We, humanity, will never stop. Our spirit and resolve cannot be defeated. The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. I say this as much for myself as I… do for you.
Who are we? How did this happen? What can we do? Humanity has already lost – millions upon millions of people cast a vote for bigotry, for xenophobia, for racist discrimination, for white supremacy, for rape culture. But hope is not lost. What do you do when a plurality of the electorate supports a demagogue? I know not, but am resolute that the shrug of inevitability or loss of faith are not on the table.
It may seem like nothing else matters right now other than the unthinkable idea of President Trump, but everything that mattered pre-election matters to the nth degree today. Standing Rock matters. Black lives matter. Climate action matters. Gender equity matters. LGBT rights matter. Education matters. Veterans matter. Religious freedom matters. I can go on ad infinitum.
Be kind. Be respectful. Be loving. It will not be easy. It may be awful. But it is. And we must do what is right. Do for others. Do for our future.
I took a day to grieve, to call loved ones, to take in the election results, to sit with dear friends, to walk the streets in unity against the principles of Donald Trump – and am now ready to organize, plan and fight like never before.
We do not contest the election results (although the Electoral College seems antithetical to democratic fundamentals), but we must do everything within our power to stop Trump’s ghastly and dangerous agenda. Deep fears of deportation, legal discrimination, sexual violence, wrongful imprisonment, hate crimes, and obliteration of human rights exist. It is a privilege to be able to look past a candidate’s racism, sexism or bigotry – under the false pretense that it does not affect you. Were we really that blind to the hatred, ignorance, and division in our own country? To the fact that half of our population shares a worldview similar to that of the fearmongering Donald Trump? It certainly seems as much.
Our nation has never needed us more – for the safety, sanity and survival of people and planet. It may be easier to choose silence, inaction or ignorance, but we must mount a challenge to divisive rhetoric and appalling action. We are allowed to feel sad or numb for a short while, but there is too much at stake to sit this one out. Our democracy demands participation to build the better, stronger America in which we believe. We must challenge the gross normalization of bigotry, inequality, institutionalized discrimination, and hate speech. Our country has long needed focused attention to tackle the most pressing challenges of our time with unity and efficacy. I refuse to say that a catastrophe of monolithic proportions was necessary to coalesce and galvanize action of a true progressive movement, but perhaps strong alliances, purposeful leadership and urgent mobilization can be a twisted legacy of this shocking Trump victory.
I never actually let myself fathom a Trump presidency. It is the gravest of thoughts. I am genuinely scared and deeply saddened. Trump denigrates, blames, and preys on the most vulnerable time and time again. How do we explain that a bigot has been democratically elected to our children? This is not about Republicans or Democrats. This is about a racist, sexist, predatory man with erratic fascist tendencies, zero composure and no political experience in one of the most powerful offices on earth. He intimidates, he divides, he bullies – and now, he will rule the United States of America.
My own mother texted me: What has happened to humanity? What will happen to our people and our planet? I can’t even go there.
Are you terrified? Confused? Devastated? Lost? Saddened? Numb? Empty? Are you a woman, minority, black, gay, lesbian, Muslim, Latino, trans, Jewish, disabled, mixed race, foreign born, fill in the blank (and yes, that blank includes heterosexual, white males, as many pointed out to me on Twitter last night). There is genuine fear across America; I share in that. I have never been the target of more hate speech online in such a short period of time; cyberbullies and antisemites are out with a renewed vengeance as well. There have been countless reports of heinous hate crimes and bullying in the aftermath of the election. After Brexit, hate crimes spiked 41% – and Trump did nothing to quell his crowds chanting “lock her up” during his acceptance speech, emblematic of the negative spirit of his entire campaign.
When I finally left the ABC News studios at 4am on Election Night, I refused to take a car. I needed to walk, to be alone with my thoughts and the energy of the city. As I set foot in Times Square, I saw a man waving a massive Trump flag with pride, a man beaming ear to ear in his Make America Great Again hat and t-shirt, friend with Trump beanies chest bumping each other – all with the backdrop of “Donald Trump: 45th President of the United States” with Electoral College totals on a massive billboard. I turned up 7th Avenue to a crowd of Blacks for Trump chanting with picket signs. I crossed 57th Street, which was lined with tables of Trump merchandise, including “Bomb the Hell Out of ISIS” t-shirts. I was met with police barricades at 5th Avenue, where the entire east side of the street in front of Trump Tower was blocked off by armed, militarized riot police with helmets and assault rifles. On the other side, men holding an enormous Trump sign while shouting “Lock her up” and “F*** CNN” while jumping up and down. I approached an NYPD officer to inquire as to what was happening in a more general sense. He said, “This is the new normal.” I shuttered. I don’t just fear that hatred and violence will spike – it already has all across our country, just looks at the news, and we are still 72 days from the inauguration.
There exist no do-overs, no rewind, no delete button. I am still in a state of utter disbelief. I am still at a loss for words. I am still torn up inside. Who? What? When? Where? Why? WTF!? I want to scream and shake myself, but this is not a nightmare. Nothing will change the election results of November 8, 2016.
Our nation is more deeply divided and flawed than I ever could have imagined. Did all of his lies mean nothing? Did the Tapes not matter? Do his words have no impact? Does fact carry no weight? The notion that nearly 60 million people voted for Trump, knowing this information (and much more) full well horrifies and saddens me. I underestimated the depth of hate in this country; millions care not for women, people of color, immigrants, LGBT, my brothers and sisters, you name it. Still, on one the darkest days of our lives – a reflection of my worst fears about a humanity that effectively condones racism, bigotry and misogyny – we must think about the reasons why he won.
Americans who feel left out, isolated and overlooked showed up to cast a vote for Trump. People are crying out for change and we must listen. Their veritable fears and needs merit attention. The problems in American communities are severe, boundaries and divisions that we absolutely must tackle for the strength and very existence of our nation. This divided country and world are in desperate need of healing: unity above division. Reach outside of your echo chamber, your bubble – listen to and engage with those who think differently. We may disagree, but we have no choice but to be in dialogue and build bridges. We are all works in progress, like our country. We are all deeply flawed, like our country. We all have dark moments, like our country.
Thousands have written me – to ask if this is actual reality, how to address legitimate fears, and what we can possibly do now. My best friends, my mentees, my mentors, distant acquaintances, strangers – all seek direction as to where we go from here. I don’t want to be strong, I don’t want to lead, I don’t want to allow the reality of this to sink in, but we have no other option than to address it head on. I am not going to move to Canada, though I did seriously consider taking the train to my grandma’s house to have her cook for and coddle me, finding a way to a tropical beach with no signal, or barricading myself in my house with Netflix and vegan ice cream – for somewhere between four days and four years. But I will stay the course and stand with you to make our way through this unforeseen madness. I will push unity. I will endeavor to be an agent of change, and to make that infectious.
So here I am, typing away in my friend’s office at Ground Zero because I could not face being alone on this day. I am sitting at the very site of the most egregious act of terror ever committed on American soil. I am here at a place that is the living embodiment of rebirth, of rising from the ashes, of discovering light in the darkest of darkness.
I have held back tears. I am simultaneously hugely disappointed and acutely frightened, while struggling to make sense of what is happening, like so many across the country and around the world. It is no mistake that the Canadian Immigration site crashed as results rolled in. America is in a downward spiral, “total panic breakdown freakout mode,” as I wrote on Twitter in the moment. I’ve heard from friends in Germany, Australia, Iraq, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Israel, Spain – expressing utter shock about the results, needing explanation because they simply cannot understand the news.
To see this as the mere loss of an election entirely negates the substance of the situation. This is the undermining of our integrity, our values, our rights, our democracy. Trump threatens to eradicate progress and destroy hope. He is not qualified, not honest, not trustworthy, not even-tempered. I actively worked to campaign against Trump nationwide, from California to Ohio to New York for a multitude of legitimate reasons. This man calls Mexicans rapists and drug lords, discredits POWs, generals, and Gold Star families, attacks the justice system, vows to ban Muslims from entering the country, mocks the differently abled, asks Russia to hack American politics, slanders immigrants as inferior, endangers constitutional freedoms of religion and press, promises to imprison his opponent, praises dictators as effective leaders, and brags about sexually assaulting women, in addition to insulting every other class of human being. He disregards the constitution and jeopardizes the very foundation of the United States. And that is alarming.
My heart is shattered, receiving hundreds of messages from terrified kids and adults across the country. One boy wrote, “@ErinSchrode I’m muslim and i’m terrified for my dad when he goes to work tomorrow.” A young girl tweeted, “I’m truly scared, Erin. This is NOT my America. This is an America for bigotry and hatred – a real life nightmare.” A woman said, “My daughter is scared for her friends and my Muslim neighbor is panicked.” A man wrote, “I’m Jewish and you can add that to the list” in speaking about additional groups that will be targeted by a vicious and emboldened Trump-fueled alt-right. Another messaged me, who wants to remain anonymous. “As a black woman in the military, I’m deathly afraid. I thought my fellow Americans would make the right choice.” A dear friend wrote me, “My kids woke up crying. They asked how a bully who is mean to women wins.” A friend told me, “My daughter said she doesn’t believe in happy endings. I am struggling how to be a good mom right now when I am terrified to my core.” Another’s child asked if they needed a gun in their home. This message devastated me, “I’m scared. Literally everyone in my family is undocumented except myself and 2 little brothers. I know we must unite… but how?” This is decidedly not our America; we can and will stand together for our values against hatred and fear. People are good – and strangers all around us are hurting and shocked. In the past day, doormen hugged me, my cab driver invited me to accompany him to Haiti for safe haven, a security guard said he suddenly felt compelled to quit his job – or perhaps if was his life, my elevator-mates expressed just how upset and on edge we all are. Deep breath.
The election is over, but life is not. My determination is unwavering, if not intensified. Our world has not ended, though it may feel that way. People are not unequivocally bad because they voted for Trump, though I do have serious questions. There are a few constants in which we can take solace: we are still breathing, the sun rose from the east, the Earth is rotating on its axis. Do not surrender. Do not let a wave of defeat cripple. Do not act out of fear. Do not spew hate – this I plead. Our current president reminded us, “You have to stay encouraged. Don’t get cynical. Don’t ever think that you can’t make a difference.”
Take a moment. Let the emotions flow through you. Cry. Scream. Recharge. Rest (I should listen to my own words). A pause is necessary to process what just happened, what it means, what we have learned, and what we can and must do.
I know the light is out there somewhere for us a nation, but cannot yet see it. I will try with all my might to choose light, to choose love, but recognize that inherent difficulty. Because we need something to guide forward movement, I have outlined a general roadmap in my head, with friends, and here on paper – of understanding, vocalization, and mobilizing.
We desperately need empathy. We must first stand in solidarity with those who will be most affected by Trump’s draconian policies and reversal of progress. There is genuine pain, grief, stress, sadness – and even panic. Don’t dismiss others’ fears or concerns. Creating safe spaces for open, honest conversation is critical. We need both physical and digital forums for dialogue and human connection to show that are afraid, confused or lost – but never alone. Trump’s presidency may not appear to pose an urgent threat to your personal physical or mental security, but it will be an immediate assault on the civil liberties of too many. And people who are vulnerable or marginalized now face even higher risks of being targeted, hurt, left behind, forgotten, ignored, excluded, erased, hurt, bullied, killed.
Just how far will Trump go in carrying out the discrimination outlined by his campaign? I fear the worst. He is an empty vessel, an entirely untested political leader, a total known – with secret plans, yet-to-be-determined advisors and top officials, a propensity to fire people, blatant lies, and a track record of irrational rash action. Policy affects us, what Trump does affects our daily lives – and the decisions being made today will disproportionately affect us. The vast majority of 18-25 year olds voted against him; we have a different vision for our county of an inclusive movement that values and provides opportunity to all people of all backgrounds. The political system needs us to get involved at all levels – local, state, federal – to build a more representative government by voting, by running (YES!), by holding elected officials accountable not just at election time, but all year round.
We need a concrete and immediate call to action in response to President Elect Donald Trump – and must not wait a moment more. This cannot be a hashtag or a protest in the streets; those are both powerful symbols, but must be rooted in a movement with a clear message and tangible goal. We will not prevent the peaceful, democratic transition of power – a hallmark of our nation’s history – but we must STOP him from implementing the policies that attack the democratic ideals and values I cherish most. Freedom of speech, of press, of liberty are all in peril, as is the Supreme Court. Trump endangers not just four or eight years, but generations to come. He can undermine the very tenets of this country. I do not take for granted women’s rights, reproductive health, marriage equality, education, healthcare, welfare, religious freedom. As an environmentalist, I fear for the EPA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Parks, drilling, fracking, pipelines, chemical usage, much more. He will overturn executive orders and reverse progress – not only of the Obama administration, but of decades upon decades of hardworking citizens, activists and politicians. In his first 100 days, he has pledged to build a wall, deport undocumented immigrants of all ages, reverse Obamacare, ban Muslims, and much more.
I don’t yet have THE answer, but am actively organizing on many fronts with brilliant, diverse, concerned players and peers. Are you in? For exploration and planning of tactical moves for major, real world impact.
We must organize – strategize, align, protest, implement a plan, fight like hell. We will reaffirm citizenship with conviction to defend our values and principles, our basic democracy and human rights. Standing in solidarity with those most affected by Trump’s draconian policies and reversals of progress is an imperative. Build a grassroots revolution. We must send the decisive message that this is #NotOurAmerica. We – the most diverse generation in history – will deliberately insert ourselves in the political process to block Trump’s heinous policies and force him to reckon with a powerful populace. Obama said, “Don’t boo, vote!” Now I say, “Don’t disappear, organize.” Be sad, be mad, be confused, but never give up or give in. Please.
Neither change nor justice is inevitable, and a Trump presidency will make for an arduous journey, but I believe in the power and goodness of people to fulfill the promise of our America.
We cannot cower in fear. We cannot give in to a bully. We cannot succumb to bigotry. We cannot be silenced. I vow to unite and use my voice, pen, body, social and digital platforms to fight tirelessly with heart, word, and deed for us all – for those who can vote and those who cannot, for those in the US and those abroad, for those alive now and generations yet to come. Our world depends on it.
Be kind. Be respectful. Be loving. It will not be easy. It may be awful. But it is. And we must do what is right. Do for others. Do for our future. Do!
Erin Schrode was the youngest person to ever run for congress. She’s the founder of Teens Turn Green, an ABC news election correspondent, writer, and citizen activist.