Growing up, my parents and grandmother would take my brother and me to our local polling place to vote. It was fairly common in our area, and the staffers of that poll were happy to see kids there. I remember the excitement of going behind the curtain, watching the little arms get pulled down, and the satisfying clunk that came with resetting the arm to register the vote and open the curtain. It was awesome, and something i couldn’t wait to do on my own one day.
I just missed the ability to vote in 2000. I watched as half of my friends got to register their votes for either Bush or Gore, and stayed up late to see the drama of the hanging chad, unable to have participated in it.
I voted in the 2002 midterm because I was excited to have the chance to. It was so unimpressive, I can’t even remember it.
In 2004, I drove back from Bloomington to vote. My first presidential election! I filled in my bubbles faithfully (someone took my mechanical machine – dream squashed), fed it to the scanner, took my sticker, and went to breakfast. After a drive back to Bloomington and a day full of classes, I watched as my vote, while counted, didn’t win. It sucked, but we made to 2008.
I left work early on a Tuesday in 2008, walked to a local school near my apartment building in Minneapolis, and cast my vote for the (soon to be) President Barack Obama. Finally, I won. I felt the hope associated with watching my guy actually get one. I believed in the change he could bring, as did most of America. I called my grandmother that night with nearly no words – for the first time in either of our lives, we were seeing a president who didn’t look like us. I know she wanted Hillary to win in 2008, but was happy that a democrat won.
2012 was uneventful by comparison. I still left work early, though that was because of polling hours and needing to ride a bus. I cast my ballot, watched a little news, and thought very little of it otherwise. Obama was pretty clearly going to win early in the evening.
And then yesterday happened.
I’ve talked to a lot of people today, and read even more on the Internet, and there seems to be a common theme amongst those I talk to.
Those older than me were reassuring – a woman can still be president, just not today. My younger female cousins can still break glass ceilings, they’re just a little higher than we thought. This isn’t the outcome *we* wanted, but we must go on. I think, so far, Obama put it best – “the sun came up.” It will do that again tomorrow, and in January, and in November, 2018, and November, 2020.
Those younger than me ranged from sad to confused to angry. It feels a lot like the stages of grieving, which is fair – something of theirs was lost yesterday. Something I think I lost a while ago with regards to politics, if i ever had it at all. I found myself telling them mostly what I was hearing from my elders. Life will go on, even if your horse didn’t win the race.
I spent most of the election in from to the TV, as many did, but I also spent a lot of it talking to my teenage cousin, a freshman in college. She grew up with similar experiences to me, in that we shared a grandmother who loved to watch the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC go back and forth about politics. She saw the same woman I grew up with, strong and independent, and a believer that we can have a woman president one day. Someone who agreed with the principles of the Democrats, and staunchly disagreed with those of the Republicans. Our grandmother was liberal by all definitions.
What my cousin also got was my grandmother’s fire at watching this spectacle on TV. I never understood it. I gave up on the notion of real journalism from cable news networks a long time ago – they’re a slave to ratings, not journalism – and I found that I only got more and more worked up by listening to them go on and on. My cousin doesn’t watch that religiously – she doesn’t even have a TV in her dorm – but she got the same fire when watching. If nothing else, I hope she learns to channel that fire as a result of the emotional journey she is on right now.
As we talked during the night, I saw something that broke my heart, something that made me think back to if I ever shared those feelings. She started the day early, coming up from Bloomington as I had to vote with her family. She proudly wore her “I Voted” sticker during the day as she went to class, optimistic that before bedtime, she’d be watching the acceptance speech of the first female president. She wasn’t familiar with the way the news reports during elections, calling Indiana and Kentucky first because of our early poll closing and nearly unbroken history of voting Republican. She watched as Trump’s numbers went up while Hillary’s stayed the same. We talked about how the news channels show the color even though they haven’t called the state, or how the state has smaller rural centers reporting first, and rural centers tend to vote more conservatively than urban ones, which coincidentally take longer to count and report. Or the fact that until about 8:30 or 9, it’s all speculative. She hadn’t seen the large bump California gives, and that it’s almost always Democrat.
I watched optimism go to confusion, to anger, and what I fear most, disillusionment. And it broke my heart.
First and most obviously, it broke my heart because someone I loved was watching her world change in ways she didn’t expect. There’s a common cliche that growing up is really just learning that imaginary friends and fairytales aren’t real, and instead you learn how the world works. It sucks to watch. The way she looks at the world today is not how she looked at it yesterday, and that viewpoint is hard, if not impossible to recover. It’s not to be confused with innocence or naivety either, It’s the reality of the shifting of power, and when most of your memories are of a liberal, progressive (an argument to make elsewhere) candidate, it’s hard to see the opposite take power, and even harder to realize that it’s the peaceful transition of power that makes America great.
It was also heartbreaking because I don’t remember when I got cold to this whole thing, and I had to stop and think about that. I think part of me has always been skeptical of politics, and I know I hate the game of politics, but those are different than being disillusioned by the process. I think I lost a lot of it when after his first 100 days, Obama had spent time trying to build bi-partisan peers and not using his Democrat-filled House and Senate to push through the changes he promised us. Rationally, I understand why – he was playing the longer game – but in the moment I couldn’t understand why he was holding a royal flush but not playing it. The gambling metaphor is apt, and didn’t pay off – now, eight years later, we’re stuck with a split congress who blocks Obama’s every move. It was worth a shot, I guess, and for a short time we had affordable health care.
Every candidate I voted for yesterday lost. Every ballot measure went in the opposite direction of what I selected. My ballot was cast but my voice goes silent. That feels terrible, but it’s also exactly how the system is supposed to work. What’s more, being a liberal voter in a conservative, midwestern state has taught me that most of the time, my votes don’t end up becoming representative of reality. I have as much say as my neighbor, and they as much as theirs. Yes, I am disappointed that Hillary lost the election, and I’m frustrated that my desires are unmet, but there are people out there who are thrilled. Folks who, in 2008 and 2012, felt *their* voices went unheard. For whatever reason, they’re against affordable health care for all. Forgetting that they come from immigrants themselves, they’re afraid of how our borders are handled. Maybe they are low information, maybe they’re paranoid, but they have a voice, same as me.
This feels like the hardest part for many, the realization and empathy that just because they feel a certain way, many don’t. We’ve constructed echo chambers made up of Facebook and Twitter where we surround ourselves with likeminded people who agree with what we agree with. We shut out dissenting opinions. Failing to understand how anyone can think like we do, we dismiss other viewpoints sometimes to the point of condescension. You can even see it on the cable news channels, who have abandoned the pursuit of journalism in favor of editorials, but attempting to hold on to the banner of journalism.
Then we wake up to find that the other side has done the same thing, but in droves. We took comfort in the echo that Hillary had this in the bag, that many news channels projected an over 300+ electoral vote landslide. It makes for a rude, painful awakening. And if this is the first time you see it, it’s heartbreaking.
So where do we go from here? I’ve decided that I’m going to do my best to focus my confusion and anger and frustration to be an agent of change. I don’t even know what that means yet, but I know that I need to seek out ways to make the world better, because no politician that I had hoped would do it for me is sitting in office right now, and even if they were, change is mine to make, not have made around me. There are donations to be made to groups like the ACLU who will fight for civil liberties, potentially in the face of a court that leans right, or Planned Parenthood, who strive constantly to ensure safe sexual and reproductive health is available for all. There are volunteer hours to log, helping those who need help, supporting people who are falling on hard times. There are voices who should be lifted up – specifically in this case, not mine, but voices who are about to need far more representation and support than this average white male will for the next four years. And those voices also more corporeal support, standing with them to ensure that they get to continue to enjoy the same free America that we have all come to love. Hillary’s campaign promise doesn’t have to end with campaign – America is great because America is good. We just have to try extra hard right now to be good.
Most importantly, we have to find what drove us so far apart and find ways to come back together. Partisan politics has become so polarizing that it’s akin to picking sides in dodgeball. We’re not Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians first, we’re Americans. I agree with most of what the Democrats value, but not all, and that’s great. We don’t have to pick sides because at the end of the day, we’re on the same side.