We’ve all got a story of where we were when the results of Election Day 2016 became clear.
Four years later and I still remember the moment I realized things weren’t going to go the way I had hoped.
I was on a high that morning, thinking I had just cast a vote for the first woman president as I walked my dogs around my Philadelphia neighborhood before reporting for a busy day at work.
And then I turned a corner and saw two Donald Trump signs on a house I’d passed a thousand times.
If they were there before, I’d somehow missed them — a metaphor for the mother of all wake-up calls to come.
This year, the signs aren’t only back, they have been prominently displayed for months. A “silent majority," silent no more.
And here we are again.
Except as we inch closer and closer to Election Day, I have found myself thinking less about the day of and more about the days after. As in, what to do after the election — regardless of the results, whenever it is we actually get those results.
How will we fix what broke before, during and after Trump? Because if one thing should have become clear to many of us these last four years — myself included — we don’t always pay enough attention or ask enough questions when we’re mostly OK with the dude in power.
Trump’s a liar, and while his answer at the last presidential debate about separating immigrant children from their parents at the border unsurprisingly lacked context, he wasn’t wrong when he said he didn’t build the cages.
How do we even begin to address these atrocities, especially when his adviser, Stephen Miller, is a white nationalist planning even more draconian immigration policies?
And closer to home, after I came across a photo of relatives at a Trump rally: Is there any salvaging relationships damaged or broken by hateful beliefs shrouded as politics?
I used to linger on Civil Rights-era photos and wonder about the people standing on the wrong side of history: Who were they, and what they were thinking? We know now, don’t we? They are our parents, our in-laws, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers. People we’re still going to have to contend with no matter what the results when you consider that about 40 percent of Americans still consistently back Trump and his racism.
As Leonard Pitts noted in his recent column: “Sending the present president home — or to prison — does nothing to mitigate that. Those people will be a force — which is to say, a problem — for years to come.”
I had a long talk with Emma Tramble the other night about the after. Tramble, from West Philadelphia, runs a Black voting advocacy group in the city.
Her advice: “First, you have to root yourself and know this country has continued on in some very dark times,” she said, reassuringly.
And then, especially for advocates or activists who want to be effective, she added: You have to gather yourself and your fears.
Being afraid is normal, she said. Even necessary if used correctly. But fear can paralyze you or propel you — and there is no time to waste.
We’re going to need some inspiration, and lots of it. Turn to groups like Tuesdays with Toomey, everyday folks who demonstrated outside U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s offices every week for four years until he recently announced he wouldn’t seek reelection.
And while a guy like that will never admit the people he failed to represent (let alone meet with) got under his skin, theirs is the kind of relentless righteousness we’re going to need going forward.
“What I’ve learned from Tuesdays with Toomey, and I think a lot of us learned, is it is overwhelming, it can be overwhelming, but a large part of the battle is just consistently showing up,” said Carolyn Stillwell, one of the organizers. Not to cry and complain, but to build community and educate ourselves and others.
“We need to model the society that we’re working towards,” she said.
This is where I confess that I’m afraid. I’m very afraid of what can happen — and not just at the polls.
I fear for our country if Trump wins. But I also fear for our country if he loses and we convince ourselves that all is magically well again.
Already a lot of us are talking about what we’re going to do to try and make it through this election — hiding under weighted blankets, at the bottom of some stiff drinks, in a tent in the middle of nowhere.
More where-we-were stories. I get it.
We have to take care of ourselves.
But then we need to shake it off and do the work of taking care of one another.