did. None of us have the answers. We are going in blind, with a man whose only platform was and is hate, with no actual plans outlined for our country. And that’s one of the worst parts- we have no idea, none, about what happens now. Our president-elect has made it acceptable to insult and encourage harm against anyone who is not a white male, wearing a bright red hat. This has touched my family, personally, and it has touched me as a woman. There are others it strikes even deeper, there are those, friends and strangers who have even more to fear. My hearts breaks for them, for all of us. My heart feels like it has broken a thousand times in the past twenty four hours, each time with shards sharper and crueler than the last.
Yet it’s healing too. My heart is being healed by every act of kindness I have witnessed today, and I’ve witnessed so much of it in the last twenty four hours. Strangers crying on benches and outside classrooms on campus have been approached by complete strangers and comforted. I tripped and almost fell down this evening, something not so uncommon for someone as accident prone as I am. Embarrassed, I looked around to see if anyone had seen. No one had. Instead as I paused I looked around and saw people hugging in the middle of the busy sidewalk, people holding hands, people huddled on benches, in the dark, clutching each other for comfort. People were giving out free hugs in the center of my campus, holding signs and each other. I guess I can cross breaking down in the center of of my campus off of any sort of nonexistent bucket list I had. I sat down on a bench near the student union and wept, for not the first time, but for a different reason. I was and am so incredibly overcome with love for my community and for the goodness, the love that still remains in this world, the compassion of humanity. I know it’s been an ugly day, I know horrible things have already been said and the fight ahead us is long. But it’s been a far more beautiful day than I could have imagined, in some ways. Because of my family, my friends, and above all, complete strangers, I have hope, and so, so much love. Thank you, thank you, thank you. All I can do, all any of us can do, is spread it forward and use it for the battles ahead. We are not entirely lost. And we won’t ever be if we show kindness towards other human beings. I believe this.
I am so ashamed of this part of America’s history, but I still have hope and so much love for humanity. One night, and one hateful man, one hateful movement, cannot take that away from me. Please don’t let it take it away from you.
Lauren is a cinema studies student in her final year of university (and is more than a little stunned at that fact). Based in Boston, she spends her time drinking earl grey tea, pretending she knows how to take photographs, and over-analyzing every movie she sees (with a few impassioned arguments in defense of her favorite fictional characters, here and there). Sunbeams, falling leaves, watching old movies, and Harry Potter make her happy (and she hopes you have beautiful things that make you happy too). You can find her on twitter (@labackus) and instagram.