It’s been a hectic and confusing week. Donald Trump was elected the leader of my birth-nation. There is so much to unpack in that sentence.
I consider Trump’s campaign to have been a snapshot of much of what is wrong with this nation. It was a campaign of fear with a consistent underlining message that ‘other’ is to blame, that ‘other’ is our enemy. Yet, I didn’t vote against him. I didn’t vote at all. I desperately want to be proud of where I am from, but I’m not. I want to see my birth-nation be radically different, be radically better. And I don’t think the tools the status quo has given us to effect change—such as voting for president—will ever achieve what I desire. I realize many people will stop right here and dismiss everything I say. I realize how much those ideas have been pounded into our brains and that it’s hard for many people to acknowledge that there are serious strategic reasons for not voting. Whoever you vote for, you are voting for the system that put those candidates on the ballot, that gave those two people a chance to be the next president. It presents the illusion of choice, and diverts our focus. Whoever you vote for you are voting for a continuation of that status quo. Participation lends legitimacy and I have no desire to legitimize a system I see as broken; I have no desire to make the bad more palatable. I want a new system and completely different taste. I want to live in a world where we have as much power in our everyday life as we are told we do on election day. I want to live in a world where we take responsibility for our own actions and own future, and as much as possible I do live in that world in my personal life. But I digress.
Despite not voting and despite not liking Hillary Clinton very much either, Trump’s election has really struck me. I’m wondering why I feel so strongly about a result I made a conscious decision not to participate in.
It’s not political, its cultural. That better world I mentioned earlier is one where we each acknowledge our power and responsibility—rather than cede it to one person meant to rule over 300 million. For example, climate change. I believe it to be a very serious long-term problem so instead of waiting for legislation I think we all have a responsibility to act on our own. It’s easier than you think. Eat less meat. Don’t buy things you don’t need. And see, that’s a problem with empowering that status quo by choosing red or blue—it’s a false choice, both will champion consumerism. They may attack symptoms but won’t acknowledge the disease because they are part of it, they were given power by it. Trump is a particularly bad example of how we assign blame rather than accept responsibility. Things are not great…but it’s someone else’s fault. I’m not saying this is specific to Trump or Republicans, I think it’s system-wide. It’s white, it’s black. It’s blue, it’s red. It’s old, it’s young.
Tuesday night, after I went to bed with the knowledge of a Trump America, I had nightmares. On Wednesday I saw people crying over the results and I felt like crying too. In the evening I went to a protest. I seriously questioned the logic of protest as I don’t seek to change the result, I never did. Still I felt it important to show that the values of the president-elect do not represent me. I wanted to be counted among the dissenters. It was cold and raining, yet thousands came. We took the streets. We were defiant. We chanted things like ‘Immigrants welcome.’ And I felt good. Throughout the day multiple people reached out to me asking for advice how to get involved in activism or advice on leaving the country (which I did after Bush was reelected). Spontaneous protests broke out across the nation just the same as they did in New York. There was a silver lining. Maybe this election cycle could be a catalyst for a real mass movement, maybe it could show people that if they want change they should first look to themselves. Marching through the rain with thousands of others declaring our intention to live by a better value system was empowering. It made me more at peace with the situation.
I went to another protest last night (Saturday). It was smaller—though there was a bigger one earlier that I skipped—and it felt different. The crowd was very young and my guess is that most had never been to a protest before this week. It felt as much a rally for Hillary Clinton as anything else. We stuck to the sidewalk and many signs proclaimed that ‘we’ won the popular vote, or asked for the electoral college to be abolished. It reminded me of what I must have looked like when I was 19 years old and still believed all those high school civics lessons. A time when I voted for president, campaigned for the Green Party, wrote letters to my Congressmen and applied for permits to protest.
I had little enthusiasm for the polite protest and crossed the street to walk on the opposite sidewalk and observe from afar. Lots of people were taking pictures and nodding their heads in agreement. Almost everyone smiled when they saw it. ‘This is our system working,’ I imagine they thought. I would have been happier with a more militant protest, one that did not ask permission. Surely the spectators would have been less supportive of that. They too still believe those high schools civics lessons that tell us how great the system is and that there is a right way to dissent and a wrong way. What I wanted to see was the ‘wrong’ way. The ‘right’ way is to vote then ask permission to march around in circles with signs that champion a different facet of the same system. It made me utterly aware of how differently I view this all. I left the march when we arrived to Times Square. Tourists took photos while the remaining protesters filed into a barricaded island and held up their signs.
It’s been a confusing week that has really challenged me to examine my ideals and life choices. It’s an exercise I follow every four years though this election was when I most seriously attacked my own belief in not voting and it’s also the best example of why I don’t believe change will ever come from within this system. My first reaction on Wednesday was to write a short message and now, after much thought and reflection, I feel just the same.
I don’t believe we will ever create a better world via the ballot box. We can, however, create it in our own lives. We can be kind. We can love. We can value every single human. We can recognize our own privileges and work to improve our own faults. We can reject discrimination and hatred. We can care about the world, both natural and human, and take measures in our everyday life to show that. Our real power is not checking red or blue on a ballot someone else has written and power has approved, it is our everyday life.