When I sat down in my professor’s office yesterday, just as it became obvious that Secretary Clinton was not going to win the American elections, he pointed to my tote and asked, “you don’t happen to have any brandy or whiskey in there, do you?”
I didn’t, obviously, but at that moment we so hoped I’d accidentally packed liquor – we needed it. Of course, we did, none of us had fathomed that reality could ever materialise this way.
The both of us were clearly shaken by the sheer thought of what could – what would – happen in America. Moments prior to the meeting, I was scrolling through my newsfeed, on the brink of tears as it was, to that point, the only time that I was left alone to dawdle in my thoughts and fears and to confront my emotions genuinely. In retrospect, I was, perhaps, saved from a complete breakdown when said professor wandered out of his office for a break, only to find that I’d arrived early to our appointment. I can only recall, then, uttering a “how are you holding up” – echoing the very words of a friend who’d checked in on me earlier – for I felt, quite simply, utterly helpless. Strangely enough, that opened the floodgates for a barrage of our unadulterated sentiments on the political situation in America, his homeland, and quite possibly the frankest conversation we’ve ever engaged in. God, I’ve never seen that man so consumed by confusion and anger. Like half of the world, we simply couldn’t make sense of what was unfolding before our eyes. We talked, and talked, and ended up watching a rather bittersweet segment from the episode of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert from the day before. I faintly remember wishing America “good luck” before I left the meeting, still crestfallen, but perhaps less alone in my despair.
So we’ve had our liquor, and we’ve purged our emotions; cried, possibly, and called our friends. We’ve grieved over the loss of an ideal we once believed in. Here, I shall reiterate a question I’ve previously stated: how do we move on from this? Or perhaps, more pertinently, how do we move forward?
- Reports of hate-crimes are now flooding in, but so are reports of marches and peaceful protests across the country by people who refuse to allow such hateful ideals to prevail. This is the time for solidarity, for a unity that seeks to protect the most vulnerable groups in America. Whilst several non-American friends have told me they found such protests unproductive, as a student of literature who spends her time studying discourse, rhetoric, and the production of narratives, I believe that being able to create the dominant narrative is paramount. (I’ve written on the importance of narratives for a particularly feminist audience several months ago, but I shall excavate the article from the depths of the internet now for this matter has now become most pertinent.) This moment could be recorded in future history books as one of despondency, or one of hope and empowerment. What the identity of America will be tomorrow depends on the language we speak today. Thus, while we must acknowledge and respect the democratic processes of the country, remember, Americans, you do not have to take this lying down – let it be known to the world that your country is defined by inclusion, not exclusion; by the kindness of humanity, and not by its most revulsive traits.
- And on the note of narratives, I can only urge anyone who’s creative to create right now. Writers, start writing; artists, go make art; to anyone who’s in any position to create, get cracking. In an interview earlier this year, Ali Smith mentioned of the “mass culture of lies”, that “it reminds you to read the world as a construct. And if you can read the world as a construct, you can ask questions of the construct and you can suggest ways to change the construct. You understand that things aren’t fixed.” So if your medium of enacting change is your art, please don’t hold yourself back now, for your art and ideas have never been more pertinent. Even if you don’t believe in the ability of art to enact change, even if, as Auden wrote, “poetry makes nothing happen: it survives”. And this survival of art is what will necessarily define our narratives in the eyes of future generations to come. So artists, please, I implore you to create.
- To any journalist reading this, know that regardless of all the talk of traditional media’s redundancy and the challenges that you may face breaking the stories that really matter, what you do has never been more important. Yes, there are too many stories to tell, but keep in mind this quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda that “every story you choose to tell, by necessity, omits others from the larger narrative“. How you present any matter to the world is vital in shaping the truths your readers will accept, so no more of this clickbait journalism, and no more fabricated stories built upon shaky foundations – what we need now, more than ever, is fair (but not neutral), responsible, and well-researched journalism. Where your government refuses to hold culpable parties accountable for their actions, you must fill this void. Always recognise the power you hold, for “the world is made of stories, and when you remake the stories, you remake the world”.
- To academics, now is not the time for you to remain in your ivory tower to postulate to an audience of none, to treat the world around you as a mere thought experiment when real conflict is going on. I may be speaking to myself here when I admit how tedious engagement may be, but one, now, cannot deny the urgency we face to connect with the rest of the population. Redouble your efforts as a scholar, make your research more accessible, and address not just the academy but also the public – then, and only then, will everyone be on the same page. Your students, if they are anything like myself (and I know many who are), will look to you for guidance; this is not the time for you to mull over nihilistic philosophy, for we believe that just as real as the violence on the streets is the goodness and humanity inherent in every individual. Point your students to “thought that affirms life. Read Spinoza. Read Nietzsche. Read Deleuze. Read Bergson. Read DuBois’s Black Reconstruction”. If you cannot find it in yourself the impetus to engage, at the very least, help your students through their efforts to do so.
- More than words, more than art, or writing, or ideas, what is most crucial right now is action. Get involved in your community by volunteering locally with an organisation of your choice, or if you can’t, donate. Take care of yourselves, but at the same time, look out for the people around you – friends, family, and strangers alike. Lend your privilege to individuals who may be more vulnerable in these trying times, for, as Joanne Freeman said at Yale’s post-election conversation, “At a time of exclusion, we need to remember community”. It is undeniable that the coming four years will not be a smooth ride for many Americans, so please, be kinder. The world needs it.
- If you’re worried about women’s health and reproductive rights, donate to Planned Parenthood, the National Network of Abortion Funds, or NARAL
- To get involved with women’s rights, donate or volunteer with RAINN, the NCADV, and NOW
- If you care about press freedom, pay for journalism (John Oliver explains why this is necessary here)
- If you wish to be involved in alleviating poverty, donate to a local food bank or shelter
- To help preserve civil liberties, volunteer, intern at, or donate to the ACLU
- If you have several language competencies and wish to help immigrants, offer to be a court advocate, teach language or citizenship classes, or become a translator. Otherwise, consider donating to Border Angels or other local, state and city-wide organisations
- If you’re concerned about human rights, donate or volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign
This list is not exhaustive, and I’ve just discovered Jezebel’s compiled an even more comprehensive one, which encompasses more social concerns – these are but few of the organisations you can offer your time or money to. If you live overseas or are not American, like myself, remember this fight for progress is not limited to any geographical region and there’s much you can do to get involved in your own country as well.