It’s November 9th, and the man so many of us have been having literal nightmares about for months will be the president of the US. It’s okay to be scared by that, to be grieving or disgusted and to feel helpless or fatalistic. It would be shocking not to feel that way. After we’ve all given ourselves time to feel that, however, we need to grieve and walk forward at the same time. There’s a lot of work to do.
Speaking very broadly, we’ll see at least these two things in the coming years. We’ll see a deeply racist, colonialist, misogynistic GOP have much greater freedom and power to create, block and enforce legislation after eight years of gridlock in Congress with a Democratic president. The legislation we’ve seen Republicans fighting for — blocking abortion access, anti-trans bathroom bills, “religious freedom” acts aimed at ostracizing LGBT people — will be much easier for them to make a reality. The violent colonialist agenda against Native people, like we’re seeing in Standing Rock, will be redoubled. I don’t know what will happen to education and healthcare specifically, but it is not likely to be good. The new appointee to the Supreme Court will be a huge loss to us; Trump has said he wants to choose someone “very much in the mold of Scalia.” It still isn’t easy or simple to overturn Supreme Court rulings like Roe v Wade or Obergefell, but it won’t be impossible, either.
The other thing we’ll see is outside the legislative halls: violence, from the white people all over the country — men and women, rich and poor, college-educated and not, religious and secular — who voted for this. They’re emboldened by the success of a white nationalist narrative, feeling reassured that it is, as prominent white nationalist Matthew Heimbach has said, “healthy, normal and organic.” We’ll see increased outbursts of violence at Muslims, Sikhs (who are often assumed to be Muslim), brown people and immigrants or those assumed to be immigrants, Black people, trans people, especially trans people of color. We’ll see a surge in anti-Semitism. We already see all of these things, but much like how hate crimes “soared by 41%” after the Brexit vote, they’ll skyrocket. The people in the US who are already unsafe will be even less safe.
All of that said, it would be absurd not to be sad and scared, but it’s not a time to be paralyzed. To be blunt: we can’t afford to wallow. I’m a white person, and am mostly addressing white people in this, as that’s who I can speak to. For some people in the US, white people, this feeling of terror and estrangement from your own country is new — even if you’re a woman or LGBT, you may not have felt like this before. For many people in the US, mostly Black, brown and indigenous people, there is nothing new about this. They have always been unsafe; they have always been targeted by their own government; they have always been dehumanized and subject to violence from their fellow citizens. This new era won’t be new, not really. The people who voted for this have been here all along. I say this not to make an argument that this isn’t a big deal, or that anyone who feels unprecedented horror is wrong or bad. I bring this up to say, when you look at the future and think how can we possibly go on, how can we possibly fight this, look to the groups who have been living in the world you were just recently inducted into for generations. When living under the constant threat of state violence, surveillance and oppression, how have Black and brown and Muslim and indigenous people gone on? How have they fought? It’s not a rhetorical question. Now more than ever is a time for white people to listen to people of color. We, white people, created this reality; it’s our job to change it and to keep people safe while we do. To do this, we need to look to the blueprints of resistance that people of color have already employed; not to usurp them or to center ourselves, but to learn how to do this. When you catch yourself thinking “We can’t live like this,” remember that both in the US and globally, many people already live like this, and have their whole lives. And organize to change it, sometimes at great personal risk.
It’s time to really study the civil rights movement and other liberation movements, not like you’re getting ready for a test but like you’re getting ready to help people survive. It’s time to donate time and money to organizations like BLM and other racial justice orgs, labor activism, reproductive justice orgs, disability rights orgs, climate change and environmental justice orgs, and movements for undocumented people. To go to the marches, the planning meetings for the marches, the vigils and benefits that no one else shows up to. We need to be more engaged, not less, in the political process than ever before, voting in every single local election for every selectman, city council member, sheriff and mayor. And for white people, I would argue that we need to resist the impulse to cut off and excommunicate those family members, friends and acquaintances who voted for him; not because of an ideal of empathy, but because if the country is going to change we need to change the people who wanted it to be this way. We have to keep talking to them, keep working to show them that the lives of others are more important than the narrative they’ve been sold. It isn’t fun, but lives depend upon it.
It’s heartbreaking to know that this is the country we live in — that this is the country we’ve lived in all along. But the fact that this is the country we’ve lived in all along and that we’re here to read this means that we’ve survived it so far, and that the tools to keep surviving in it are at our hands. If you’re feeling numb and not sure where to focus or what you can do, focus on this: it’s up to us now to get to work to change this into a country that couldn’t have made this vote, and where so many people’s goal isn’t just survival.