Written by Aditi Shankar
On Tuesday, November 8, I had a midterm. My professor, Manjiree Jog, commented that morning, “It’s a privilege to live in a democracy. Use it.” She asked earnestly who in our class had the opportunity to vote, and who had done so. I raised my hand proudly, excited for what the day held. The following is a recap of my emotions in the aftermath of November 8. Full disclosure, I’ve been an intern with the Clinton campaign since February and a die-hard Clinton fan for as long as I can remember. I am not claiming to be a pundit, nor am I claiming that this loss affected my life more than anyone else’s. I am simply a millennial girl, a dreamer, an optimist, but also a realist. Here it goes.
At approximately 11PM on Tuesday night, I was seated on the bleachers behind the podium where Secretary Clinton was supposed to give her acceptance speech. I sat next to fellow interns on my team – we had worked countless, grueling hours together (for no pay, of course) and this was our victory night. Every single news outlet had their cameras pointed towards us. At this point, The New York Times had given Mr. Trump a 95% chance of winning. For all intents and purposes, it was over. We sang Journey’s hit Don’t Stop Believin’ before campaign chairman John Podesta essentially told the public to go home and come back in the morning. There was a twinkling of hope when Podesta addressed the staff privately–he even mentioned the possibility of challenging the media’s projections for some incredibly close states. I left the Javits Center feeling empty. I walked alongside my peers, all of us in silence, in shock. I cried in the cab ride home.
I have been following Secretary Clinton’s career for quite some time now. I saw her as an inspiration for all women, young and old, to express their opinions, to be unafraid, to challenge the status quo. When she announced her candidacy for presidency, I was elated, and not only because this country saw another chance of electing a female president, but because the policy proposals she put forth aligned with my own beliefs.
I supported the Secretary because I believe in progressive values. Throughout this campaign, I have tried my best to separate gender and identity from policy. And ideally, that’s how we vote – based on tangible policy proposals rather than on accusations and identifications. On the surface, many Americans voted this year based on identity. They struggled to relate with Secretary Clinton – they saw her as a liar, as conniving, as manipulative. They saw Mr. Trump as an agent for change, the non-establishment candidate, an image which struck a chord with many Americans disenchanted with, and ultimately disenfranchised by, the American ‘system’. Pundits will spend years analyzing and theorizing the specific factors led to this massive upset, but I am most concerned with the role identity politics played in this election. And, as I previously stated, while I have always separated the individual and the policy, I cannot help but feel devastated at this loss for both progressive policy and, mostly, for women.
I grew up with a working Mom. I also grew up with an incredibly understanding Dad. I have always had the privilege to fully express my opinions. If I could boil down this election to one personal lesson, it is that the privilege I have had to fully express these opinions was most certainly a privilege, and not a right. And I only have this privilege because of my family, community, and women who came before me.
As a ‘minority’ woman hoping to enter the policymaking sphere, I was incredibly disheartened the night of the election. For me, 2016 was finally our time to shine (I know, this line sounds like it’s straight from an an advertisement for OurTime, a dating website for seniors). How could I expect to enter this sphere at all if a woman who had dedicated her entire life to public service couldn’t achieve her dreams? As I sobbed to my dad on the phone at 3AM on November 9, I thought of the Javits Center. I thought of the literal glass ceiling. And I thought of how close we came to shattering it, and how far we would be set back for not doing so. I wanted to run away from any career in politics.
I woke up the next morning still disappointed. I dragged myself to Secretary Clinton’s concession speech, surrounding by equally somber staff members. I smiled politely while waiting in line. I felt empty. But then she spoke. And I don’t know if it was the cup of coffee I downed before the talk, or her line: “To all the women and especially the young women who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion,” but it finally hit me. And I realize this is incredibly cliché, but that stirred the fire within me once again.
Maggie Hassan won her Senate seat that afternoon, against Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte. I felt elated. And slowly, I felt the pull towards public service once again. And even stronger than I had ever felt it before.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still sad. I am sad because I am sad for Hillary. I am sad for her family. I am sad that she has worked her entire life towards something that she could not achieve.
Am I dropping everything (i.e. quitting my banking job) to enter into local politics? Probably not, but maybe someday. Will I get involved in non-profit organizations and government funded programs that promote progressive policies? Yes. And this newfound drive is because of Hillary, and because of the inspiring women (and men!) I surround myself with. And that is the beauty of American democracy – participation, love, equality, the list goes on.
This is a call for unity, for civic involvement, for public service. Regardless of our political affiliations, the current arena of both politics and policy is deeply divided. President-elect Trump won fair and square, and his victory marks a significant shift in voter turnout based on demographics. Impassioned Facebook posts (and even op-eds like these) are simply not enough, and this election highlights the need for civic participation especially amongst those of our generation. As college students, we are sitting in the driver’s seat for the next stage of policymaking. If we can channel our voices through tangible participation in social programs, and at every level of the government (even those seemingly random school boards), we have the power to affect change. Be a champion for those who need it.