It is Tuesday, November 8th, and I wake up at 5am like it’s Christmas. I won’t have a sip of coffee for another two and a half hours, but my mind is already buzzing. I put on some of my best clothes, an outfit that has been ready for this day almost as long as I have. A purple sweater–“the color of loyalty, constancy of purpose, and unswerving steadfastness to a cause”–drapes gently (perfectly) over a white blouse–“the emblem of purity, symbolizing the quality of our purpose.” The feeling of equal rights is in the air, and I am breathing deep.
I pull into the parking lot in the dark. Dawn has yet to beak over the eastern horizon, and there are still thirty minutes before the doors will open, but I get out of my car and wait outside. I am first in line at my polling place, and, though my breath hangs visible on the morning air, and the cold sinks deep into my bones, my spirit remains untouched. Democracy has never let me down. (I realize now this means I am lucky.)
My ballot number is 0002. Some old woman who lives in the building cut in front of me, and I let her, because I am not giving karma any fodder today. It takes me longer to vote than I expected. What if I forget how to read? I worry. What if my eyes get crossed and my markings are all shifted? What if I am overpowered by a brief and sudden urge to self-destruct? Working slowly, I use my finger to help me find the right bubble, and I fill it in until I think the paper might tear. Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton. I feed my paper to the scanner, and I wonder if the machine knows how much this matters to me. It beeps and boops and lights up unfazed. I think of the men in my life, and I wonder if they know.
Everyone at work was nervous, and, for maybe the first time in my entire life, I am not. As I settle in and prepare for a long night of election coverage, Donald Trump is already winning. I ignore Google’s 30-second updates and instead practice the face I will make when Hillary Clinton finishes the final stretch victorious. My friends begin to doubt, but my heart beats steadily on. I turn to jokes and inspiring quotes when times get tough, because I am sure I am only moments away from true and unparalleled elation. I look up and post pictures of Hillary Clinton in college to lift my spirits. I listen to her commencement speech on endless loop. Her voice rings out clear–unpracticed, but true: “Fear is always with us. We just don’t have time for it. Not now.” My heart swells with pride, and I realize in these moments that I love her. I love her for her nerd glasses and her intelligence. I love her for her courage and unwavering dedication. I love her, also, for those moments when society let her down–when the world required her to ditch those glasses and her last name, when she had to brush her hair and talk about furniture before anyone would listen to her ideas. I realize in these moments that I would fight for her–kicking, scratching, screaming–like I would fight for myself. I realize that, for me, there is no distinction now between her dreams and my own. There can be no other outcome. She. Will. Win.
It is Wednesday, November 9th, and I wake up at 5am like I do sometimes when my mind is a broken record of dis-ease. It has been only three hours since sleep took me away from disbelief against my will; yet, already, my newsfeed is ablaze. Already, I see men writing that this would never have happened if Bernie Sanders had won the nomination. I am tired, and what I hear, instead, is that this never would have happened if Hillary Clinton had been a man. I still have not successfully divorced her defeat from my own, and the fact that I started my period only deepens the disconnection I feel between myself and my male friends in this moment. It has only been three hours, but some of these friends are already picking candidates for 2020, as if this mind-numbing, blood-chilling outcome were so easily put behind us. Most of the women in my life are deadly silent.
What my friends don’t know is that, while they put her loss behind them, I am still wondering if Hillary Clinton is okay. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I need to know. Did she sleep? Did she cry? Will this always be the fate of strong women who dare to dream beyond their prescribed destinies? For a brief moment, I am reassured by an image of her, taking herself out for cannoli in big, purple sunglasses and a heavy scarf to disguise her all-too-recognizable face. “It’s okay, girl,” I tell Imaginary Hillary Clinton as she wonders whether or not she deserves the sweet treat. “You’ve earned it.”
The week moves on, but I do not. For two days straight, I am at work and offline until almost 10pm. As my friends type out their reactions, analyses, and predictions for the future, I try to come to terms with the election while learning the symptoms of child abuse. Between worrying about event attendance and laminating things like my life depends on it, I must reconcile what I know society thinks of me (young–lazy, female–emotional) with what I know to be true (young–energetic, female–driven). Hillary Clinton concedes as I am held hostage by the responsibilities of employment. I must set aside my heartache, keep my eyes off my phone. I chide myself for being selfish. It is the only way I can survive.
I learn how to start a fire with flint and steel, and I feel my spirits lifting with each strike of stone on metal. Flint is a beautiful, natural stone, ranging in color from rosy pink to obsidian. It is an entity sturdy enough to withstand time, hard enough to carve steel. When broken, flint becomes sharper.
Sparks fly as stone strikes metal. It is not long before one of them hits their mark, and, a few deep breaths later, my little pile of sticks is on fire. The flint in my hand remains in tact. The steel is one tiny piece smaller.
“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger,” wrote Audre Lorde in 1981. “Focused with precision, it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tension, nor the ability to smile and feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.”
As I breathe deep the smell of smoke and burning tinder, I realize that we are, all of us who suffer, made of flint.
Watching Hillary Clinton concede the election to Donald Trump, I am torn between a sense of pride and an overwhelming sadness. Looking out over her purple-clad shoulders, both her husband and her running mate are red-faced, on the verge of tears. She stands in contrast before the microphone, her spine straightened by necessity, her trademark smile stretched wide for the haters. I wonder what they would say if she cried like the men who stand behind her. (Emotional. Weak.) She speaks of faith in the U.S. Constitution and the dreams of little girls, and I wonder, now, if those two things will ever be reconciled.
In 1798, Charles Brockden Brown (perhaps America’s first feminist ally) wrote Alcuin, a short drama in which a male schoolteacher asks a woman whether or not she is a Federalist. She answers, in a prescient nod to the 21st Century: “Even the government of our own country, which is said to be the freest in the world, passes over women as if they were not…Law-makers thought as little of comprehending us in their code of liberty as if we were pigs or sheep. If they generously admit me into the class of existences, but affirm that I exist for no purpose but the convenience of the more dignified sex, that I cannot be entrusted with the government of myself: that to foresee, to deliberate and decide belongs to others, while all my duties resolve themselves into this precept, ‘listen and obey;’ it is not for me to smile at their tyranny, or receive as my gospel, a code built upon such atrocious maxims. No, I am not a Federalist.”
Hillary Clinton is a woman with over 30 years of experience in government, who has traveled the world, who hugs crying children and tells them they are brave, who has nerves of titanium. Donald Trump is a man with no political experience, who makes fun of other countries, who treats other people–especially women–like dirt, and who banishes crying children from his presence (which is ironic because he has the temperament of a baby with a full diaper). If the differences in experience and personality are clear, so, too, are the differences in gender. Now, more than ever, I am reminded that our government was forged exclusively by men, for men, and of men. Now, more than ever, I am reminded that, as Audre Lorde wrote almost two hundred years later: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
I am back on social media, but I cannot find a balance. On one hand, I reject the joke that a bunch of disappointed Americans will be assimilated into Canada or move to Europe when actual refugees have been largely denied this same welcome. Has your disappointment left you blind to your privilege? On the other hand, I reject the idea that I should peacefully accept election results that threaten the safety of myself and the safety of my friends. The more people tell me to swallow my anger in the name of democracy, the more I lash out. The onus of change does not rest on the backs of the marginalized. I am not responsible for your education, your actions. I wonder…is it my anger that you fear or the realization that it has been your heel on my chest?
These are questions I must wrestle with as well. I realize now that I cannot allow myself to sink back into the complacency of my white skin and financial stability. I must strive to remain present, no matter how difficult it becomes. Hillary Clinton may have conceded the election, but she did not concede the country. “Let us have faith in each other,” she said, her voice clear–pained, but true. “Let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”
Now, more than ever, we must be vigilant and engaged. We say that “love trumps hate,” but those words are meaningless if they are not accompanied by action. When was the last time I called or wrote to an elected official? (Kindergarten.) When was the last time I shared a meal with a homeless person? (One week ago.) When was the last time I joined in a religious celebration that was different from my own? (One year ago.) When was the last time I finished a book written by someone different from me? (Last night.) When was the last time I read the U.S. Constitution in its entirety? (Seven years ago.) The point is, we can all strive do better. And we all have to.
At this crucial moment in our country’s history, I am emboldened by a story I was told in Ireland. I had been enjoying a lovely evening stroll across Galway city with a cute boy when he suddenly stopped at a nondescript stone wall and instructed me to kick it. Now, kicking the wall at Salthill is a thing people do, but the Irish had a funny little habit of lying to me and then forgetting to tell me it was all a joke in the end. It is likely he was only testing the depth of my gullibility when he told me that the wall had once belonged to an Englishman’s estate. “It’s a symbol of British tyranny,” he said, affecting solemnity. “We Irish have been kicking it for centuries, chipping away at its foundation with every thrust.” As if to illustrate his point, the toe of my boot met a crack in the wall and a small piece of stone bounced down to the pavement.
Perhaps it is ironic that I am inspired by the image of a wall in an election season where the walls–physical, metaphorical, and potential–that divide us seem higher than ever. Sexism and racism continue to exist in the United States of America. Our president-elect may or may not bolster these walls, but we have the power to kick them down. Women in the 1800s, when confronting the evils of slavery, did not let their disenfranchisement stop their voices from being heard. Civil rights activists in the 1960s, with their lives on the line, did not allow threats of violence to silence their calls for equality. We do not “survive” a Trump presidency by sitting back and waiting for 2020. We “survive” the next four years by holding ourselves and our friends accountable for our actions (or lack of action). We “survive” by empowering ourselves and our friends to speak out. We “survive” by walking right up to those walls that seek to divide us and kicking like hell.