I’m going to try to keep this brief and avoid restating everything that’s been said already. Bill Cosby’s a rapist, the Cubs are world champions, and come January our president will be a reality TV star. 2016 has been a lot of things, but boring isn’t one of them.
From start to finish, this election has been full of confusion, frustration and sketchiness by just about everyone involved. We’re going to be trying to figure out what exactly happened here for a long time, and what the future implications of it are for American Democracy. For now, we have a lot of angry people who feel like the system has failed them. For the past few years, it’s seemed as though America has been moving in a direction of social progress, but Wednesdays results are symbolic to many that this country is moving towards xenophobia and isolationism.
It was the spray-tanned elephant in every room Thursday. Anyone I spoke to, any conversation I walked by, it was like we just didn’t know what else to talk about. Everyone spoke as though we weren’t saying the same things for the hundredth time. The vibe was sheer disbelief. Not yet anger or sadness, just shock that we had actually reached this point. I was surprised when it took until mid day to hear about a protest.
We could see the helicopters before we even got off the Red Line – there must have been 4 or 5 of them circling the loop. The closer we got to Trump Towers the louder the chanting got. It was about 8pm, the weather was crisp, and there was an ominous feeling in the air I couldn’t shake. I guess I just didn’t know what to expect. I’d spent so much of the past year wondering what would happen if he really won, but the concept existed to me more as abstract fear than a genuine possibility. The fact that the theoretical had become a reality cast a surreal haze over the night for me.
About the second I lost my friends in the crowd, the marching began. Thousands of people of all ages: we went all the way down Michigan Avenue, crossed over to Lake Shore Drive, and blocked the freeway on both sides for what must have been more than a mile. I wish I could give you an accurate estimate of how many people were there, there were mobs of people in every direction for as far as I could see. Over 10,000 RSVP’d on the Facebook group, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more than that showed up. As the mobs of people flowed between cars like water through rocks, I couldn’t help but notice that the people in the cars were generally smiling. There were more high fives than honking, more fists in the air than locked windows.
When Trump won, I’m sure we all expected protests, and I can’t imagine I was the only one who didn’t think they would be peaceful. I anticipated violence, riots, maybe I even wanted riots. Though, the one word I would use to describe Wednesday’s demonstrations would be cathartic.
There was something therapeutic about being surrounded by thousands of people expressing the same kind of grand-scale disappointment and fear that I’d been bottling up since I’d seen the results Tuesday night. I mean, god, I’m a straight white guy and after Trump won I was terrified of what the future held. I can’t even imagine how it would feel as an undocumented immigrant, Muslim, or any other group who has been directly targeted by his rhetoric. I’ve never felt unification of a crowd to the extent I did that night; I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who walked away from that protest feeling empowered and less fatalist about the future.
I guess this is why it bothers me so much when people act as though protesting unfavorable results is childish and pointless. It’s an opinion I’ve heard a lot in the wake of the election, and not just by Trump supporters. Voicing political dissatisfaction is one of the most democratic things you can do, and is every bit as important in cultivating change as voting, sometimes more so. No one protesting is naive enough to believe that it is going to undo the results of the election. The power in protesting lies in expressing solidarity for groups at risk of losing rights and building a network for future political action. The importance of this can not be understated, especially in an election like this which has raised so many questions about the validity of our electoral system and what the collective values of our country really are.
The next four years are going to be hard, no one doubts that. But, staying unified and organized is one of the only things we can do to make our voices heard and push through. ANSWER Chicago, the group that organized the protest, did a great job at emphasizing the importance of fighting to retake house and senate seats in 2018. 723 days. We have 723 days until congress seats are up for re-election. That’s a solid two years to organize to ensure that in 2018, our country will no longer be under one-party control.
At the end of the day, I’m devastated about the election results, but what keeps me going is faith in the future. I believe the fallout of this election is going to include a large-scale mobilization of the left and youth. The success of Bernie Sanders showed us that a genuine grass-roots campaign is possible, and I have no doubt that my generation isn’t going to stay complacent in the face of a Trump presidency. The worst thing we can do is disengage from politics and give in to the justified sense of disenfranchisement that many are feeling.
The youth has already won the future. Progress doesn’t follow a linear path: bumps in the road, even ones of this scale, are to be expected. Now, more than ever, it’s so important to be aware of politics and the power of the united individual. We have 723 days until we are able to put more check-and-balances in place on the Trump administration. That seems like a long time away, but there is no better time to get involved than now. Go to a protest, make some friends, vote in 2018, and remember that injustice has never been defeated by indifference.