I awake at 4:00 am on November 9, 2016. I am leaving for a conference in Boston this morning, so the early hour is expected. I went to bed early, turning off the election coverage long before it was called. I had planned to stay up and watch the numbers roll in, but as I sat on my couch alone, insides roiling--
"Baby. I can't sleep. I think I'm having a panic attack."
My fiancée of less than a week was already in bed, too nervous to watch the results with me. I turned off the television and rushed upstairs to comfort her. It would all be fine, I said. Of course she would win, and we would be safe. We would get married in 2017 and live under the first woman president. Eventually, we both fell asleep.
Cut to 4:00 am on Wednesday: my panic attack. I shiver in bed, squinting at my phone as I read headline after headline in the dark. There is no hope, no room for a recall, and just one question:
How do I tell her?
I rest my head on her side and listen to her breathing. My confidence lulled her to sleep; I promised she would awake in a world that made sense. I wait for her to stir and open her eyes, and then I whisper: she lost. I cry at last, the effort of making it all seem okay buckling under the sound of my own voice.
I leave for the conference, brimming with grief and guilt for leaving her to process the news alone.
The first day passes in a fog (except the most-necessary keynote from Ta-Nehisi Coates, which many white attendees walked out on). I am on the verge of tears at any mention of the election. Then the reports of hate crimes and harassment in schools and the streets begin. I subsist on anger in these early days: anger at Trump supporters, anger at the apathetic, anger at those who tried to paper over what had happened and write it off as just another election. By Friday, I am emotionally and physically exhausted from rage.
* * *
In the weeks that followed, I hoped to find solace in my online communities: secret havens for progressive women that popped up on Facebook during the election. I looked for sanctuary there, a place where ideas might be exchanged without the WELL, ACTUALLY of straight, white guys with no skin in this game. What I found was something different altogether.
I found us in pieces. I found us confused about plans for marches and protests, arguing in circles about minutiae and policing each other to the point where no generative discussions were possible. One (white, straight) woman told me I had "no place" talking on a thread, because I was using my being a lesbian as a means to dismiss and talk over women of color...when the original poster had encouraged insight from the LGBTQ community. Women railed against the safety pin, saying "it isn't enough" and "what ELSE are you doing?"
Girl, it's been five days.
The Internet moves infinitely more quickly than human emotion. I still feel shell-shocked and am amazed that anyone has had the wherewithal to churn out as many think pieces as there have been. I ran into a colleague, a woman of color, who said she felt like she had the day after 9/11: a sentiment I've seen echoed across the Internet. There is genuine fear rising in millions, as violence erupts and the worst of us is revealed. That's a hell of a lot to process in under a week.
We have an incredible amount of work to do between now and the midterm elections. But people are still in survival mode, mourning this loss and fearing for their safety, all while trying to resume daily life. Outrage is fun for a while, but we can't live on outrage alone. And eating ourselves alive while we're grieving isn't going to bring anything to fruition but greater division.
So. Here are some tips to bring us back together so this sort of thing never, ever (ever, ever, ever) happens again.
- Let the safety pin go. It's a symbolic gesture: a first step for new allies, many of whom have never had to put their own life or safety on the line to defend themselves or others. Give them a break as they find their space in activism, or we may lose them altogether, and reinforce the importance of it being the first step, and not the only step.
- Be gentle in your criticism in like-minded spaces. We are all losing our shit right now, defending ourselves and looking for others to blame for this happening. Lean on one another.
- Be gentle in your criticism in spaces where you are outnumbered. If I've learned anything in the last five days, it's that no one takes kindly to being labeled or shamed for their beliefs. Stand your ground, but be clear and compassionate.
- Curate and slow down your news. Resist the urge to pass along a headline that validates your point of view without vetting the source first. There is far too much baseless "outrage porn" clogging up our feeds. Be wary of "breaking news," even from a reliable source. Try investigative journalism like the New York Times and the Washington Post and independent news like Democracy Now! and The Young Turks. You might not hear the stuff that makes you feel good all the time, but it'll be closer to the truth, and that's what we need right now.
- Get involved. Donate money, time, and skills to organizations that might be hit hardest by this craziness. Here's a comprehensive list of places that need our help.
That's about all I've got. Take care of yourselves and each other, because if we progressives don't, who will?