A year before the election, there were jokes on late night talk shows. A year before the election, the election was funny. There were memes and cartoons, there were rallies and chanting. There was free college in the air and universal healthcare on the news, there was optimism on NPR and and the world felt like it was about to make sense. We spent so long on deciding who was better, we never stopped to think about how bad things could get. I spent last fall drinking in New Orleans. I spent last summer playing dress up and watching parades go by. I spent last spring on a road trip up the coast and I spent last summer in the woods singing folk songs and falling in love over campfires. I spent the year padding my Instagram feed while the tidal wave we all knew was coming grew bigger than any of us realized.
One week before the election I was on vacation in Portland, Oregon. I was visiting my oldest and dearest friends in my favorite city in the country with one of my favorite people on the planet. One week before the election, we were eating donuts in bed and laughing too loudly in museums. Even the weather was perfect. One week before the election, I had almost forgotten there was going to be an election.
“I need to figure out where rioting is going to happen so I can be there.”
It’s ten pm on election night when she texts me. When we wake up in the morning, the world is going to be a different place. It might be more cynical. It might be scarier. Maybe it always was and we’re just now seeing it. Maybe some minds are just that easy to change. Maybe we don’t all want the same things out of life, after all.. Maybe our borders aren’t real and we’re all just stuck together between oceans, only connected to one another by fast food chains and late-night talk shows.
It’s just after one thirty in the morning when the news is real. I am sitting still and screaming on the inside. The world has stopped making sense. The Internet has become a series of bad dreams. Last weeks jokes aren’t funny anymore. I walk through tomorrow with the anxiety of someone that has left their stove on. I walk through tomorrow knowing full well that my house is on fire and my neighbors is up next. I walk through tomorrow pretending that I’m not homeless in the the land I was born in. I wake up the next day and the world is a different place. The world’s not going to end. Probably. I am done sitting still. And so are you. No matter where we go from here, we decide what happens next.
The day after the election, I’m in The French Quarter when the crowds go by, making dinner for rich tourists and B-list celebrities. I hear the protesters and I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’ve never felt this anxious and powerless. I’m overcome with a huge and vague regret, the source of which I cannot place. I don’t know what I did wrong. I don’t know what I could have done differently. I know that I haven’t done enough.
My sister has spent the past year campaigning in Florida, where everyone hoped it would matter. Before it was her job, she volunteered tirelessly for the past decade. I’m her brother and I had better things to do. My mother has spent the past three months volunteering for voter awareness. She spent her twenties throwing rocks at a corrupt military and teaching sociology in Colombia. She spent her twenties organizing student protests and running from the police. The secret, she told me once, was to simply never stop. When you stop, even for a second, your body thinks the chase is over. I’m her son, and I barely vote. I’m her son and I let this happen. But I get to decide what happens next. I get to decide where my energy goes for the next four years. We all do.
Two days later, one of my favorite people on the planet sends me video of her at a protest. She sends me a video of people marching, men and women of every color, of love and solidarity, standing, chanting, laughing and crying. She marches alone in a city an hour from her home in a crowd of hundreds of strangers telling her it’s going to be okay. She could be anywhere in the country. She could be anyone. Two days after the election, Portland is exploding. The streets we walked down a week ago are thick with smoke and riot gear, shattered glass and picket signs. Those were the same streets they were a week ago. Those were the same people a week ago.
The world is not a different place. The laws of physics still apply to all of us. We got ourselves here and it’s up to us to get ourselves out of it. We get to decide if we want to stand or run, if we want to fight or shrug, go where the river takes us or swim upstream. We decide what matters, who matters, what tomorrow is worth to us and why. We set the price of what happens next. We decide what our time and sweat is worth. We get to decide to shut down or educate the person next to us. We get to engage and inform and organize. We get to talk to our children and reach out to the people that don’t look like us or think like us or believe in what we believe in. We decide where we draw the line, and we decide what tomorrow looks like.
Today we’re all activists. We get to decide how loud we are and how little we care who hears our voice. Whether we choose to protest or go to spin class, make a donation, sign a petition, knock on a strangers door or see what’s on TV. We decide if we care about brown people or queer people. We decide if we care about women’s health or children’s education, prison reform or affordable housing. Today we get to decide what makes us mad enough to do something. We get to decide if Muslims get rounded up into camps or if Mexicans get deported or if my sister is still allowed to marry her girlfriend. Today, each of us are responsible for what we believe in and everything we do is a reflection of that. Just like it always has been.
The world didn’t change on Election Day, not any more than it does on any other given day.