As the votes came in, we all saw a dramatic number of Americans vote for someone who represents to us misogyny, racism, xenophobia and hate. We saw Donald Trump announced as the winner of this Presidential Election.
So, we find ourselves in a position we did not envision. We find ourselves unprepared. What do we tell our children — our precious daughters and sons — who went to bed excited about Hillary Clinton and how she represents that love trumps hate? How do we explain that, instead, a man who has mocked and denigrated so many of our family and friends and neighbors has been elected by approximately half of our country? What do we do on the morning after the election?
This is a moment when we all are going to have to sit down our babies and strip them of some of their innocence. But we have to do it because it is too important not to tell them the truths they need to hear. Our children need to hear from us about what has happened here, but we need to talk to them in a way that aids in healing, understanding and reconciliation.
They need to understand that there are people who don’t have friends or family members who are different from them. They need to understand that while some of these voters have been motivated by hate, many more of them have been manipulated by fear. And that those people have been taught that when women, black and brown people, immigrants and people of different faith have rights, that can make things worse because it makes it harder for white men to have jobs and for their families to enjoy freedom.
And we need to talk to them about the fact that this fear comes because the country is changing. People are scared by that change. They are scared about whether they can have a future. We need to emphasize that we all worry about the same things. And that thinking of the situation in an “us vs. them” way is playing the game the bad guys want us to play. If we’re really going to succeed in a fight against discrimination, we have to identify and dismantle the systems that perpetuate it. To do that, we are going to need to figure out how to build a broad coalition of the black, brown, female, LGBT, immigrant and disabled people (who fueled Hillary’s support) with the poor and middle-class whites (who fueled Trump’s) whose economic interests are more closely aligned with us.
When I was teaching, we had to incorporate “Values” into our curriculum. One of the things I always told my students was that our values weren’t proven by what we did when it was easy, they were proven by what we did when it is hard. And this election has shown us that there is some very VERY hard work to do. We cannot claim to be courageous, or resilient, or committed to building a better world if we don’t model those things now.
And that is what makes us different from many of the leaders of the Republican party. When they lost to Barack Obama in 2008, they decided that instead of trying to work with the Democratic Party and the President, they would give up on governance. If the house couldn’t be theirs, they would burn it down.
We can be better than that. We must be better than that. Because fomenting division and partisanship hasn’t worked. It has led us to tonight. So we need to figure out ways to bridge these divides. And it is going to be our job and our children’s job to do so. That’s going to take care, and listening, and a willingness to figure out new models for how we govern the big, messy complexity of this country. This is, frankly, going to hurt. But growth hurts.
As disappointing as it is to have not seen Hillary win in the landslide many of us hoped and believed would happen, we have to recognize that she has accomplished much. We have overcome so very much to get to this point. Our foremothers soldiered on, even when facing incredible disappointment and defeat. We need to remind our children of this, and celebrate the example those women have set for us.
And we need to make sure we take care of our own hearts and the hearts of our friends and neighbors. We can use the examples of our foremothers to inspire and build up. In all things, give thanks.
Thank you, Sojourner Truth.
Thank you, Ida B. Wells.
Thank you, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles.
Thank you, Ada Kepley.
Thank you, Julia Lathrop.
Thank you, Nellie Tayloe Ross.
Thank you, Margaret Chase Smith.
Thank you, Shirley Chisholm.
Thank you, Janet Reno.
Thank you, Pantsuit Nation.
Thank you, on behalf of our mothers, our daughters, ourselves. Thank you for making it close enough touch. Thank you for making it close enough that our daughters now dream it, envision it, and pursue it with real understanding. They will not have to forge a path blind. You have inspired generations. You have inspired us all.