I never thought my first time to participate in democracy would evolve into such a horrible nightmare.
Flashback to a month ago, the mood to vote in this year’s 2016 U.S. presidential election was hyped up among my generation, the millennials. We still felt like the hopeful and empowered liberal intellects that helped Obama get elected in 2008. Since then, politics was suddenly the cool thing to do. I remembered politics was a snooze fest throughout middle school and high school. Now even my friends who don’t have a clue about how the American political system operates nor in tune with world news are now eager to vote. Well, it wasn’t very difficult to get our attention this year. Obama urged us on the Late Show with Stephan Colbert. Beyonce and JayZ were doing it. #voteIRL #NoExcuse were trending everywhere on Youtube and Twitter. Oh yeah, and the free media attention whored by the unrepentant narcissistic asshole that was trying to make our election into a reality show.
But it ultimately all boils down to the heart of the problem. And we knew the gravity of our political situation. In Washington, D.C. I can remember the countless times I screamed, growled, sighed, and cursed as I experienced first hand the political and social consequences of a dysfunctional government. I hated those stubborn politicians who kept waging filibusters that only brought in more unnecessary political deadlocks. Our country’s capital suddenly died and became a sad and dreary ghost town during the government shutdown. What led them all to succumb to this? What happens when our congressmen choose dishonesty over truth to incite fear in us all for the pursuit of power? What happens when we only prescribe to the radical sensationalism fed to us by corporate media who put business over humanity? The false dichotomy of our two-party system brought us to where we are today. Divided we stand. And the choice was between an unhinged self-adoring demagogue and a woman who was competent, but just not with emails. Can the choice be even more obvious?
For the millennials, it was. We mobilized ourselves to the voting station. No matter how bad things were, we truly believed that the obvious, rational choice would win. There was no way that we as a nation could possibly ever let evil win. Youth is always on the right side of history, right?
Flashback now to November 11, 2016. The absolute horror. What went wrong??? The worst wake up call of my life. I can’t even bring myself to get out of bed without shamefully sobbing. A sleepless two nights of reconsidering everything I thought I knew about the world and myself. These feelings of emptiness, confusion, and misery have not consumed me since the death of my grandma. Scuff at me all you want or even write me off as overly dramatic. But my anger, sadness, disappointment, bitterness, and fear are uniquely my own, shaped by my background and the sum of my life’s experiences. It’s not for you to understand. But to heal this time of so much hatred and division, you should at least know why.
Like most, I didn’t get to choose what kind of political system to be born into—my parents did. But they had to suffer and sacrifice their entire life just so I could be fortunate to be raised in a democracy. From surviving the Vietnam War to facing the ugly facets of American society, they never rested until they could provide me with everything America had to offer. Even after two decades, American democracy was foreign to us, and we remained foreign to it. How could we ever fully understand and truly value a democracy if we were always on the sidelines watching but at the same time, directly impacted by the political decisions.
After a patient 16 years, I was naturalized and finally prepared to vote. If there was any election that needed immigrant votes, this was it. I wasn’t only anxious to exercise the democratic right that my parents strived for, but to fight against the increasing severe consequences at stake for minorities in America. As a female minority, equality versus discrimination was on the line. As a global citizen, progress for greater stability and prosperity abroad was at stake. How can a platform based on equality and peace ever be on the losing side?
In hindsight, this election had evolved into so much more than I could have ever imagined. Maybe my optimism was actually misinformed naivety. But maybe it’s actually good that my first time voting ended with a sludge hammer to the gut because the full momentum of what democracy has to offer has been felt. I cannot forget this election. For the remaining future of my elections, I know that I cannot take anything for granted anymore.
Democracy is a frightening beauty. The majority gets and deserves exactly what they voted for. On November 8th, half of the population voted for racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia—basically anything against me and everyone else that isn’t white, male and wealthy—and that’s exactly what I’ll get too. I believe that this president-elect will threaten the hope and strength for equality and justice left by Obama—but that’s democracy. I didn’t choose to be raised in one but now that I’ve participated in it, I still choose to remain in one. I want to uphold a democracy with free and fair elections so I accept the outcome of this election. I accept the fact that the privilege of living in a democracy comes with constant struggles necessary to bring the change we want in our lives. Democracy requires constant, responsible participation from all of its citizens. This coming four years will be the greatest challenge known to us yet. With many uphill battles ahead, defeatism is only an option for cowards.