As I was driving through Providence the day after the election, traffic came to a halt as hundreds of mostly young adults came streaming by, holding signs and chanting “not my president”. I responded with a thumbs up and opened the window to fist-bump those walking closest to my car. It was heartening to see so many young people, across racial and gender spectrums, so passionately engaged in political discourse and I wanted to encourage them. I was equally heartened when I learned that the Providence protest numbered nearly a thousand and that both my daughters had joined marches in their respective cities, Boston and Chicago. Later, on CNN, I saw similar protests in cities across the nation.
The shocking Trump victory has put fear and anger into the hearts of many Americans, given his platform of mass deportations, oppression of Muslims, and repealing Obamacare, along with his frequently racist and/or misogynistic language. I found it hard to listen to President Obama declare that “we are now all rooting for (Trump’s) success in uniting and leading the country” and a dejected Secretary Clinton saying that we owe Trump “an open mind.” Especially given that both had, just days earlier, described Donald Trump as “temperamentally unfit to be Commander in Chief”, something I couldn’t agree with more. At the same time, I realize that both Obama and Clinton were fulfilling their responsibilities to help ensure that a peaceful transition takes place.
It is appalling to know that nearly half of Americans who voted did so for someone whose rhetoric and rallies seemed to be more about hate than hope, who appealed to the most angry and fearful tendencies of his followers (more votes were actually cast for Clinton; however, Trump won the electoral college by a wide margin). We must recognize, however, that no matter how much this hurts and how loud we protest, Donald J. Trump is the President-Elect of our nation.
It is not my intent to discourage anti-Trump activists from protesting. From the days of segregation and the Vietnam War to today’s Black Lives Matter movement, large and persistent marches have played a significant role in influencing public opinion, and ultimately, public policy. I believe they can play an important role today. However, protest marches by themselves rarely change things in meaningful and lasting ways.
What to do? First, we should all follow the urgings of our current President who, while on the campaign trail, told anti-Trump crowds, “Don’t boo, vote!” The sad fact is that sizeable numbers of Americans stayed home on Election Day. Many were understandably disgusted by the harsh rhetoric and/or allegations of corruption against both major parties’ candidates. And it appears that a sizeable portion of disaffected citizens voted instead for one of the third party candidates instead of choosing what they may have seen as the lesser of two evils.
I hope that there are lessons learned in this grueling election, foremost that each and every vote matters. No matter if you were disappointed by Bernie Sanders’ defeat, appalled at the unending saga of Hillary’s emails, or disappointed in what President Obama failed to accomplish, if you didn’t vote or went third party, you helped put Trump over the top. I don’t say this to make anyone feel worse than they already do, but to motivate folks and young people in particular to use their constitutionally protected power to influence what happens next: the power of the ballot box.
You don’t have to wait four more years to help put the brakes on President-Elect Trump’s most harmful plans. The mid-term elections will take place in just two years, and victories for anti-Trump candidates for Congress could throw a monkey wrench into much of what Trump and the current Republican-controlled Senate and House are cooking up. It’s up to us to help get candidates who represent an inclusive view of America elected. Even if you live in a state like Massachusetts where our congressional delegation is already anti-Trump, you can volunteer in other states to help get out the vote to defeat Trump acolytes there. A Democratic take-over of both houses of Congress could stall the Trump agenda, just like the Republican take-over that began in 2010 stifled much of President Obama’s agenda.
Meanwhile, we can all get more involved in the political process. A first step is becoming educated and vocal regarding public policy at both the state and federal levels. Every day, the offices of our elected officials are flooded with calls and letters from constituents advocating for their positions on pending legislation. Officials pay close attention to the urgings of folks on whom their re-election depends. If we don’t make those calls or write those letters, our voices won’t be heard.
So it’s fine to do what you need to do to get through the grim aftermath of the election. Commiserate with like-minded friends, tweet your heart out, and join the protest marches nearest you. And if that second chocolate dessert offers comfort, go for it. But if you truly believe that this nation is setting off on the wrong track, you have work to do – work that should begin now and continue as long as you live in this country. To paraphrase our current President: Don’t just boo, get involved!
Lenette Azzi-Lessing is Associate Professor of Social Work at Wheelock College. She joined the faculty in 2006, with more than 25 years experience as a clinical social worker, administrator, and policy advocate. Her work focuses on improving the well being and life chances of vulnerable, young children and their families, particularly those living in poverty and those involved in the child welfare system. She is the founding director of Wheelock’s Graduate Certificate Program in Early Childhood Mental Health and is faculty leader of the college’s Partnership for Early Childhood Development in South Africa.
Dr. Azzi-Lessing is the author of the forthcoming, “Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children.” Read an excerpt on Amazon.com.