Huff Post: Celebrating the One-Year Presidential Election Anniversary (Yes, Seriously!)
By Maggie Ragland Neilson
My disappointment on November 8, 2016, was not only due to partisan politics – the election was beyond left vs. right – but rather because the outcome represented the choice (technically not the choice of the majority, but nonetheless…) of fear, division and hate.
For as long as I can remember, I felt more interested in what was going on in the world than many around me. I was befuddled by those who said they didn’t care about politics or think they mattered. (How can health care, education, wage equity, taxes and the other things our elected leaders determine not affect someone?). I never understood people who didn’t feel compelled to try to change things that seemed obviously unjust. I believed – or at least hoped – that if I’d lived during women’s suffrage, slavery or the civil rights movements, I would have participated. People have died for our rights to speak out, to vote, to live freely. The least we can do is engage in continued improvement as a society, right?
My point is that not long ago, perhaps the average American was more complacent. Maybe some did skate by without noticing the effects on their lives. But November 8, 2016, was a drastic turning point for many, especially women. I do recognize that for decades, this fire of activism and urgency has been an urgent reality for people of color, those in the LGBTQ community and others – a more recent revelation to some. To me, the activists helped pave the way for more people to join in and understand how to take action.
We recently saw thousands step forward to share their personal stories of harassment and abuse. The #MeToo hashtag was tweeted nearly one million times within the first 48 hours of its existence. Within just 24 hours, there were 12 million Facebook posts about it. Although this core issue is something that needs to be addressed urgently, #MeToo demonstrated that many individuals who’ve been historically quiet feel more empowered to speak up.
Within the past 24 hours, we’ve witnessed notable political outcomes, not only seeing voters take action to change policies and representatives they don’t agree with, but seeing leaders step up to represent those traditionally underrepresented in politics – the first transgender person was elected to any U.S. state house, the first ever Latinas and the first Asian American woman were elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and my friend, Jenny Durkan, became the first lesbian woman elected mayor of Seattle. The list goes on: Montana’s first black mayor, Albany’s first Latino legislator, New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor and St. Paul, Minnesota’s first mayor of color were all elected.
If there is a silver lining coming out of the last year – a year of unrelenting discord – it is that more people are engaged. “Woke” and “the resistance” are terms now used daily. People are taking action and that is a positive thing.
So one year later, where are we? Why am I encouraged? Here’s my take:
A 2017 Pew survey found that 52% of Americans say they are paying more attention to politics since the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Whether intentional or enjoyable or not, we are consuming more content about politics and social issues than ever before. This shift is due in part to the growth of social media platforms that allow everyone to be a creator and share their opinions and experiences, and in part to the more traditional media gatekeepers honing in on these topics. Although sometimes exhausting, it is necessary for every citizen to tune in, to care and to learn. I’ve been encouraged seeing young people – even my young daughters and their friends – leaning into, rather than shying away from, challenging topics like oppression, revolution, privilege and human rights in the context of American history. I think we can follow the kids’ lead here and understand no one knows everything. Progress comes from learning and connecting with new people, new perspectives and new experiences.
Representation matters. We’ve said it for years, but there is no time like the present to step up and speak for ourselves – as women, business owners, parents, or simply as compassionate human beings. Recall the infamous photo of the House Freedom Caucus discussing excluding maternity healthcare from insurance company requirements – all white men. If that’s not inciting, I don’t know what is.
This is not a partisan issue – every voice matters. Sixty-three percent of Democratic women and 54% of Republican women have increased their political activities since the election. According to Emily’s List, the number of women proactively reaching out about seeking elected office increased four-fold within the months immediately following the election, and that number continues to grow.
Political action also means supporting the dedicated advocates in the non-profit sector. Researchers found the number of Democratic women who donated money to a candidate or cause increased from 6% before the 2016 election to 24% after. Planned Parenthood received more than 300,000 donations in the six weeks following the election, which was forty times its normal rate. Half those donors were millennials and 70% were new donors who hadn’t given to Planned Parenthood before. The ACLU donations webpage crashed on November 9th as a result of the 7,000% increase in traffic. Climate action group 350.org saw donations triple in the month after the election.
Other ways to get involved politically include writing letters to and calling our representatives about legislation we care about, and – please don’t forget this one – voting! Many of the laws that affect our daily lives are the result of local- and state-level elections, which have historically low turnout rates. Voting is the simplest way to translate those impassioned social media debates into meaningful action.
As recently as last year, civic engagement and activism were still waning. According to The Atlantic, since the early 1970s, the nation’s civic health—“from membership in civic groups to attendance at public meetings to newspaper reading—has been in steady, severe decline.” The most obvious example of the shift toward more civic participation after November 8 is the Women’s March, which took on a national presence and ended up representing more than we even realized at the time. The Women’s March was the first foray into social action for thousands of Americans – a study by researchers from Loyola Marymount University and American University reports that before Trump’s election, only 4% of Democratic women had participated in a march or rally; after the election, 19% reported attending the Women’s March or a similar event. Inspired by the Women’s March, the bipartisan March for Science took place three months later, on Earth Day. 2017 has been a year of unprecedented large-scale civic engagement.
Some of us also have the opportunity to take our social action even further, as leaders within our companies, communities, religious institutions, non-profit organizations or other groups. Change starts from within and not everything is governed by law. Upset by wage inequity in the workplace? Create your own policies and fair pay for your employees. Concerned about government funding for your vital non-profit programs? Seek out new donors through digital channels. (Remember the increase in millennial donations post-November-8th?). Bothered by the hateful rhetoric spanning the airwaves and social media platforms? Treat those instances as teaching moments for kids in your community.
Not everything is partisan. Real life is not a cable-news crossfire debate. We are human beings, which means we are complex and nuanced and do not fit squarely into one box – right vs. left, male vs. female, us vs. them. A 2017 Pew survey found that despite the nation’s deep political divisions, 56% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats say that even though people in the opposing party feel differently about politics, they share “many of my other values and goals.” Yes. This. Trust me, I know it can be a challenge to sit back and truly listen to someone whose life paradigm differs drastically from yours. But by leading with kindness and openness with one another, we can find that common ground and start making progress. Or maybe not, but at the very least, perhaps your worldview has evolved or you’ve helped open someone’s eyes.
The world is made up of billions of individuals, and trillions of choices and actions. Why not add to that in a positive way?
As I look back on the past year, I am encouraged to see meaningful action taken by so many, especially those who may have turned a blind eye in years past. I have such high hopes that we can continue to look past party lines and work together for the common good. Here we are, America –we’ve come a long way since November 8, 2016