I worked election night for the first time yesterday, and needless to say it did not turn out how I thought it would. I keep staring into space numbly because I don’t know how to react to the frankly horrific results of the presidential election.
This is a hard loss to take. The United States just elected a president who has been accused of sexual assault by women now numbering in the double digits. Donald Trump is a serial liar, a known racist and Islamophobe, and he doesn’t seem to understand how economics and public policy work. The campaign even removed Trump’s access to his Twitter account, reportedly because he couldn’t be trusted to conduct himself appropriately. (His access has since been reinstated, so get ready for more 3 a.m. tweet-storms.) If he can’t handle being on Twitter, how is he supposed to handle being president? Not to mention the Ku Klux Klan supports a Trump presidency. Let me say that again, a little louder for those in the back: THE KKK, A WHITE SUPREMACIST ORGANIZATION, SUPPORTS A TRUMP PRESIDENCY. Even if the Trump campaign denounced the endorsement, you have to understand that the KKK supporting a candidate is never a good sign.
Thankfully, there are positive things about Election Day that have nothing to do with the Donald’s big win, including some results in Congressional elections that I as an Asian American woman can appreciate. Washington and California have elected Congress’ first two Indian American women, Kamala Harris and Pramila Jayapal. In an inspirational turn of events, Tammy Duckworth won a seat in the Senate over the incumbent Mark Kirk, who made a racist comment about Duckworth’s family during a debate. My home, the San Francisco Bay Area, elected all women and/or people of color to the U.S. Congress.
This is good progress, but there is much more to be done. To be honest, my life as long as I stay in my little liberal bubble in the Silicon Valley won’t change too much. My family has enough money that my access to medical care won’t be an issue, even if Trump’s administration completely overturns any advances in healthcare made in the past few years. I have a community of supportive people of color I can turn to if I’m feeling particularly bad about discrimination.
But I spent a few years in a completely different part of the country, and I know that this is not the case everywhere. My heart aches for those of us from traditionally marginalized groups living in areas populated by racists. We have definitive proof that they exist now. They’re all around us, from the owner of the pick-up truck parked next to me at the gym with a Trump sticker on their bumper to the lady with a cute dog at the park who says Trump tells it like it is. These people are implicitly and explicitly supporting white supremacy.
It may seem like all hope of positive change is gone. But there are still things we can do to take steps towards actually making America great. The government was originally created to carry out the will of the people. If you think about it, voting is actually the strongest tool we have to hold our representatives accountable. If we don’t elect them, politicians don’t have the power that comes with being in office. (Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, considering that lobbyists and people with money have a lot of sway over political proceedings. As my brother rightly pointed out, campaign finance is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But in its simplest form, our representative democracy is based on the decisions of the people we choose to represent us.)
Frankly, the president has power, but real change happens from the bottom up. How many people are properly informed about all those initiatives on the ballot? (California had 17 this time around.) Those propositions will likely have a far bigger impact on your day-to-day life than the presidential election will. Sure, you’ll have to see Trump’s stupid face on the news every day. But maybe less people will be sent to prison for non-violent drug offenses with the legalization of marijuana in California. Maybe plastic bags will be banned, and the environment will benefit. Maybe an initiative will be passed that forces officials to examine the possibility of working to overturn Citizens United. Politicians and lobbyists take advantage of our being largely uninformed and unmotivated to make it to the polls (or in my case, a mailbox) to sneakily pass complicatedly-worded initiatives that a majority of people might not actually support.
There are other concrete ways of helping your fellow Americans fight the good fight. Contribute to movements, such as by donating to Standing Rock activists fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and other important causes that have been overshadowed by the fanfare surrounding the presidential election. Write letters to your representatives. Volunteer your time to help marginalized communities.
The United States has its roots in federalism; states’ rights continue to be protected under the constitution. While this may have been a negative for Hillary Clinton last night, there are ways to work with the system to improve our country, state by state. If we start change from our smaller communities, we will be able to make a tangible difference. You may think I’m being ridiculously hopeful, but a belief that we can create a better future is what our country was founded on. I believe in America, and I hope you do too.
Image: Wikimedia Commons