Election 2016: Turning Hopelessness into Action

“I was absolutely devastated. I went into election night with a full heart and high spirits – I was convinced that America would turn away from the bigoted and hateful ideals promoted by the opposing candidate.”

Janey Elliott, a student at Belmont University, describes a feeling known all too well as election results poured in.

“I felt so defeated . . . like my entire country had let me down. The next morning I had a 9 a.m. class, and it was the most somber class I’ve ever been in. Even my teacher could barely teach. It’s hard to describe how I felt that morning, because I honestly had never felt that way before. It was as if I was completely empty and devoid of any emotion whatsoever.”

Many have stories similar to Elliott’s. Excitement and hope followed by disappointment and numbness. We woke up on November 9th to an America that proved our worst fears, an America that chose hate over love. The sun rose and time ticked, but the day progressed without those most heartbroken, leaving them frozen in a whirlwind of fear. Deidre Schardine, a student at American University, gives an account of her experience that day.

“. . . we left the conference room and went straight to the TVs as Hillary was giving her concession speech. We crowded around and all of the women in my class started to cry as she talked about how proud she was to be our champion through all of this, and how she just couldn’t yet break that highest glass ceiling.”

“A mentor of mine called me as I was getting on the train and said, ‘Where are you? Are you safe?’ People were rioting and burning the flag near my campus,” Schardine continued. “I later asked if she remembered a time when so many people were upset about an election, and she said she had never seen anything like this. She’s 59. I think that about sums up Wednesday morning.”

As the day wore on, I could not help but feel intense resentment for those who voted for this hatred. How could they want such a bigoted man in office? Is it because they themselves are equally racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic? Or, is it because they ignored social issues in order to vote fiscally conservative?

Throughout the election, I made excuses for my friends and family members that supported Trump and other Republicans running for office. But, at this point in time, I could not fathom the idea that someone I loved could ignore human rights for their personal fiscal agenda. If the election had gone in the opposite direction, those fiscal conservatives wouldn’t be in fear of their livelihood in the way that so many minorities are feeling now. Speaking with Madelyn Henke, a student at Oberlin College, I realized that in my fear, I was not alone.

“With Republicans in power, I’m afraid of losing my rights, and I’m afraid on behalf of my friends who have much more to lose than I, as a white woman, do. I feel like rather than worrying about the changes I was looking forward to never coming to fruition, I keep freaking out about all the positive change we’ve accomplished in the last eight years being erased.”

Bailey Skidmore, a student at Purdue University, put into words how dangerous it is to have someone so oppressive in the highest public office for the morality of future America.

“More than anything, I fear the justification of racist, misogynistic, islamophobic, and other oppressive beliefs. The President may not have legislative power, but he does have the power to influence people, especially the children who will grow up knowing him as their president.”

Kelsey Frustere, a fellow OSU student, expressed similar concerns for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I felt helpless because I knew that Mike Pence was completely against gay rights and has no compassion towards them and their rights. I felt helpless because I am gay and I no longer feel safe in the country where I live. I hate to see my friends and loved ones face discrimination for being the way they are, whether they’re trans, gay, a person of color, or a combination. It is important to me that they get to live the fullest and most equal lives to everyone else in this country.”

“I want to be able to have the same rights as cis, white, heterosexual men in this country, but it’s hard for people who are not being marginalized to see that the system is working against us,” explained Frustere. “It is important for the voices of minorities to be heard because it is hard to see oppression when you are not the one being oppressed. It is hard to explain to privileged groups the hardships you face because they cannot comprehend someone being treated unfairly by the system.”

This claim reminded me of a statement made by Martin Luther King Jr in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” This is why we must not back down in the face of Trump, his administration, and the prejudice it represents. Our sadness and anger can be transformed into motivation and organization. Skidmore explained why she will use these four years to be more politically active than ever before.

“Some of the most widespread bonds come from unifying against a common enemy. Grassroots legislation initiatives tend to do better against a hostile White House. And if worse comes to worst, the nation will get so tired of the boys’ game in the White House that four years from now we will be begging for a change.

“The most important thing I hope Americans learn from this election is not to be complacent,” stated Skidmore. “We all have a voice, but we need to raise our voices together to have the strongest impact.”

Another student at OSU expresses her main concern: Divisiveness.

“What upsets me most about the election is the amount of absolute division it seems to be causing within not only us as Americans, but, more importantly, us as human beings.”

This student’s words rang deep within me. As we are fighting for equality and justice, Trump’s words create a political atmosphere that only allows for two sets of opinions. To achieve what we so desperately need in America, we must not dehumanize those who do not understand the effects of Trump’s ideology on human rights. Instead, we must educate those who are open to it, and explain to them why a left-leaning platform is so important. Elliott recounted the unity this election has brought to Belmont University.

“Being at a Christian school, I have heard of numerous prayer circles happening, praying for our country to try and fight hate with love. I hope that America grows into a place where all genders, races, religions, and sexual orientations can stand side by side and fight for important things together, as one. If there’s anything positive at all, it’s that there is clear evidence that racism and misogyny are very much alive in our country today. Now, we must figure out how to fight it.”

Schardine described her thoughts on using education as a platform for creating this change.

“I think it’s a call to all of us students, marginalized people, and allies to step up their game and get more involved on a local level and to educate others about the social issues.”

Our status as students allows us to both learn about social and economic issues and develop and vocalize our opinions. Staying informed with the media can expand our understanding of current events and prepare us for a future in fighting the oppression we reject. It is not enough to express discontent with such issues, but organizing and taking action can ensure this political chaos will never happen again.

As a student myself, I am far from having all the answers. However, I know that channeling my passion into productiveness will bring about the change we demand. Although prejudice appears to prevail, our voices cannot be silenced. We will triumph.

And, as Henke so eloquently stated,

“Love still trumps hate.”

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-Samantha Turk

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