What Comes Next
It is the night before the 2020 election, and I, among others, wait with bated breath for the outcome of tomorrow. We’ve seen an increased voter turnout, outrageous waves of support and suppression, and copious amounts of “get out the vote” marketing campaigns, but I wait with bated breath for what comes next.
Four years ago, I was a freshman at New York University, watching the first election I was eligible to vote in on a 45-inch TV in the Rubin student lounge. It might’ve been fifty or sixty of us huddled together, standing, sitting, leaning wherever there was room, watching as ballots were counted and electoral votes came in. Together, all fifty to sixty of us watched as Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump was voted into office, but more vivid in my memory is what came after.
All fifty to sixty of us freshmen, along with a few RAs, watched as our rights came under scrutiny and watched the beginning of a long and arduous four years. My friends and I, rattled and vulnerable, made plans to jump on the train and go to Coney Island, just to do something when we felt we could do nothing. We passed by a stack of newspapers ready for distribution on November 2nd, and Marissa, a friend at the time, could not hold back from slamming her combat boot directly on Trump’s printed face declaring his victory, ripping the top of the stack to shreds. We all went home, sad and afraid, knowing that as women, as people of color, as queer, as kids living in a new, big, unfamiliar city, our lives would change.
The next day, my philosophy professor carried on as normal, knowing that we needed a distraction. My art history professor, teaching a class aptly named “The History of Love,” decided she would rather hold a therapy session of sorts. We discussed the outcome of the election, as a collection of black, brown, and white students, as queer people, as left and right-wing, as international students here on visa, as undocumented students hoping to continue studying at NYU. A classmate of mine, a Libertarian, said he “understood what we were going through” when we raised concern about voting third party in that election. I don’t know that he understood the trauma so many of us had gone through in our lives and would continue to go through.
Swastikas were painted on campuses, mosques, temples, and synagogues. Black and brown people became targeted solely for the color of their skin. A woman’s hijab was tugged down so hard that it choked her, leaving bruises on her neck. Places of worship were vandalized, and it was catalyzed and galvanized by Trump’s emboldening of white supremacists and bigots. I went to a vigil for support of the Muslim community at NYU, who now had a target upon them due to the outcome of the election. I was surrounded by at least two hundred people, collected on balconies, staircases, and wherever there was space on the ground. We cried, we held each other, and in pure disrespect to the grief and fear that this community was facing, a young man stood behind us, a MAGA hat bright upon his head, with a challenging smirk. I still do not believe that he was there to grieve with us or pay his respects.
Prior to that election, during Trump’s campaign, I grieved with the survivors and families of Pulse Nightclub. It was the first time I felt truly, intrinsically afraid. With the shootings in the past that seemed not to have any sort of demographic preference, I was able to maintain some distance, so that I would not be consumed or panicked. When the Pulse shooting happened, I did not just grieve, I bawled. I saw the news, I heard the names read out, I saw commentators horrified and saddened, and there was no way I could hold back those tears. As a queer person, our community becomes a sort of family. We share the lack of understanding from others, we share artists and music that become our idols and anthems, we share a sort of pop culture that others sometimes do not understand, and with the Pulse shooting, we lost a part of our family. I lost a part of my family in what should have been a safe space. A free space.
Over the four years since that election, we watch the news like it is a nightly sitcom. Which country has Trump pissed off? Which human rights will he violate now? Whose rights is he overturning next? While we turn the chess game of human rights into weekly infotainment, Black communities become more and more targeted by police brutality. Transgender rights become questioned by people who do not even want to begin to understand dysphoria. People with uteruses continue to watch their access to healthcare become more and more diminished (an aside: if you are anti-abortion but also anti-contraception, you are not concerned with the life of unborn children — you are concerned about diminishing people’s medical autonomy). Synagogues, churches, queer couples with the audacity to love in public, women, especially transwomen, especially black transwomen, are continually targeted and their attackers are emboldened by Trump and his acolytes’ rhetoric.
We rally loudly behind a candidate who we believe will support us and our demands, only to watch as a man accused of sexual assault, complicit in the “War on Terror”, increased policing of Black communities, and capitalistic destruction of the environment becomes nominated. We rally and we protest and we take to the streets in historic numbers, galvanized by the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Jacob Blake, and so many more, making demands and imagining better societies than the current one in which systemic racism rigs success against the Black community, only to watch as a woman who has perpetuated harm through the protection of corrupt police officers, opposition to overturning wrongful convictions, criminalizing truancy, and maintenance of the death penalty became the pick for a Democratic vice president. To put it in layman’s terms, the Democratic party screwed the f — — up.
Now I watch as many movement leaders, organizers, and theorists imagining a new world lose their belief in the system, knowing that a system that ignores what they have rallied in the streets to the tune of millions for should not be honored, and that their demands will never be honored through a vote. I see thousands of leftists that would have otherwise shown up to vote become discouraged knowing that people of both Biden and Harris’s records are the alternative to a demagogue like Trump. I see so many losing their faith in American institutions, if they ever had any faith in them. I also see liberals, mainstream media, and Democrats maintain that these institutions are fair and just, and that if reform is needed, it must still be recognizable as its current form. I see many argue with me and the non-voters I understand, and claim that voting will make things better, even for a short while, even for a moment. I see fanboys and fangirls rallying around the Democratic nominees as if the harm they perpetuated is suddenly invisible. And yet, I voted.
I still voted for my local representatives in CA-17. I still voted on propositions and watched as my parents voted differently than me on some for what seemed like arbitrary reasons, despite my recommendations due to the harm that would be caused if those propositions were affirmed. I voted because despite the truth that the presidential elections will never truly represent us as a people, that they will never think of anything past monetary power; I voted because I believed that local elections, and something like the California proposition system, allows us to have a say on what directly affects our communities. Aimee Carrero put it best in one of her Instagram stories, in which she is attempting to appeal to non-voters and assist first-time voters: “good politicians have to be grown.” If we do not support, call out, hold accountable, those who have the most direct effect on our communities such as council people, mayors, state senators, school boards, and so on, how will we ever have faith in an electoral, representative system?
However, I still wonder if my vote even counts, if it presents me with limited options that uphold harmful systems and does very little in a community that is currently attempting to fight affirmative action, employee rights, cash bail (by providing an alternative that will most likely be biased against Black people), and more; if my family, who I rely on to keep me safe, votes against the majority of recommendations and believes that their votes increase the net good (this may be due to misleading campaigning and ballot language); if the options I have presented to me rarely, if ever, actually align with my values in community and mutual aid; if my neighbors who have been long-standing Democrats vote for a pro-ICE, pro-police, anti-affirmative action Republican solely on his platform of campaigning against Prop 16. Does my vote count when so many in my community only vote for themselves and their own comfort, or a perceived unfairness against their own ethno-class community? Does my vote count in an upper-middle to upper-class district in the birthplace of the modern tech industry that despite its diversity, maintains racial, xenophobic, and queerphobic division?
I often wondered why the boy down the street with blond hair and blue eyes constantly invalidated my existence and the experiences of both women and people of color, while his mother ran the anti-bullying campaign in our school districts. I often wondered why people close to me considered themselves progressives and liberals while making racist, sexist digs at people they were in positions of power over, especially in my presence after I had unlearned many of my own biases and made that clear. I often wondered how so many Indian-Americans believed that they would not be targeted by any administration or their rights come into question as long as they worked hard and kept their heads down. I don’t know if I have a clear answer yet, but I still voted, not knowing if it mattered when so much bias and harm is intrinsic, even in what is supposedly one of the most “progressive” areas in the nation.
I feel hopeless, like many of us do. I feel unsafe. I feel untethered. I feel like what I feel is just a glimpse compared to more persecuted communities. I feel like I cannot move, that I have no space, that my space and my freedom continually diminish. Whatever the outcome of this election, there is still so much work to be done before the Black community can live without the fear of having their lives threatened for simply existing; before queer people can live without their existence constantly being a debate question and used as a pawn in political games; before people do not have to stretch each paycheck, or live on the street while high rises are constantly vacant and local governments funnel funding away from free or low-cost housing; before healthcare can actually be an altruistic profession that is no longer dictated by the cost of care and insurance premiums. Whatever the outcome of this election, if your right to vote, right to live, citizenship, right to be treated with kindness had to be decided by a court case and/or an act/amendment/bill in the last hundred and fifty years, you are still unsafe.
I don’t know what comes next, even as I look to movement leaders in my community and across the nation who even through their own trauma and long-term struggle continue to share their imaginations of a new world and of human kindness. I don’t know what comes next, even if the Democratic Party wins — is it more of the same, but covert rather than overt? Is it a slight difference, like diet communalism that is more individual than community? I don’t know. What I do know is that the work does not stop or even start with a vote. It begins in each of us, and does not end until we all have dismantled what is currently a world dictated by the concentration of power and created something new.
It is the night before the 2020 election, and I, among others, wait with bated breath for the outcome of tomorrow. Three of us, my parents and I, will watch a 60-inch television in our living room as the votes roll in, hoping for something good. We will watch with millions of others across the nation for what could be considered a favorable outcome. I know that whatever the outcome, we will move, we will rally, we will commune and radically love the people next to us, so much so that we will build policies and governance around this radical love. I know that whatever the outcome, we will never stop fighting, never stop screaming.
It is the night before the 2020 election, and I, among others, wait with bated breath for the outcome of tomorrow. I wait with bated breath for what comes next.