The Morning After
Writing this two days before the election, I can’t say for certain what we’ll wake up to on November 4. In 2016, I went to bed thinking that I’d voted for the most qualified person to ever run for the office of president, only to wake up and find that a changeling had been slipped into the crib while I slept. Four years later, I believe the results will be much different, but it’s not over until it’s over. Maybe not even then.
What I do know is that, whoever wins, we will wake up in an America that is broken. And it’s been broken for a long time, even before the 2016 election and the subsequent four years of turmoil revealed it as the divided country it is. Repeatedly, I hear people saying, “I just want life to get back to normal.” The problem is, “normal” wasn’t very good to begin with. Not for the vast majority of people.
It should be abundantly clear by now that things need to change. Not just in our leadership, but in ourselves. This election cycle has brought me into contact with many, many people who no longer believe (or never believed in the first place) that meaningful change can happen. They’re disillusioned by the two-party system that dominates our political world, by the ease with which the media can spin stories or create them out of thin air, by how so many people can ignore science and facts in favor of lies and their own selfish concerns.
While getting someone into the White House who can undo some of the damage caused by the most recent resident is obviously a huge step forward, it is not a cure-all. Most of us will never be presidents, or congresspeople, or lawmakers. And we cannot put all our trust in those who are, because the very nature of politics means that they are always going to fail us on some level. Instead, we need to take responsibility ourselves and dedicate ourselves to effecting positive change wherever we can.
As we look ahead, I encourage all of us to seek out opportunities to help. We cannot change the world. But we can change our worlds, our little pieces of the universe. And if enough of us do that, then the change will spread out to form connections, growing until it transforms the old normal into something better.
How do we do this? I can’t help but think of the early days of the AIDS crisis, when nobody knew what to do and nobody in power wanted to help. Realizing we were on our own, the LGBTQ community created its own groups devoted to assisting those who were sick, with finding treatments, and with working to pressure those with the resources to help to do so. It took time, and energy, and anger, and way too much patience, but it worked. Those small, local groups formed connections and became bigger groups. Knowledge, experience, information, and resources flowed and gradually produced real change.
As I said, most of us will never run for president. We can, however, join our local school boards, our library committees, our village councils. Many of the decisions that end up affecting us start as small matters—what books to use in classrooms, what rules to apply to library story hours, what rights our teachers have to address social issues, what restrictions to place on the members of our neighborhood HOAs. Too often, we see these things as tedious, unimportant, minor local issues better handled by someone else who isn’t so busy. But change starts locally, and these committees and boards are often where people who want to consolidate power for negative reasons get a foothold. If those of us who want positive change add our voices to these discussions, we can often do far more good than we realize.
If public office of any kind is not your thing, commit yourself to volunteering. I recently signed up for our local Habitat for Humanity group, as affordable housing is a huge issue here in rural Appalachia. Most communities have numerous opportunities for volunteering, and it’s a wonderful way to both create change for people who need it and to help nurture your own understanding of how small things do matter. Volunteer as a mentor at an LGBTQ youth center. Walk dogs at a shelter. Read to or visit seniors at a nursing home.
Most of us are exhausted and frustrated. Some of us are afraid. But none of us are helpless. Instead of asking, “Why doesn’t someone do something?,” be one of the ones who does it. Don’t wait for change to come. Be the change. Don’t go back to normal. Make it better.##