Tuesday, November 15, 2016

One Week Later, Some Thoughts on the Election

As I sat in another graduate student’s office watching a live stream of the presidential election results coming in, I felt nervous. Earlier that day, my husband and I had made a quick trip down to Colorado to turn in our ballots. We’re still registered to vote in Colorado although we live in Wyoming currently while I attend the University of Wyoming for my master’s degree. We had missed the deadline to mail in our ballots, but we felt that voting was important, especially in this contentious election. Later Tuesday night, I was in my office working. I went next door to my friend’s office to ask about something and got glued to the screen watching coverage of the results. Soon, another friend showed up, and while we had all hoped to get work done, we were engrossed with what was happening. As it became clearer that Hillary Clinton would not gain the 270 electoral votes needed to win, I was surprised by the rising feelings of anxiety and despair I was experiencing. I had no idea I was emotionally invested in this at all until I sat watching the results roll in, a sinking, sick feeling in my stomach.

If you didn’t already guess this, no, I did not vote for Donald Trump. Of course, that comes as no surprise to some of you. But others are offended with me already. I’d like to explain my reasoning in voting and my feelings now, both as a way to process things myself and as a statement to my friends and family, encouraging a productive and respectful dialogue if you’d like to engage in that.

I also want to be very clear that I in no way am saying that all Trump supporters are racists or sexists. I have seen some use that language, and to me, that is not a productive way to engage with differing opinions. I know many Trump supporters who are people I love and respect, and I do not think these people are all angry, hate-speech-spouting bigots by any means. With this post, I am just hoping to explain my own thoughts in a way that you can hopefully understand and respect. In this time of political and social tension, we need a dialogue now more than ever. In order to do that, we need to be willing to share our points of view, but more importantly to listen to others. I encourage my students to listen to understand, not just to reply, and I think that kind of listening is important here. That being said, I want you to understand me, and that is my main goal here. But I also want to understand you, so please feel free to leave a comment and/or reach out to me to talk, if you are wanting a respectful dialogue and not an argument. Okay, here we go…

Once the options were down to Clinton and Trump, I found myself pretty conflicted and uncertain. I did not feel that either of these people represented me, my concerns for this country, or my values. I began thinking and praying (as I have with many decisions in my life that have been important to me) about what I would do come Election Day. I believe that voting is a right and a privilege, and I feel that if you don’t vote to try to make your voice heard, your complaints afterwards are a bit unwarranted. Sure, you still have a right to voice those complaints, but if you didn’t vote to try to make a difference, I have a bit less forbearance for your grumbles. So I knew that I wanted to vote, but I also wanted to vote with a clear conscience. Unfortunately, as the campaigns went on, my conscience was not completely clear regarding either candidate. To me, Hillary Clinton represented so many things that are wrong with politicians. On the other hand, Donald Trump represented so many things that are wrong with our culture. I weighed pros and cons of the two. For the first time, I listened to every presidential debate, genuinely curious to learn about what the candidates wanted Americans to know about them, what kind of ideas and plans they had for our country, and how they would choose to present themselves. Overall, I am sad to say that I was unimpressed. I wanted another option.

Let me say now that I do realize I had other options via voting for a third party candidate or writing in a name, but I felt that this would be throwing away my vote. I wish that we did have a multiparty system rather than a two-party one, and I hope someday we get there. However, at this point, we’re not there, and I knew a third party would not win. So I needed to deeply consider who would earn my vote, Clinton or Trump.

I’d like to now say some things about my identity and my position as a voter. I was raised in a very conservative Christian denomination. I think most of the adults who had a hand in raising me have a history of usually voting Republican. I grew up among people who championed Republican views, and probably people who vote party-line Republican, no questions asked. I also have some conservative views myself, to be honest. Additionally, I am a woman, and a woman of color, and I have experienced discrimination as a woman of color. I have been discriminated against at various stages of my life, but lately my status as a person who is a target of some forms of discrimination has come to the forefront of my mind because of several experiences I’ve had living in Wyoming and attending the University of Wyoming. I cannot pretend that my position as a woman of color who has experienced discrimination did not affect my vote. I’ll also throw into this explanation regarding my position that I feel very much compassion towards and respect for asylum seekers and refugees. I was honored to work at the Global Refugee Center through AmeriCorps during my undergrad. As part of my position, I had to recruit volunteers. I went to classes and groups as the University of Northern Colorado and gave presentations about who refugees are, how they get to the United States and to Greeley, and how people could help. What I’m saying here is that I am pretty educated about the process. My master’s research also focuses on asylum seekers and refugees, so again, I am pretty educated about these issues. But more than that, I have interacted with these people. I have heard their stories, I have seen their efforts and their struggles, and they have touched my heart.
All of these identities/positions contributed to who I would vote for. But ultimately, I just wanted to act based on my love for humanity. This has been a guiding principle in my life, and I am proud of that. I have friends from all over the world. I have friends of many different religions. I have Black friends, White friends, Latino and Chicano friends, Asian friends, North African friends, Middle Eastern friends, African friends, European friends. I have LGBTQ+ friends. My friends, the people I love and care about, come from so many different combinations of backgrounds. And I want the best for them. I want the best for all of us. And because of that, I couldn’t vote for Trump.

I still felt that Clinton was not the best, but I did feel that she was significantly better than Trump. She had the support of her party, she unified (not all, but some) people more than she divided them, she shared some concrete plans with America aside from just claiming that her plans would be “the best” or “huge” and leaving us to wonder about the details. Trump, on the other hand, had many issues with his party throughout the campaign, he caused endlessly more divisions, and I could never really get a good sense of what his plans were regarding a number of issues. Considering my identities, my positions, and the people I love and care about deeply, I could not bring myself to vote for a man who showed a lack of control over his emotions, and a lack of control to such an extent that his campaign staff took away his twitter account access for concern that he would say something more to hurt his campaign (yes, we all get emotional, and emotions can be difficult to control, but someone in the high position of leadership of POTUS should be able to keep his or her emotions in check and work through things reasonably). I could not bring myself to vote for someone who has unfair (and frankly, uneducated) views towards refugees and immigrants and who encourages the American public to share those uninformed views. I could not bring myself to vote for someone who made gross generalizations in calling all Mexicans who come to the United States rapists and drug lords. I could not bring myself to vote for someone who made comments that further harmful stereotypes about Muslims. I could not bring myself to vote for someone who, when asked what he would do to make Muslims feel that they were safe and a part of this country, went on a rant about “radical Islamic terrorists.” I could not bring myself to vote for someone who insulted and said he did not trust our nation’s security and who said he would imprison his political opponent. I could not bring myself to vote for someone who insulted veterans. I could not bring myself to vote for someone who was dismissive of bragging about sexual assault. I could not bring myself to vote for someone who referred to mental illnesses as signs of weakness. I could not bring myself to vote for someone who carelessly and without regard for consequences makes flippant comments about other nations and other world leaders (again, people are entitled to have whatever opinions they want about these things, even if they are uninformed and flippant, but the POTUS should be someone who can express his views and concerns with tact and diplomatic ability rather than in an offhand, I-can-do-whatever-I-want way that might get our nation into trouble). …I think I’ll stop here since I’ve addressed my main concerns and those that were deal breakers for me.

And then, he became president anyways.

I had never really fully entertained the thought, “What if Donald Trump is our next President?,” because I didn’t really think he had enough support to make that happen. But I did think that if that happened, I would probably be a little disappointed and then move on. So imagine my surprise while sitting in my friend’s office feeling so much anxiety and overwhelming hurt. I could not explain my feelings at first or even the next day. They took me by surprise, and I really had to think about things and process why I was feeling the way that I was.

Now let me be explicit: I am not hurt that Hillary Clinton didn’t win, and I am not hurt that Donald Trump did. I am hurt that after someone attacked my some of my identity and made it okay for other people to do the same, his actions were rewarded. I am hurt that voters didn’t see racism and sexism to be important. I am hurt that now, many of my friends are dismissive towards these concerns. I feel that my identities as a woman of color and as a rape survivor have been even more marginalized. I feel like my fellow Americans said, “We know who you are, and we don’t care.” I feel like people have offered nothing more than an eye-roll towards my wellbeing and the wellbeing of so many of my friends. And it hurts.

But what hurts the most for me is the aftermath. So many of my Facebook friends are cheering and reveling in the glory of Trump’s win. Be happy that the candidate you supported won by all means, but too many posts have crossed a line. I’ve seen too many people say things like “get over it,” telling people to “stop being so dramatic,” to “quit crying and whining like babies.” People who fear for their wellbeing are being approached with ridicule and dismissive, careless attitudes. People’s concerns over what to tell their children now that America has demonstrated that bullying and hate speech can win you the highest office in the land are being trivialized and made fun of. People who have shared resources for support are being mocked ruthlessly. Listen, I can see the point. It is a presidential election, the results are in, we should accept them and move forward as a nation. But this is about more than politics. People, real people, your neighbors, your coworkers, your so-called friends are afraid because their identities have been attacked, because the President Elect has made it okay for Americans to express hate and if the next POTUS can get away with spouting hate speech, anyone and everyone can. I’ve seen people express that they are tired of political correctness, tired of walking on eggshells, and tired of being called racists. I’m trying to understand those feelings, but I think coming from that stance indicates that you have a lot of privilege and that it’s inconvenienced by those who do not.

Still, I’ve seen some hopefulness in the midst of the ugly and polarized aftermath that has unfolded. When I got going on Wednesday morning, one of the first posts I saw was from an Egyptian friend who I met in Germany this past summer. I want to share his words with you:
Ahmed with his post gave me some encouragement that even if our leaders are not the kind of people who are going in unify people for positive change, we still can be.

Later, I was embraced by my community of McNair Scholars (a program for underrepresented students I participated in as an undergrad) after our assistant director, Karen Krob, tagged a bunch of us in a post that read:
I am still processing myself, and so I do not know the "perfect" words or "perfect" response, but I can office sincerity. I love you. I care about each of you, your well-being, your present and your future. I will support you in whatever way I can. In the eloquent words of my friend Stacey McKenna: "I will be your ally. I will put my body in places to keep you safe and give support. I will speak up when I hear words that perpetuate oppression. I will set aside my privilege to create space for yours. I will do it on your terms."
I am so proud of you. Thank you for you.
Karen’s words and the words of her friend Stacey gave me comfort and showed me that I am a part of a community of people from these marginalized backgrounds who find strength in each other, and who support and uplift each other.

I went to my class, “Women, Gender, and Migration,” and I was relieved that the professor chose to make the first several minutes a safe space for students to talk about their thoughts and feelings regarding the outcome of the election. This professor, a Mexican-American woman who I look up to and appreciate endlessly, said it so well, when she said, “I feel like America just broke up with me.” I feel that too, and I feel like America said, “It’s not us, it’s you.” In the first part of that class, students cried, students were angry, but it was a healthy time and space to process.

I went to another weekly meeting for the Planning Committee for the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice, and I was comforted by a community that promises to continue working together to promote social justice for marginalized groups.

These words and experiences were a breath of fresh air for me.

And after all this, I feel like I’m more certain than ever about who my community is. And this realization is also difficult for me. As I said earlier, I was raised in a conservative Christian denomination. Values I was raised with and people who invested in me in that setting are still near and dear to my heart. They are a part of me, and I love that part of me. But I was devastated to see that in the aftermath of the election results, it was mostly these Christian people who bragged about Trump winning and name-called and dismissed people on the opposing side. It was mostly these Christian people who I saw telling people to get over it and stop acting like babies. It was mostly these Christian people who trivialized the concerns and fears of my other friends and myself. My community is the people around the world who share the same values of equal rights and social justice. I would like to think that those are Christian values, and for me, they very much are. My passion for equal rights and social justice comes from my perspective as a Christian as much as it comes from my position as a woman of color.

But many, many Christians have showed me lately that they are not interested in those values. And that really breaks my heart. As a Christian, I believe that in the aftermath of this election, it is my role and responsibility to act with compassion, with love. Even if I had voted for Trump, as a Christian, I feel that it is my rose to help the hurting. It is not my place to dismiss anyone’s concerns, to mock anyone, or to spread hate and division. It is my duty to hear people out, to comfort them, to respond with love.

I’d like to end with some wise words from my husband...
I am full of curiosity on what these next four years will hold, and I hope that we continue to progress as a nation, progress to a nation that has open arms to the hurting, progress to a nation that listens, that actually uses facts and not emotions to make decisions. And regardless of what the President does that does not change who I am or what I stand for. I will continue to show love to the least of these, I will continue to support the acceptance of refugees, I will continue to support rights for all citizens, not just the rights of people that I agree with or identify as. I will not sit on the side line holding my nose up saying that this is the worst and offer no assistance, I will try to unify people with the similarities that we have instead of pushing the differences to divide us. We are all human after all.

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