"Tens of thousands of people flood the streets, there are screams and church bells ringing, and as our fallen foes retreat, I hear the drinking song they're singing - the world turned upside down." - Hamilton
Four years ago, on the morning of November 9th, one of my closest friends picked me up at my apartment for our morning English class. When I climbed into his car, we looked at each other for a few moments, then leaned into a hug and cried against each other's shoulders.
We weren't crying because our preferred candidate lost the 2016 US presidential election. We were crying because we knew that the next four years would be a living hell.
Did we know exactly what would take place between then and now - children in cages, forced sterilizations at the US border, the strategic undermining of long-standing democratic institutions, the gutting of the Affordable Care Act and legal protections for LGBTQ+ folks, secret police attacking and unlawfully detaining peaceful protestors pushing back against police brutality, devastating rollbacks on environmental protections, the unconstitutional appointment of an anti-choice homophobic religious zealot to the Supreme Court, a would-be dictator who cozied up to autocrats and unhinged conspiracy theorists, and a proto-facist administration whose abject failure at handling a global pandemic would result in over 230,000 Americans dead from COVID-19? No. But we knew that whatever came next would not be good, and that the next four years would be all about surivival.
This past Saturday evening, as my partner and I watched Biden and Harris's victory speeches with tears streaming down our faces, I texted my friend to tell him that I was crying again, only this time my tears were of joy and relief.
I feel like I - and the entire United States - just got paroled.
2020 has dealt us blow after blow, heartbreak after heartbreak, loss after loss. But this week, we finally got a victory. This week, democracy lives to see another day. This moment is OURS - women, LGBTQ+ folks, BlPOC, immigrants, disabled folks, and everyone else who has spent the last four years waiting for the next punch to the gut.
I have made it a priority to vote in every single election - presidential, state, and local - since I turned eighteen, but this one was different. I, and so many others I know, had our very lives and livlihoods riding on the outcome, not to mention the foundation of American democracy. On October 13th - the first day of early voting in Texas - I dropped off 30 letters addressed to registered voters across the state, plus a few in Florida, lovingly urging them to vote. Then I headed to the nearest polling site. I stood for over an hour in a line that circled almost the entire circumference of the building, in the Texas sun, with my back brace and a bottle of water and the Hamilton soundtrack to get me through, to cast my vote for Biden-Harris and the rest of the Democratic ticket. On Election Day, I worked the polls myself. We logged just under 500 voters at my polling spot, and I myself printed ballots for 148 of those voters. I fell into bed exhausted that night, and woke up on Wednesday morning with sweat-soaked pajamas and blankets. I was physically unable to eat a proper meal for 48 hours, and even now, my jaw and shoulders are still sore from all the tension. And every bit of it was worth it to wake up on Saturday morning to the news that Joe Biden will be our next president.
It feels as if I've been held under water for the last four years, and now I've finally come up for air. I am thrilled that Trump has been dealt a humiliating defeat, I am excited for what the Biden-Harris administration has to offer, and I am envigorated to continue working on the ground level to create long-term systems of community care that will carry us forward into a new world based on cooperation, justice, and love for people and the planet. For the first time in a very long time, I am feeling cheerfully optimistic about the future.
But I am not naive enough to think that the work is over just because Trump is leaving office. Reflecting on the fact that white Americans voted for Trump at essentially the same rate as they did in 2016 makes my heart drop to my feet. What's even more disturbing to me is that 55% of white women who voted in this election cast their vote for a racist misogynist. (I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on this, which I will write about in greater detail another time.) The white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, xenophobia, online radicalization, and corporate interests who created Trump and backed him are still here, and they aren't going away any time soon. Biden's victory - which is the DIRECT RESULT of tireless organizing, advocacy, and community building by Black and indigenous communities across the US to combat voter suppression, lest we forget - is a huge win for so many of us, but it is only one stop on the long road ahead to collective liberation where liberty and justice truly exist for all.
So, where do we go from here?
While I am excited for the Biden-Harris administration (and, like many, escatic to see a woman of color and daughter of immigrants make history as the first female Vice President) the truth is that the President is never going to save us: no matter how kind or well-intentioned or dedicated to public service they may be, they still hold the highest political office in a country that was built on the displacement and genocide of indigenous people, the enslavement of Black people, and the exploited labor of women, disabled folks, and the working class - and our political and economic systems are, unfortunately, the result of those historical inustices, despite the lofty ideals of liberty and justice that the founders of the US promised but never realized. We, the people, must create the change this land so desperately needs ourselves. We do this by voting in elected officials who are the most amenable to our goals and by organizing at the grassroots level to build strong communities and create sustainable long-term changes that will lay a strong foundation for a new, better society over time. This work is just as critical - actually, I would argue even more critical - now that Trump is leaving office. He may be dragging his knuckles back to Mar-a-Largo in defeat, but Trumpism will be with us for years to come. Next time, it will very likely be a younger, smarter, more palatable and smooth-talking fascist who tries to grab power. Now is the time for us to lay the groundwork of a strong social fabric to ensure that doesn't happen, that we never have a repeat of this nightmarish joke of an administration.
How do we lay that groundwork? We start with ourselves. Many people (read: white liberals) were painfully awakened to the stark reality of systemic racism for the first time in their lives during Trump's administration. While this realization is a good thing, it is unfortunately true that too many will fall back into sleepy complacency now that Trump is out of power, not realizing the Trump was merely the symptom of a much bigger, more complex problem that stretches back to the very beginnings of America. Those of us who are truly committed to racial justice must continue to examine ourselves for unconcious bias and the ways we knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate white supremacy, partriarchy, ableism, xenophobia, body shaming, and other forms of systemic oppression. This is not optional - it is mandatory. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez so eloquently put it, "We're not going back to brunch. Brunch is over."
We also continue to have hard conversations with our families, friends, and the social spaces we occupy. Racism will not magically disappear now that Biden is president and we have a Black-South Asian woman for a VP anymore than it disappeared when Barack Obama was elected to the White House. Yes, these conversations will be uncomfortable, but that is the very nature of the work. Just as a marathon runner pushes past discomfort in order to improve muscle tone and endurance, we have to be willing to sit with and push past the discomfort that comes with examining and interrogating racism in ourselves and the people we love in order to grow and evolve as people, to let go of our dedication to whiteness and its imagined supremacy so that our BIPOC friends, neighbors, and family members can live in safety and dignity.
We must show up to every election - midterm and primary, national, state, and local - with the same numbers and energy we brought to this one. Americans are notorious for low voter turnout, but if this election taught us anything, it's that every vote truly does matter. What's more, many people don't realize that state and local elections are in some ways even more important, as those who are elected into power at the state and local level create policy with immediate impact on our communities and neighborhoods. (These are also the elections where your vote has the most direct impact!)
We build strong communities by practicing mutual aid. By supporting small businesses and creators (especially Black, indigenous, immigrant, Queer, trans, poor, and disabled folks) over large corporations as much as possible. By holding our elected officials accountable for the promises they make and actions they take via phone calls, emails, letters, and social media. By getting to know our neighbors and getting trained in bystander intervention so that we build community saftey nets that are not reliant on the police. By paying reparations to Black and indigenous folks when we can, and being good stewards of the land, air, and water where we live. And by letting a sense of justice, love, and purpose guide us in the way we live our daily lives, understanding that we can and will make mistakes and being willing to eff up anyway.
We just won a huge battle, but the war isn't done. But I have faith that permanent change is just over the horizon. And we can get there if we stand strong together.
Here are some immediate action items you can do today to start moving forward and stay energized for change:
With all of the stress I've been feeling over the election, along with some things going on in my
personal life, October was a bit of a slow month for me as far as writing and creating goes. But, I did manage to publish a piece on Medium about why it's very difficult to be a woman who has chosen to be child-free in a world that fetishizes motherhood, which you can read here.
I also published two new articles to the Work & Bipolar or Depression blog at HealthyPlace: Working Well with Bipolar as the Seasons Change and Creating a Comfortable Work Environment with Bipolar. I know I'm not the only one who has been struggling to maintain my mental health over the last few weeks (aw, hell, over the last eleven MONTHS), and I hope if you're struggling with bipolar or depression right now, you'll find some affirmation here.
I'm also excited to announce that I had an essay/narrative poem about my experience growing up and coming out as bisexual published in The Medusa Project! This is a feminist anthology created by the talented team at Mookychick, my favorite online magazine, and its available to download and read for free. My piece is "[Choosing] Bisexuality [is (not) a choice]" and can be found on page 65. Check it out, along with some other amazing pieces by stunningly talented writers and artists here!
And finally, Issue 3 of Crown & Pen went live on Halloween Night, and I do believe that it's our best issue yet! It includes a spooky magical realist short story from me, and some poems and narrative essay on Día de los Muertos from my co-founder/editor, Ashton. There's also a retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf written from the lens of mental illness, and an interview with two of our favorite Austin-based artists about navigating life as an artist during the era of COVID-19 - along with several other surprises! We're also changing up our focus from a strictly pandemic-related zine to a zine that deals with the taboos and uncomfortable topics of every day life, with tentative plans to grow into a small publishing press in the near future. Our little zine is growing fast, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here!
That's all I've got for now, folks. Take a big, deep breath - we made it through this stretch. And we'll make it through the next and next, together.
Upward and onward!