Last night, during our shared meal, all seven of us at Compersia discussed our emotions after the shock of election night 2016. Reactions were a mixed spectrum of grief, tempered somewhat for the sake of the children – in the end though it was their reactions that cut through to me. Cheerily, one of our little ones described a creative coping project they participated in at school. The picture they described drawing was shocking, sad, and perhaps inevitable after the traumatic saturation of this past year; a ghoulish dystopian potpourri of bigotry and violence, some hyperbolized and some all too familiar, unfiltered by the experience that we adults quietly hold as backstop to our political frenzy. In it I saw reflected my own fears for the future, both the concrete and the absurd.
Those are hard words to write, and harder words to swallow. It seemed unthinkable, but even if the popular vote had changed the final results we would be forced to confront the reality that almost 50% of the United States embraced a platform and a candidate that seems anathema to everything we stand for as a movement.
Living at a fledgling project, we’ve been thinking hard about how we wish to be seen and the membership we want to attract. We are committed to the ideals of equity, anti-discrimination, sustainability, communication, and growth. Our processes are specifically designed to include everyone equally, to encourage confidence and not favor those with an excess of privilege or ambition. We’ve all felt recently that the world was turning in our direction – that perhaps the time was right for these ideas to finally blossom and gain a wider audience. The results of the election seem at first glance to be a stinging rebuke of that optimism. It’s tempting to despair that the racism, sexism, nationalism, and religious bigotry on prominent display seems not only to have been accepted but rewarded – how could we have been so wrong about who we were?
But I believe that this viewpoint ignores the true impetus behind the results. The majority of the country did not vote in favor of hatred, but in reaction to a terror which has been carefully and cynically stoked for years. Our political process has become addicted to fear. Precious little else is left that can inspire us; We are disenfranchised by a system which, despite newly elected faces and promises, despite victories negotiated or wrested, refuses to confront the forces that keep us in misery. What motivation could there be to not attempt something new and better? Only fear, the base threat of annihilation to ourselves and those we hold dear. And so that final impetus has been used again and again by those who would use our strength for their own, turning us in anger against one another – against the very people we seek to protect.
Part of why we chose to locate ourselves in the city was the desire to be surrounded by viewpoints and experiences different from our own, to overcome superficial divisions and create a more inclusive vision. There has never been a greater need to reach out to those we think of as our antagonists, to work together and break new ground in a way that sidesteps tribalism and divisiveness.
America is desperate for a better way. We have chosen rashly, and without thought towards what will replace that which we tear down, blinded by unachievable promises. When these too are not delivered there may be an opportunity – a chance to break through to people, many of whom truly viewed this as their final chance at salvation. The next four years will be difficult. We will have to be more engaged, more committed, to push back against threats to the values we hold dear, to stand with and fight for those unable to defend themselves. In short, we will have to continue that which we are already undertaking everyday, with redoubled effort and an open mind. We are uniquely suited, called upon even, to build a better alternative to what we’re witnessing around us.
The message of change at the heart of our movement is one that has never been needed more desperately. Together, we can see it realized.