Lily Gordon, ‘17
A cynic recently asked me if I really felt my life had changed since Election Day. I hesitated in answering, thinking back to the previous day when I sat with a friend in a café drinking coffee. I remember finding it so odd that trees could still rustle in the wind and that baristas could still clean out cappuccino machines—that it was true what so many people kept reassuring themselves: “The sun will rise again tomorrow.” There was an eerie normalcy of living that persisted in the air around me.
And yet… everything did feel different. Nightmarish. Dystopian. Apocalyptic.
My friend and I cried that day in the café. We cried over the people condemned to drinking oil-ridden water at Standing Rock, over neo-Nazism masquerading as counter-terrorism, the death of sanctuary cities, the fear and hate crimes rising across the country, fascism and the repeats of history unfolding before us, the power of the fossil fuel industry, the imminent loss of our beloved polar bears, and the receding of our shorelines.
So when the cynic asked me if I felt my life had changed, I answered, “Yes.”
I’ve watched my city transform. On November 9th, I marched with thousands from Union Square to Trump Tower. I watched entire avenues fill with the clamor of voices screaming, sobbing, hugging, chanting, and declaring our unity and love for utter strangers. I watched my city dissolve into chaos, watched streets become overrun with protesters, while taxi drivers and bus drivers and people in their Subaru’s resigned to staring at us with a mixture of exasperated inconvenience and solidarity.
I’ve watched people spontaneously gather in Union Square to talk into a microphone, their voices blasting from a cheap speaker off of some guy’s bicycle. We took turns speaking. The bicyclist was careful that everyone who wanted to got to speak. I met a homeless transgender boy who said he was scared as someone who would be sleeping on the train that night. I met rape victims who sobbed at the prospect of a rapist in the White House. I met petrified undocumented immigrants. I met a boy who said he didn’t know how his mother was going to afford her transplant surgery without Obamacare. I met anarchists, socialists, Sanders die-hards, Green Party freaks, people who didn’t vote for anyone, and people who still wear their “I’m With Her” sweaters everyday. They all have different end games: overthrow, reform, comfort, hope, therapy, community, refuge…
The world seemed dark and ominous. And yet somehow late night talk shows persisted. SNL kept writing comic sketches. I confess I was surprised. I thought comedy would be dead in the aftermath of the election, but comics kept finding things to laugh about. SNL ran a skit where Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock play two wise black men who attend a white liberal election party who aren’t surprised at all that Trump won, while their white friends sit in shock. As the white people exclaim, “Oh my God! I think America is racist,” the black men look knowingly at each other and laugh heartily. Chris Rock smiles, “Don’t worry about it. Eight years are gonna fly by…it’s gonna be aaaall white.” A white character murmurs, “This is the most shameful thing America has ever done.” The black men glance at each other again and laugh.
The sketch exemplifies a larger social phenomenon: many minorities have expressed that the real problems—hatred, racism, etc.—have always existed in our country, and so it isn’t surprising that America is bigoted.
And yet I can’t help feeling that on November 8th, America chose a much scarier reality than a traditionally corrupt establishment politician when it elected an unpredictable, wavering, attention-lacking, narcissistic, accused-rapist who spouts the dangerous demagoguery of the white supremacists who call themselves the “alt-right.”
Maybe America is the same hateful place it always was, but this hate seems exposed in a way I know it wasn’t before. Life does feel different. I find myself weeping openly on the subway each time I read an article about swastikas on bathroom stalls, Muslim girls removing their hijabs in fear, and immigrant children asking teachers if they’re going to be deported and forced to leave the only home they’ve known. I think about the Black Lives Matter movement, about all the black boys I’d see on TV when a black man was president and wondered how many dead black boys we’ll see with a man who racially discriminated in his businesses and who called for a national stop-and-frisk policy. Each day I wear a Black Lives Matter pin and a Fuck Trump pin. I toy with a safety pin, feeling the inadequacies of its cold slender metal in between my fingers.
I keep searching for some message of hope. I’ve attended socialist meetings in nighttime parks, gathered with anarchists in dusty buildings with posters of Malcolm X, Che Guevara, and Emmitt Till hung up on the wall. And yet I felt disappointed with our conversations. I watched people plan marches without clear causes, as if what they wanted deep down is just to keep screaming senselessly in the street. We’ve gone around in circles to exchange our goals and pool our resources. I’ve come away largely empty-handed. I scour the Internet for some cure-all website, hoping to see someone with a sure-fire plan. I keep asking people, “What are you going to do for the next four years?” Most answer, “I’m not sure yet.”
I’m mixed race, Jewish, a woman, and queer. But I have white-passing privilege, citizenship, a liberal environment, and an economically stable home. I’ve scared for some of my rights, but I’m mainly scared for others.
I remember when the Empire State Building turned red like blood, and I remember my relief when it was lit white again. When I saw that bright calm white, I felt some reassurance in my own blood: this is my city, clean, pure, resilient, impenetrable. And yet it is white, like the racial supremacy that rules over us, like our history, like the white-washed conscience of a half-hearted ally who is able to keep drinking coffee while a child in Flint, Michigan still can’t drink water out of his own kitchen sink.
Has my life changed? I think at least the way I look at life has changed. Can I do anything? The cynic laughs superiorly and tells me that change is the pipedream of a naïve 2008 youthful idealist. I haven’t found my perfect coalition or my perfect political plan quite yet. But I’m learning how to look for it.