I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Halloween before the 2016 election. It wasn’t the most surprising diagnosis; my mother had breast cancer, but it was terrifying, because my mother died at 35, barely 2 years after her diagnosis. I had no idea how far the cancer had progressed, or how aggressive it was, or how much time I still had left.
On the bright side, I thought on the day I was diagnosed, no matter how bad this turns out to be, at least I lived to see the first woman President.
Yeah. About that…
The day after the election, someone posted online from Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.” On November 9, 2016, I started to get an idea. And I realized how very naïve I had been until this point, believing in the lie we are told that America is a land of equality (people who aren’t white could have told me this was a lie long ago- heck, they probably tried; I just wasn’t able to hear them, caught up as I was in my faith in the ideal of what I had been taught my whole life America is). I’m not going to be so naïve ever again.
I also have naively believed in the concept of fairness. I mean, I know life isn’t fair, but the past four years really showed me how effortlessly the powerful avoid consequences for terrible, cruel, immoral actions- tearing apart families, causing unnecessary deaths, destroying the future of the planet and lying and lying and lying and getting away with it all.
And yet… and yet…
Four years (and one cancer recurrence) later, I was one of over 81 million Americans who said, this isn’t what we want. I wasn’t voting for the candidate I had wanted; I was voting for yet another old white guy, but, as bad as the past 4 years have been for me, they have been far worse for people who don’t have my privilege, bad in an immediate way I didn’t experience, and if I have learned anything else from the past 4 years, it’s that it’s not all about me. It’s not about me getting to see a woman in the White House; it’s about taking action to be a better citizen for all of us. Every person who showed up to vote Trump out of the White House was taking action to be a better citizen. And my fellow Democratic voters showed how smart they were in the primaries, much smarter than me. And I trusted their judgment and I’m glad.
And then the Georgia Senate runoffs happened and I saw the effect of all the work so many activists in the state put into getting people to the polls. I saw the voice of the powerless is so much louder than that of the powerful, when we all speak together.
I’m very hopeful about the next four years. I know it won’t be everything I want, and there are days I’m going to be furious, but it won’t be every day. That will be a great change from the past four years. As to what I hope to see, beyond the immediate solution to the Covid-19 crisis, more than anything, I hope to see the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress expand voting rights, and protect them. I want to see more economic and racial and gender justice, too, but most of all, I want to see those without power be given access to the power of the ballot box. Someone said that 2020 showed that Georgia isn’t a red state; it’s a voter suppressed state, and I want to live in a country where that won’t ever be said about another state in the Union. Trump lost the popular vote twice. He was never what the majority of America wanted; just what the ones with power wanted. That, we can change.
On a personal level, it’s my job to keep dialoguing with the people I meet and know; to call out racism and sexism when I hear it; to listen without defensiveness when my own biases are shown to me. I will keep writing postcards to fellow voters, and try to overcome my shyness and maybe even try phone banking for the next elections (and there are always next elections). I’ll let my elected politicians know what I think. I’ll see what’s happening in my local area, and how I can help.
Even as late as November of 2020, I thought I’d never get over my bitterness about 2016. But now, I’m less certain. Not because it wasn’t unfair; it was, as we once again saw a brilliantly capable woman get passed over for a promotion by a mediocre white man. But because bitterness can lead to despair, and despair leads to inaction. And because, even though I feel like I’ve been lied to about what America stands for, it doesn’t change the fact that those ideals of equality and justice for all should be what America stands for. It’s on me, on all of us, to get us a little closer. Will I live to see a woman President? I don’t know.
I’m cancer-free again as of this writing, but who know what the future holds. If I’m honest with myself, I’m doubtful I will; not because I fear dying soon but because I fear it’s farther away than I’d like it to be. But I still have a responsibility to work for a future where it will be, even if I’m not around for it. And the next four years are as good a place to start as any. There’s so much to do, but I believe in the new Administration, and, for the first time in a while, I also believe in my fellow Americans. It’s a good place to be.
Nicole, thank you so much for sending this in! (WG)