Two weeks ago, I proudly marched into my local polling station, handed over my voter’s ballot — and then realized that I’d forgotten my government ID. … Thirty minutes later, having returned home to grab my passport (just in case my California ID didn’t fit the bill in Texas), I cast my ballot.
I began writing this post early on election day, optimistically. I wanted to write about how meaningful it was for me to be part of the electorate, especially at this point in time. Up until now, I’d largely taken for granted my right to vote in this country; I didn’t think twice when I turned eighteen and sent in my voter registration form. This year, however, the privilege felt indescribably important.
Moments after leaving the polling station, I called my mom and asked her if she considered herself an immigrant or refugee. “Refugee,” my mom responded matter-of-factly, without a moment’s hesitation. I barely held back tears. My parents had fled a war-torn country, faced immeasurable danger on the open seas, and struggled to establish themselves in a foreign land, so that their children could grow up in a safe, privileged, democratic nation. They persevered so that I could, in a devastatingly effortless fashion, walk across the street and punch a few buttons into a polling machine.
In the weeks leading up to the election, waves of emotion would spontaneously overcome me. What an honor to play my part in electing, in 2008, our first black president — and now our first female head of state. I will be able to look back and say that I helped, in my infinitesimally small way, move our nation towards progress. I can advocate for my people (women, people of color, immigrants) and for those I love from marginalized communities. Perhaps it was self-congratulatory and self-inflated, but I felt sincerely proud — not necessarily of myself, but of my family and my country (truly, my country) for empowering me, for making all of this possible.
Let’s be clear, though. Even if I felt positively about my heritage and my role in this democratic process, this was still a dirty, demoralizing race. It called into question many aspects of the political machine in DC and bred polarizing hatred in the constituency. On election night, having done my part, I was more than ready to disconnect and put this whole ugly mess behind me. I ran a bath, put on calming music, and was all set to decompress — when my phone started going off with distressed texts. I was taken aback by what my friends were saying, but tried to put it out of my mind as I soaked. There was always the West Coast, right?
As we know by now, things never got better.
Later that night, I laid limp in bed; in the morning, I woke up and felt, for the first time, that I was living in a nightmare. I walked to work and looked at all the strange, blurred faces on the street. I wondered: who had voted against the rights of my loved ones? who didn’t consider themselves a racist or misogynist, yet put a cruel man in the Oval Office? who had prioritized their pocketbooks or prayers over their sense of humanity? I felt traumatized, as though my personhood, my legitimate membership in this society, had been directly attacked.
(I’ve thought a lot about writing about my ideology. I can try to feign political neutrality, but it’d be almost insulting to one’s intelligence: I am too much a bleeding heart liberal. I never mean to be offensive or accusatory, but I’d be doing myself a disservice if I was dishonest about my beliefs. I want to be diplomatic without being disingenuous. People much less emotional than me were also powerfully moved by this election. So much was at stake.)
Incredibly, life has gone on. I went to class, sobbing while watching Hillary’s concession speech with my beloved professors and classmates. I conducted research, commiserating with interviewees before starting the session. I went to parties, donating money to nonprofits in honor of the birthday hosts. In short: I’ve talked this election to death, taken action, grieved and processed it the best I could. And now, I memorialize this moment in time — so pivotal in my life and others’ — so that I can make sense of, and make peace with, it.
Finally: I don’t think I’ll ever regain that sense of pride and patriotism (and naivete?) I felt on election day… but I do take some comfort in knowing that I have my community. Now, more than ever, I am so grateful to be surrounded by like-minded, compassionate, and radically fierce people. This Thanksgiving, I do give thanks.