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What Do We Do After The Election?

Regret is a funny thing, in that it is different for everyone. For some of us, it strikes in the moment — rushing through our bodies like an electric current as soon as we’ve done something we know on some level we shouldn’t have. For others, it takes time to settle in. It hangs above you like a heavy fog, slowly sinking and draping you in self-doubt. And it is largely subjective and situational … one person may not feel any remorse for the very thing that fills another with regret.

Today is Election Day. Following what has seemed like an eternity of vitriol and divisive rhetoric, we finally vote.

I’ve seen many people on my social media feeds this morning express relief that the election is ending — that it will be over, and we can resume our normal lives. But we aren’t making it out unscathed, are we? This election changed us. It rippled the fabric of our society and, right now, it’s hard to know when or how we’ll be able to smooth it back out. Today’s #NaBloPoMo prompt is about regret, and I find it a tragically fitting topic.

The polls may close today, but that won’t close the door on our regrets. No, those will linger on long after the last ballot is collected. I’m not just talking about insecurity over the candidate you chose, although there is certainly a lot of that going around. Rather, I’m talking about regret for our behavior leading up to — and possibly even after — the election ends.

Can you say in full confidence that you never lost your cool or said something hurtful to another person throughout this election year? Can you take a long, hard look at yourself and come out on the other side knowing you never passed judgment? I wish I could, but I’m sure my temper flared a time or two. I’m not without blame.

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To an extent, I get it. People should be passionate about the candidate they choose, especially when they feel as though the opposing party could ultimately hurt our country and the people they love. There’s nothing wrong with passionately advocating for the candidate you believe in. Where we run into the problem is when advocating for our candidate devolves into slinging arrows at each other.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We have to do better, y’all.

There’s a hurt that lives in my heart now that comes from seeing our truth, as an American people, laid bare. We are broken. This election drove every bit of regressive behavior out of hiding, flushing it from dark corners where it emerged in teeming clusters. If you’ve ever argued that racism doesn’t exist here, you’ve got no ground to stand on. If you’ve ever argued that sexism and misogyny are things of the past, think again. Those things we have seen and heard and been witness to far too often during this political cycle to pretend they aren’t problems.

We must all swallow the bitter pill of accountability, because there’s no going back now. As much as we would like for it to, the close of the election does not reset the clock. It doesn’t rewind all the horrible things we’ve said and done to each other. Now that we’ve spit so much of ourselves out into the world, there simply isn’t room to suck it back in. The damage, my friends, is done.

I crave the growth that comes with change, but the change itself will be hard. Imagine you were sitting right now in a room filled with every single person who is your friend on Facebook. Can you look them all in the eye? Do you even want to? We have learned so much about each other, yes, but also about ourselves. It’s natural to sometimes shuffle off the old to make way for the new. In that respect, we have some hard decisions ahead and, perhaps, the quiet dissolution of friendships that no longer fit.

When the polls close today and we look back at the proverbial register of our actions over the last few months, what will we tell our children? That the hateful things we said were OK because it was all part of the election? Is there a secret hall pass that excuses otherwise unacceptable behavior if it happens during an election? No, of course not. What’s done is done — the hate we’ve put out into the universe during this election blankets us.

So where do we go from here?

Unfortunately, I’m not convinced it stops here. Never in most of our lives have we seen such a contentious election. I fear that, no matter what the results are, things may get worse before they get better. A good place to start, though, is hope.

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If there is a light in the midst of all this darkness, it comes from empowering each other. I want to share a story posted by a young woman on Facebook earlier today:

I just voted, and here in Georgia the booths are very open. You can’t see your neighbor’s votes, but you can see your neighbor. I was next to a 92 year old black woman who, as she cast her ballot, grabbed me by the hand and said, ‘Last time a black man and this time a woman! I really never thought I’d live to see both parts of me in a president.’ I hugged her and told her how happy I was that she had.

I really never thought I’d live to see both parts of me in a president. Wow. Whichever side of the political party line you lean, that should stir something inside of you. There’s simply so much hope in those words.

Ninety-six years ago women first gained the right to vote when the States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. For the black community, it was really only 51 years ago when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discriminatory race-based practices. At both of those junctures in history, our country was at a crossroads. And while the progress has been slow, this conversation with a sweet little lady at a polling station proves progress has been made.

No matter how ugly things get, we need to cradle the hope in that woman’s words close to our bodies and protect it at all costs. We can get through this, and we can be better for it when all is said and done. We just have to get through it.

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