When I was eight years old, upon observing that trees had been cut down along Highway 80 in the East Bay, I wrote a letter to then-Governor Pete Wilson “informing” him of the environmental benefits that we reap from having trees and the deleterious effects of cutting them down, and if he had any lingering questions or concerns, he should feel free to give me a call. (He didn’t).
I am not a religious person, not so much out of principle so much as by circumstance, and yet I was from the outset infused with a deep faith in the power of progress through civic engagement and community service, in the conviction that through hard work toward the greater good, to quote my favorite musician, dreams will not be thwarted and faith will be rewarded.
Indeed, when I was in college in 2008, I spent the home stretch of the election cycle in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, mobilizing the housing projects and other poor communities to register to vote, know their voting rights, and turn out at the polls on or before Election Day. I spoke with people who were eighteen and excited to see someone of their ethnicity become elected as President of the United States. I spoke with people who in their fifties had never before that year cast a vote, let alone seen a campaign worker on their doorstep. I spoke with people whose windows were boarded because they had felt so acutely the economic devastation that had overtaken so much of the United States under that presidential administration. The last home that I visited there will be forever burned into my brain: in the place where a door previously had been installed was only an old plaid sheet, frayed and fading and damp from the coldness of the fall. And we spent election night with tears streaming down our cheeks having just made history, with the state being determined by fewer than 15,000 votes.
Having spent the home stretch of the 2012 presidential campaign in State College, PA, upon returning to New York City to celebrate the victory, my life changed the night of November 8. The morning after, on November 9, 2012, I took the longest shower of my life, let hot water run over bruises and trembling limbs, scrubbing myself clean as my heart continued to pound. I recounted whether I had said or only thought “no” or “stop.” I recounted to what extent I had physically struggled. I recounted whether we had flirted the previous night (we had). I recounted whether I had invited him to my apartment or whether he had followed me (he followed me). I recounted how many beers I had had that night in celebration of the election and to what extent that gave him license. I contemplated whether to report it (I didn’t).
I have not thought about those moments more than amid the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape of Trump's boasting about sexual assault, though it undeniably has shaped much of my experience of the last four years. So many days seemed tainted, overcast and dismal with a weight upon me that made the pursuit of even simple tasks sometimes more than I could fathom. Far too many days were spent counting down the hours until it was socially acceptable to go back to bed. Far too many hours were spent feeling like a shadow of my former self. In twenty years, I’d reverted from the person who thought they wanted to one day be on the Supreme Court and who had always had a penchant for planning the future in granular detail along with the faith in the ability of phone calls to congressmen and swing state voters to make a difference in the political landscape (even at times imposing on my teachers to make calls about the filibuster and the Supreme Court, often accompanied by a lecture about civic duty), to someone incapable to looking more than hours ahead. At few if any points in 2015 and early 2016 did it feel as though tomorrow would be better than today.
And then something changed. Part of it was an exogenously imposed change of scenery as I schlepped my cats and me off to the San Francisco Bay Area for a month, with walks along the Ferry Building, perusals of City Lights Books, and consumptions of inordinate amounts of Zachary’s Pizza with my long-time friend giving me the physical and emotional strength of which I had for too long been devoid. Part of it was having the support of a truly amazing mother and some incomparably amazing friends. But it was also something more than that. It was Hillary Clinton.
In a time of rampant cynicism, in a time in which the Republican nominee was making headlines attacking people for their bodies or their ethnicity or their immigration status or their religious affiliation or their gender, Hillary Clinton talked about economic opportunity, healthcare, the environment, equal pay, human rights, women’s rights, education, fairness, and equality. While I have always disagreed with President Reagan, I was reminded of someone’s description of why, despite the economic devastation that his policies created, people loved him so: he made people feel good about America. What I found over the course of 2016 (though I have long supported Clinton, including in the 2008 primary) was a similar sense: I felt a renewed pride in being American and more specifically in being a Democrat, not to mention a renewed strength to persevere. For the first time in a long time, I felt again a sense of faith in the betterment of the future, renewed all the more so as I sat in Blue State Coffee in New Haven, Connecticut with my mother as we watched Hillary accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States, tears streaming down our cheeks. Somewhere between Super Tuesday in the primary and the balloon drops of the convention, I found myself again.
It is not for lack of love of President Obama that my renewed sense of strength came from Clinton and not him. Indeed, having delivered economic progress coming out of the greatest economic devastation since the Great Depression and delivering the greatest healthcare expansion since 1965, he will go down in history as one of the more effective presidents in modern history. Yes, gender is part of the equation, though it is far from all of it (after all, Sarah Palin couldn’t be farther from my ideological preferences). Hillary is, for lack of better words, home to me, both as a familiar face in Democratic Party politics in the time when I became a political junkie, and as a fighter for the issues nearest and dearest to my heart (namely, healthcare). She is determined. She is scrappy. And she comes from many of the same values and temperament as much of my family, and there are innumerable times this year that I have wished that my grandmother were still alive to see what will soon become of our country (if all goes well). My grandmother, who worked in the California State Capital while raising five children, was a no-nonsense woman who valued hard work and determination, but also compassion, saying, “If it’s mine to give, it’s yours to have.” Similarly, in clinching the required number of delegates for the Democratic Party nomination, Hillary spoke of the influence that her mother had: “She was my rock, from the day I was born till the day she left us… My mother believed that life is about serving others. And she taught me never to back down from a bully, which, it turns out, was pretty good advice.” In a time in my life in which faith and resilience seemed all-too-hard to come by, something about Hillary’s words (and of course her record) resonated, and I knew that knocked down though I most definitely had been, I was not going to be knocked out but rather obtain (and maintain) faith in better tomorrows ahead and find strength on those broken places.
On November 8, 2016, our country’s future is at stake, and we have a choice that transcends party identification, striking instead much deeper issues of democracy and faith in the system itself. It is the day on which we must reject cynicism about our democratic process and not not stoop to hate and intolerance about who we love or the color of our skin or our religious affiliation or national origin. It is a day on which we must remind ourselves that America’s greatness depends on our defending the equality and justice upon which our constitution rests.
On November 8, I am more ready than ever to make this new memory.