What Happens to the Progress We Thought We Made?

Unsurprisingly, I was feeling a lot of feelings the night of and day after the 2016 US presidential elections. I was in a hotel room in Romania, on a business trip. I had cast my vote early, knowing I would be out of the country on the night and day of. I was disappointed, because I figured I was going to miss the rocking parties in my hometown inaugurating the first female president of the United States.

Instead, I was alone in a hotel room, thousands of miles from home, unsure how to process what I was feeling. The Supreme Court seats. Black Lives Matter. Water Is Life. Intersectional feminism. Accessible healthcare. Treaties addressing climate change and sustainability. All things that seemed to at least be starting to turn in the right direction, but now, did that mean anything? 

Like any good Millennial, I turned to social media. I was Facebook-messaging a few shell-shocked friends. One in particular asked me the question on everyone's minds and feeds: "What do we do now?" This sparked thoughts, a conversation, and eventually a quickly-written post of its own.

I stumbled into this post again recently, and felt it was a good time to re-publish it, now with a few months of perspective. The shit has already begun to fly, but the sentiment remains the same.

I hope it might be helpful as context for you, as it was for me when I was working through the feelings that led me to write it.

I think first we must find a way to grieve for the progress that we envisioned as close at hand. We should give ourselves space and time to process this loss, to acknowledge the feeling and assimilate it, while not letting it assimilate us. We should be mindful not to allow ourselves to grieve so deeply and long that it ultimately pushes us away from the work that must now be resumed, albeit from a different, gloomier starting point.

Once our grief subsides enough to turn to our work, we should (continue to) connect with like-minded people, should not shy away from difficult, painful conversations, should find a way to reengage with working for longer-term goals. We know there are dark days ahead of us, and we must steel ourselves against the depths it may yet reach. However, we must at a minimum find a new equilibrium within ourselves, a way to care for ourselves, for our loved ones and for our communities, even as we feel like strangers in our own country, so that our selves, our loved ones and our communities may be resilient against the tides of negativity; So they may survive until the time comes when we have gathered enough strength to push back against that darkness, in a connected, ongoing and meaningful way.

We thought that day was coming sooner than it now appears to have been coming after all. So now, we must carefully absorb our loss, in order that we may use it as fuel to propel us towards the goals which are simply further out than we thought they would be.

This is hard, but it’s been hard for others in the past, in some cases much, much harder.

And they persevered.

We have enjoyed the fruits of their labor free of charge for a time, and now that time is ending. So now, we must step up in turn, and become the protectors of a vision of the future at risk.

It’s a wrenching transition — but that is, I believe, how we can channel this.

We have a huge advantage granted to us by those who struggled before us: we experienced this vision.

We know what it felt like to feel connected, accepted, protected and empowered in our country.

Not everyone who has struggled for equality, freedom and dignity had even a fraction of that to go on — many had to start from the stubborn faith that such a world could exist, and had to keep that belief alive using nothing more than their imagination, for longer than many of us have been alive.

We don’t.

We know it can exist. We’ve been there.

We may have overestimated how soon that world would come into its fullness, but we KNOW what it’s like.

That knowledge is power. Our disappointment is our fuel, and our horror at recent events is the spark that ignites it.

For now, we grieve, as we must. Soon, however, we will turn back to the work that must be done, not because it’s fair, or fun, but because we must.

We must not get lost before we begin again.