On July 29, 2016, I came into work and planned to procrastinate in the morning by watching some of the speeches from the last day of the Democratic National Convention the night before. I hadn’t been watching any of it live – I just hadn’t felt like I had the time, and I was fine catching up later; I got all the best parts on Twitter anyway. I got to YouTube and decided to start with a short speech that I had heard mentioned quite a bit the night before, by Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim-American soldier who had lost his life in the service of his country.
I didn’t expect such a reaction to a six-minute video.
The reality of the election hadn’t fully hit me until then. I had been following it closely – right up to the line of obsessively – since the previous summer when the candidates were just starting to announce, but it had been more of a hobby. I am an unabashed political junkie, and I loved knowing all the stupid little details of every little campaign maneuver made by the almost two dozen candidates. But it hadn’t felt quite real yet. Watching that speech, I teared up, which at 9:30 in the morning puzzled the other interns at my desk a little bit. I realized that at that point, one of the two people that would be our next president had watched the same speech that had just gut-punched me, and wanted that man not to exist in our country. One of our candidates, in the United States of America, wanted to prevent people like Mr. Khan and his son to have never been considered Americans at all – didn’t consider them Americans in the first place. Right after that, I watched Secretary Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, and I realized that my vote wasn’t enough.
I figured it was too late to really do much for her campaign, but I signed up to volunteer one of the days that I would be back at school in Pennsylvania. At the very least, I could hand out some voter registration forms to some of my friends. About two weeks later, I was heading to an interview with a West Philadelphia organizer for a position as a Fall Fellow for the campaign, working in the city’s 60th ward. I signed up for 15 hours a week with my organizer, just helping out with whatever was needed.
By mid-October, I was working more like 35 hours, helping run one of the West Philly offices during our Get Out the Vote weekends. I would work on Fridays preparing, and then come in Saturdays and Sundays from 8 AM to (usually) 11 PM coordinating hundreds of volunteers knocking on thousands of doors across the city. I worked really, really hard. We all did. And it was great – we had a team full of extremely motivated, extremely capable people, many of whom were volunteers like me, who all shared the same purpose. It was one of the few times when I’ve truly felt like I was making a difference for more than myself with something I was doing. Every time a friend of mine would ask why I was killing myself on weekends for a job that wasn’t even paid, I thought about how I felt when I was at the office, even just counting out packets of literature for our volunteers to hand out. (It felt great). I always thought I was a pretty hard worker when I was working on something I cared about, and I worked like hell when I was there.
And it wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t enough to elect one of the hardest-working, most experienced candidates for the office of president that our country has ever seen. It wasn’t enough to elect the candidate that fought her whole life to make the world a better place, even when people hated her and tried to ruin her. It wasn’t enough to stop the candidate that demonized entire races, bragged about assaulting and demeaning women his whole life, that built a career on tearing down anyone who opposed him.
It wasn’t enough to protect my female friends from seeing every perpetrator, every catcaller, every rapist embodied in a candidate that just got elected to the highest office in the nation.
It wasn’t enough to show them that we as a country value their bodies as more than objects.
It wasn’t enough to show my black and brown friends that yes, their lives do matter; and yes, they do belong here in this country.
It wasn’t enough to prove to them that they are full participants in America and that they have a right to an America that treats them so.
It wasn’t enough to show my LGBT friends that they are valued citizens who don’t deserve to be erased.
It wasn’t enough to protect a large swath of our country from four years of fear of what could be done to them next.
It wasn’t enough to move our country forward.
I tried to do my part, and it wasn’t enough.
I’ve been blessed with more than I can fathom in my life, and I don’t feel like I’ve failed at much in life. I’d like to think that I did my best working for this campaign, but that makes me feel even worse when my best wasn’t enough to prevent failure. I really felt like I was doing something over the last three months, I did. But I have truly never felt so much like a failure before.
I’m generally an optimistic (if sometimes cynical) person. I believe in America and in our political system, maybe to a fault. I believe that we will eventually begin to move our country in the right direction. I believe that we can all do our part to make this nation better, even if only in incremental steps. I’m usually proud of my country, and I believe that no matter how many times I will look at the news and feel disgusted, there will always be things about my country that make me feel proud again. I really do believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I usually believe all these things, and I believe that I will believe them again.
But today doesn’t feel like an optimistic day. I’m sorry to everyone who will be affected by this so much more than I will. I’d like to say that we can keep working to fix things, but today all I have is, I’m sorry it wasn’t enough.