Notes from a post-election America

By Phylisa Wisdom
US 2016 election
Election night at Rockefeller Plaza. Marco Verch/Flickr

On November 8th, 1pm Eastern Standard Time, I was in a stranger’s Philadelphia living room. The front yard was full of rotting pumpkins and the air was crisp. A cat was purring on the couch in a dark wood panelled room filled with scarf-wearing strangers. It felt much more like November election season than in my home of Southern California, where the sun was still shining and folks were confident that all 55 of our electoral votes were going to Hillary Clinton. California is a safe Democratic state, and Pennsylvania (where Philadelphia is), is not. In this election it was a swing state, and ultimately its electoral votes went to Donald Trump.

After canvassing and making “get out the vote” calls for down-ballot elections in California, I hopped on a red eye at 8:30pm November 7th. I lived outside of the United States for the past two presidential elections and I wanted to be everywhere and do everything for this one. The stakes were too high.

In that living room in Philadelphia, the mood was jovial. Hillary Clinton was going to win … how could she not? President Obama said that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified candidate who has ever run. She is not the most liked Democratic candidate we’ve ever had by a long shot, but people would surely see that the alternative was too terrifying to vote for. As we now know, that was not to be.

While living in Australia and the UK, I had constant conversations about American politics with friends and strangers alike. Even in travels elsewhere, I was often struck by how much citizens of other countries understand our political system and know its leaders; not just their names, but their policy positions and scandals. I don’t think most Americans who have not lived in Australia understand just how sad so many of you are about the outcome of this election. We know that the world is watching, but not everyone knows that you are in deep mourning alongside us or that your own country is grappling with some of the same human rights issues.

Scenes from Philadelphia the day after the election. Credit: Phylisa Wisdom.

Scenes from Philadelphia the day after the election. Credit: Phylisa Wisdom.

I could analyse how and why this happened, but people much more qualified have done that for me. There is beautiful writing on how white supremacy is alive, well, and in desperate need of attention. For city-dwelling, tertiary educated voters, this has been a big wake up call: we probably do not understand middle and rural America like we thought we did. Maybe Clinton, as qualified as she is, wasn’t the right nominee; many voters deem her untrustworthy, rightly or wrongly (and probably in a way that’s extraordinarily sexist). Speaking of sexism, there were allegations of rape discussed in relation to both tickets, which is unprecedented and likely lowered the bar for how we expect candidates (Trump) to talk about women.

There has also been an explosion of think and advocacy pieces about how a Trump presidency would impact the lives of those in minority or systematically oppressed groups. Disabled Americans may face a significant roll back of many of the federal funding sources they rely on, like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Perhaps most alarming, suicide hotlines in general and those specifically created for queer and trans young people are experiencing a significant uptick in calls since the election. There have been reports of racist violence and vandalism all over the country, in higher numbers than usual and directly linked to this election (ie “Trump” written with a swastika in Philadelphia, where I am writing from).

With that said, there is one thing Australians who are concerned about a Trump presidency should keep in mind: some of the scariest aspects of a Trump/Pence administration would have been the case if any of the Republican candidates had been elected. Any of them would have nominated conservative judges to the Supreme Court; Roe vs Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that gave women the right to make healthcare decisions, including abortion, has been threatened every election since. Any of the candidates would have at least tried to repeal and replace Obamacare. Many are climate change deniers.

This is not to minimise fear of the most divisive, openly racist and sexist candidate we’ve seen in recent history. Having a figurehead who historically bragged about sexual assault and won anyway is terrifying and unusual. But the combination of Trump/Pence, open or opening Supreme Court seats, and a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate is the greatest concern, policy-wise. Congress has promised “swift action” on the Trump/Pence agenda, a stark contrast from the obstructionism President Obama has experienced. Some of the figures most threatening to human rights are those rank and file Republicans likely to be involved in the administration in unelected positions, like Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich.

Because the campaign discourse was so rife with personal attacks, we don’t actually know much about what will happen in this administration. We don’t even really know what to fear. The president-elect has released a plan for his first 100 days in office, and it reads like a tone-deaf, policy-blind wishlist. He’s spoken very little about how we will do some of these things, like putting all people who cross our borders illegally into our prisons for a mandatory minimum of two years. What we do know is that private prison stocks are soaring after the election, a horrifying omen.

We don’t actually know much about what will happen in this administration. We don’t even really know what to fear.

Thank you for caring about us right now, when so many of us have heavy and tender hearts. Either this election is personal and we’re genuinely afraid for our immigration status and health, or we’re grieving for a country we thought we knew. For many of us it’s a combination of the two.

Contrary to what this news may convey, we have thriving, vibrant, strong social justice communities in the USA. We are organising, and we are ready for this fight. We are working to get women and people of color into the pipeline and encouraging them to run for office. Secret Facebook groups, public advocacy groups, and the Democratic party are leveraging all of our resources to ensure that this never happens again. We are looking inward and will work relentlessly to prevent the gross human rights violations that may lay ahead. We will continue to strive for a more perfect union, as is written in the preamble to the constitution.

Many Australians want to know what you can do to help. Thank you. My first answer is this: do justice and human rights work in your own communities. If you want to support the work that is happening on the ground here, please consider donating to the following organisations and following their work:

Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

American Civil Liberties Union

HIAS (a refugee support organisation)

National Network of Abortion Funds

Southern Poverty Law Center

Dakota Access Pipeline Donation Fund

RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)

 

And here is a list of empowering “what next” articles, collected by Manrepeller.com:

Ann Friedman: Finish Your Ugly-Crying. Here’s What Comes Next.

The Mary Sue: What to Do If You’re Trans and Live in America Now

Anil Dash: Forget “Why?”, It’s Time to Get to Work

Nicole Silverberg: What Can I Do Right Now?

Huffington Post: If You’re Overwhelmed by the Election, Here’s What You Can Do Now

Jezebel: A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support

Bust: Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Will Surely Increase. Here’s How to Not be a Bystander

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