A Reflection on the Anniversary of the 2016 Presidential Election
Sonia Chajet Wides
November 8th, 2017
On November 9th, 2016, I sat down next to my bed in the evening and wrote a journal entry about my observations that day. “There was a deep mourning in the air, people crying openly on the street, feeling shrouded and alone, but also part of a huge funeral. I cried on the train and got to school and saw my math teacher who I’d convinced to vote for Hillary and cried some more,” I wrote. I was emotionally destroyed by the results of the presidential election: angry, resentful, and terrified. And those around me — strangers and family members alike — evidently felt very similar pains.
On November 8th, 2016, I awoke with the sun on my mind. To me and countless others, today was the day: the day Donald Trump would recede to simply an insignificant bother in the media, the day the U.S. would elect our first woman president; the day that all of the hard work of so many — both in the past year and the past century — would finally pay off in some way or another.
It was a cold day, so my family and I put on our political t-shirts over long-sleeves and headed to the Brooklyn Museum, our polling site. We voted with the sun streaming through the glass windows of the museum, kissing the ballot before we turned it in. I wished for the best, and I was sure everything would work out. I was naïve.
Throughout the day, I exchanged excited texts with friends, made calls to voters in Florida and the Carolinas and began baking a cake for the watching party we’d be hosting that night. When I picture myself in that moment, I’m foolish, riddled with acne and premature excitement.
Later that night, I checked in on the TV frequently as I finished decorating the cake; it was vanilla, bedazzled with the iconic H-with-the-arrow logo. As my panic grew, frantic calls to friends became more frequent, and family members tried to calm me down. When I brought the cake to my neighbors’ apartment where we were all convening, everyone in the room was in shocked disbelief. I remember my breathing lessening and my face growing red. It was my first panic attack of the night.
Later, my parents and I sat in our dark living room and ate the cake as we watched Trump win Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Around 1 AM, my dad shut the TV off.
“We know where this is going,” he said. I tried to get up, but my body had other plans. Collapsed on the floor, I shook with sobs, my head throbbing and my lungs parched. Eventually, my parents and I each took a melatonin and the three of us slept in their bed together. I awoke in the morning and the sun felt unnatural. Enter the aforementioned journal entry: “There was a deep mourning in the air...”
Throughout the campaign process, I had been strongly invested. Among other initiatives, I made over 200 calls for Hillary, I encouraged my friends to campaign, and I canvassed in Pennsylvania. The election itself had helped me discover a new interest in political activism. As I would say later, I put my blood, sweat and tears into trying to elect Hillary. And I was going to put in blood, sweat and tears into doing my part to protect America from the fascism and hatred that lay ahead. I guess I had always just felt that weight on my shoulders for some reason.
The phrase I thought of most in the days after the election was simple: Let love prevail. And as the months progressed, that statement held both more and less value to me. Looking back a year later, I can still say that I will always champion love over hate and that, to me, people who do not have the ability to do so have a lot to learn. But at the same time, I wrote “Let love prevail.” I think that if I were to go back and edit that statement, I would say: Make love prevail.
I’ve learned a whole lot in the past year. I’ve become a thousand times more aware of my whiteness, in ways I didn’t even know I could be—even the fact that I was shocked by the election results is an example of this. I’ve become more confident, and given less care to what people think of me. I’ve trusted in my moral compass and I’ve also questioned it. I’ve doubted the institutions I was raised in, I’ve doubted the opinions of my elders and I’ve become exasperated with the ignorance of some of the people around me.
But most of all, I’ve learned about the power of a fight. To 2016 Sonia, all I needed to change things was an Instagram caption and a phone call. I both pity and respect that version of myself. I’ve always felt a connection to activism and political strategy—partially because that’s how my parents raised me—and the knowledge I’ve gained to help me become a better ally, a better activist and a better strategist is priceless.
On election night, these transformations were already happening. I found myself utterly irritated when white people in my social media feeds were talking about “moving to Canada” or “sleeping for the next four years.” As a person in a position of privilege, I considered it my absolute obligation to stay and fight in whatever way I could—because I had that luxury.
On top of that, there were so many new sensations that I began feeling soon after the election. People started asking me what they could do. How was I supposed to know? I was just as lost as they were. I was shocked at the position I found myself in; and in having to provide guidance to people, I found that I was passionate about getting youth involved. I knew I believed in democracy. I knew my peers had mostly the same opinions I did and I wanted them to get more involved (this eventually peaked in September 2017, when I created Teens Resist as a way of providing resources on activism to teens).
I also experienced a fear that so many in this country live with from the moments they’re born. For the first time in my life, anti-Semitism was weighted so much more heavily in my mind. I had never wanted to victimize myself in a situation where I wasn’t a victim, and I’d honestly never felt that my religion, culture and ethnicity posed a direct threat to me. But when bomb threats at synagogues started popping up around the country, when my cousins had to evacuate their Hebrew school, when Jews were being attacked on the subway, and when I myself came into contact with a real live Nazi in Grand Central Station, that changed.
The day after the election, I wrote a pledge that still sits in my bedside table and I asked people to sign it. Among other things, it said: “We pledge: to never be silent or silenced…to care about others’ rights as much as our own… to never underestimate hate… to take things seriously… to protest the government when it’s not representing us… to love and love and love as much as we can… to help the world understand...” I feel I’ve upheld those values.
There is so much to say about the past year for me. It’s been a journey. If I had to describe it in five words, I’d say these: Learning. Power. Discomfort. Rage. Inspiration.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. And we have over three years left to go. But from the moment I buckled over in pain on Election Night, I vowed to dedicate myself to this fight, and I am so immensely proud and inspired by the joy, passion, fight and resistance that has abounded. Not only that, but I'm so excited to see the youth involvement that continues to grow, because that is something I truly believe in.
So with healing, fight and power, I say: Make love prevail
To learn more about Sonia Chajet Wides’s work as a youth action advocate, see her new project (and a part of Highly Indy), Teens Resist (at teensresist.com), a platform of resources and initiatives that students in New York City can take to further political projects and combat local and national injustices that they care about.