In times like these, I have to write to understand my thoughts. It’s November, and I have been biking in the rain. In the last few days that journey through the gray is the only thing that makes sense. I’m cold, but also hot from the exertion. My thighs are burning, the air smells of leaves. The river is low and there is a flock of swans that lord over the bike path. The sensations don’t quite add up.
I haven’t been able to eat since I heard the news. The only food that appeals is carrots. It’s the same feeling as grief, a pain in the stomach, the mind floating out of the body and not even observing anything. And I am alone in Germany. I am not in America where I can see it in the faces of my fellow citizens. I call my colleagues in Berlin, France, the UK, South Africa, and I am afraid of what they will say, but it is ok. “Populism is coming everywhere” they say. “I am sorry” they say. And I am sorry is the right thing to say. Because it is a loss.
And now that I have had two days in a fog of depression, I am peering out of the fog and trying to hold up my feelings and examine them. What have we lost? And I realize this process of asking, of holding it all up into the light, is something I have been taught my entire life. I was raised in the liberal city of Seattle attending a Unitarian church that valued free thinking and the individual search for truth and meaning– and then offered the sanctuary for hosting training in non violent direct action training for the WTO protests. I was taught in diverse public schools and then I went to the Johnston Center at the University of Redlands, a small liberal arts college, where I designed my own major and was free to explore my creativity and grow as a writer and global citizen. In my first jobs with the Franciscans and the ELCA at the United Nations in New York, I learned about the profound history of churches in social action and the role that faith communities play in development and human rights of all people around the world. I walked the streets of New York City, met youth organizers from around the world, including my husband who is from Venezuela. I was fortunate to be a young professional in an organization that cared about my own personal development and growth, and gave me freedom to find my niche making an impact in international development. Then I moved to Germany, to follow my husband who is working at the UN Climate Change Convention. I have two children that are bi-cultural and speak three languages. In my free time, I read global writers and listen to music in different languages. In my career as an executive search consultant for NGOs, I talk to people from all over the world on a daily basis, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what defines leadership for social change. In Germany, I have learned what it means to be an outsider, and to sit in a place where I can look at America from a distance.
So it is not that it is Trump. It is that every step of my life is at odds with what this campaign stood for. And as I hold it up in the light, it makes me realize just how fortunate I am to have grown up in this space and how grateful I am to my many mentors and teachers. And that my choices, which have not necessarily felt intentional, reflect a solid set of values that at this time I will now return too. After she conceded, Wolf Blitzer said, “Hilary has her faith, she will go back to that.” He was so confident, I wanted to scoff. But at times like these, our only choice is to go back to our values. I can go back to social justice teachings, to poetry, to songs, to looking at my own choices in the life I want to live. I want to bike. I do not want to buy a lot of fancy things. I want to have quality time with my children and instill in them the same sense of wonder for the world I have. I want to do work that is challenging and that makes the world a better place. I want to celebrate the richness of artists and writers from many backgrounds. This history and amazing cultural wealth is what makes me proud to be an American.
The night before I the results, I was watching what was the morning news and was buoyed by the energy from the Democratic party. They were already celebrating. I was surprised, they were so secure in their knowledge of what would happen, but it was infectious and it moved me more than I expected. I put my little girls to bed with tears in my eyes, thinking they would grow up in a world where a female president is normal. I set my alarm for 6am to check the results and then could not believe what I read. I called my Mother and used the F word.
The next day I watched Hilary’s concession speech and then Obama’s, with tears streaming down my face as my girls pranced around the living room in tutus, unaware. In the stages of grief, I was solid into depression and denial. I could not work. A candidate waited in Sudan for my call which never came. The next day, my colleagues told me it was time to move on and accept the results. That now was the time to be nice to each other. Bullshit.
That night I went out drinking. Stephen Colbert recommended it as a coping strategy and I would have to agree. Alcohol helped me to let go of depression and grab onto anger. I still cannot accept the results. Hilary won the popular vote. Every major city in the country -the drivers of innovation and economic growth- voted against Trump. I cannot accept this. But now just maybe I can move from depression, to anger, to action. And it is not, oh, let’s look on the bright side. No. Let’s look at what we have. We have all the institutions that have come together throughout my entire my life to make me who I am — churches, schools, communities, non profits. We have three hundred years of history of brave leaders and cultural giants. We have new organizing power: through targeting corporations, through swaying public opinion and bringing on bad press. We have people who have mobilized this past year in new ways to stop the Keystone Pipeline and for Black Lives Matter. In recent years, these movements have been quietly investing in young leaders and new organizing techniques and there is a hell of a lot of ground work already laid. States like California, New York, and Washington can set their own terms and craft progressive legislation. We have people in the streets right now, I am just sorry I can’t be one of them. We can do our damnedest to make it really hard for him to do what he wants to do.
And, we can set the bar high: Obama and Clinton have both graciously wished Trump the best in a way that displays that the president is to be a humble servant to the office. They are older than me and they are wiser, because if they treat him with this dignity, then maybe, just maybe, he will do the same.
So now I am going to get on my bike, and make my veggie meal, and take some time to read some poetry and even pray and dig deep into myself. And then I am going to donate to my favorite organizing groups and get prepared to pay attention, reconnect and get involved. Because this is not happening on my watch. It is my country too and I am not giving up on it. There is just too much at stake.