As I listened to my American Politics professor Wednesday morning, in what I can honestly only call a state of mourning after a night without showering or changing out of the clothes I had been wearing since canvassing the morning of election day, speaking about bureaucracy, the legacy of Obama, and the legislation he’s left behind through executive orders, I couldn’t help but feel the loss anew. The loss, of all that we are set to see dismantled in a week of Trump’s presidency, and the feeling anew that we had failed. After volunteering for the Hillary campaign, as well as working with Pennsylvania Senate candidate Katie McGinty, Attorney General candidate Josh Shapiro, and Congressman Dwight Evans, over months and months of late nights of phone banking, hours and hours spent weekly registering Philadelphia residents and Penn students alike to vote regardless of partisanship, and mornings spent going door-to-door campaigning in West Philadelphia, I could only process the state of devastation that all had been for nothing, thinking that the white slides of that lecture hall could only further pummel the remaining political hopes I had, and thinking over and over that we had failed.
We had failed to uphold the progressive legacy that we and the Obama administration worked so hard to create, that the American Supreme Court has helped to mold through the last half a century, undone by a right wing movement of populism and what many have deemed a “white lash” in reaction to a diversifying and globalizing America. In the span of eight hours, we had watched the sheer invalidation of the efforts of the last 100 years in American progress to create safeguards to defend the marginalized, all unraveled by a night of cavalier and unpredicted loss. In one night, we had gone from having the first black president of the United States, to having a president elect who has been celebrated openly by white-clad KKK members, elected on a platform of sexism, political apathy, and general disenfranchisement with the American political system that has eventuated in the election of a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and corrupt excuse for a presidential candidate.
We have failed all women, young and old, who had waited patiently to see the shattering of that starkest glass ceiling, both in presidential and senate races across the country. Daughters who we had promised the ability to do anything they desired could only look on as the man who has openly and verbally espoused sexual harassment, who still faces multiple court cases in the coming months before his inauguration, accepted his victory as the leader of the Free World. We have failed the 22 million Americans who will face the loss of insurance under the destruction of Obamacare and the countless more who will see their welfare and WIC payments decrease expeditiously. We have failed the LGBTQ+ community, who now face the return of legal discrimination to the local level through the relegation of this legislation to state jurisdiction, under a vice president who still advocates for gay conversion therapy and who continues to openly deride female leadership in the military. We have failed so many American families who face potential deportation, following the destruction of DACA and the eventual loss of all that they have gained through Obama’s presidency, seeing the prospect of rent apart families as a near and coming possibility (if campaign promises hold true). We have failed those who have previously believed in our Constitution and the once upheld (now, falsified) political cultural value of tolerance, who now face the consequences of the violence and bigotry that Islamophobia has bred in this country and their own potential expulsion, violating every principle of religious tolerance upon which the very colonies that preceded the United States of America were founded.
We have failed to protect our planet in its rapid trajectory of global warming, through electing a president who fails to recognize that global warming is real, not an artificial myth to propagate liberal agenda. We have failed the international community that we have led for the past century by electing a president who is a clear bedfellow of the Russian government, facing the revocation of the Iran Nuclear Deal within the first month of Trump’s presidency in tandem with various other acts of international diplomacy that threaten the perilous balance at which the global arena currently rests – arguably at a more dangerous precipice than any point in recent history since the Cold War.
We have failed every American who is not a straight, cisgender, white, upper-class Christian white male. Today, I am hardly afraid for myself – I am a college-educated, white-cis-het upper-class American. I have the luxury of my privilege as a defense from true fear. But I know that my friends of color, my queer friends, those who I love of every walk of marginalized communities in this country have reason to be afraid, for we have elected a candidate whose campaign was derived from fear and violent Othering.
However, despite the despair so apparent still in that gloomy lecture hall, in a matter of hours I had the opportunity to remember that this failure was no permanent and lasting state in which we were to find ourselves, especially as impassioned youth who have so much at stake in preserving for ourselves a future of legitimate, inclusive democracy.
Almost immediately following the results of the election, a movement of support and a refusal to be silenced in our devastation began through social media on Penn’s campus. In conjunction with copious status updates and posts, a solidarity march was organized for the night following Election Day. In an environment as devastated as it was electric and defiant, we took to Walnut after organizing on College Green. In the midst of the pouring rain, walking by myself in a moment that will remain suspended in paralysis in my memory for as long as I can humanly imagine, I looked at the marchers beside me as the series of chants wore on, echoing back from the front of the thousands-long line in slight delay because of sheer distance. To my right, my friend held her girlfriend’s hand, walking in front of three students with linked arms; beside them, two apparent strangers sharing a poster reading “We will not back down.” To my left, then, silent in the midst of a shouting and profoundly driven crowd, I noticed an African-American professor who had spoken at the beginning of the protest about the salience of defiance and commitment to remaining involved, no matter how marginalized and rejected we felt. Yet now, with tears streaming down his face, I observed him, looking tired, sad, frustrated – shouting nothing, saying nothing, for it seemed there was nothing left to say, and found myself crying harder.
As the tears began to pour, I found a stranger putting her arm around me, consoling me wordlessly and nodding her head in affirmation. I held her hand, crying harder as the rain wore on, feeling a sense of comfort and solidarity despite not knowing her at all, and knowing I didn’t have to say anything either.
Yet, we know just how much there is left to say. We know that as tired as we are, as frustrated as we are by the further denial of the shattering of that final and so despairing glass ceiling and the continued oppression and neglect of so many marginalized communities in our country, inaction and acceptance of this outcome are antithetical to the very principles with which we all began this fight against Trump’s candidacy. Looking at the students, staff, and faculty assembled, I could only help but think that we are emboldened now and that we bear now, the responsibility to not mourn, but organize – for ourselves, for those we love, for those who inspire us, for that idyllic future and the vestiges of the American Dream we hope to preserve from the wreck of partisanship, polarization, and state of destruction of the spirit of compromise that we currently find ourselves in. We owe it to ourselves, after this tremendous loss, months and months of working tirelessly on senatorial, presidential, congressional, policy-oriented campaigns, to not waver. In truth, there is no time where our passion and political efficacy has been more crucial to the future of the United States – not even during the election. To give up, to be stagnant, to passively accept the reality we have arrived at is no course of political action and negates the passion and hope with which we entered this cycle – if we falter now, all will have truly been for nothing. Eight years of progressive presidency, replete with the beginning of universal American health care, the Supreme Court’s defense of same-sex marriage, movements towards greater entry of transgendered Americans to choose their own bathrooms – we have made tremendous progress. In fact, as Obama urged time and time again while campaigning for Hillary, “Progress is on the ballot.”
Progress remains in a vulnerable state – perhaps it has never been more at stake than it is in the present moment. However, we still have a lot left to fight for and a lot of hope left to fight with – and we will not and cannot back down, nor can we be silenced.