The heat is just beginning to wane here in Arizona in the November ending the hottest five years on record. I’ve had to adjust my inner thermostat too, living here in terrain associated in many of the world’s religions with spiritual testing. The election results threaten to undermine every cause that I as an educator, poet, and essayist have worked for in the past 50 years: women’s rights, civil rights, environmental justice, science literacy, civil discourse, and empathy—and underlying all, the informed and reflective thinking required for democracy to thrive.
Only 25 percent of the American electorate voted for Donald Trump. That means 75 percent of Americans did not vote for deportation of Mexicans, banning of Muslims, denigrating and denying science, wasting this glorious planet for the sake of personal and corporate gain, hate speech, racist and misogynist words and deeds, or autocratic decision-making. The reasons that only 25 percent of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton will become more clear with analysis, though some elements of this outcome I suspect will remain opaque.
The reasons that the remaining 50 percent of Americans did not vote for any candidate include despair, cynicism, principle, and challenges to the right to vote. I will not castigate non-voters. I will praise them for not voting for a dangerous, ill-informed, disrespectful, undignified, greedy, and hate-filled bully. The fact that 75 percent of Americans did not vote for this candidate makes clear that Trump values are not American values. This vote says that whatever the reasons might have been for not voting, we need you now to avow your majority position in being publicly vigilant, articulate, respectful of difference, and caring toward the most vulnerable among our people and creatures with whom we share the planet.
We have seen language used to manipulate people, distort reality, deny facts, and betray our American ideals of liberty and justice. We need now to believe in the power of language to help us connect across our differences, express empathy, form new alliances, fuel our better natures, and live more fully the values we espouse. Surely surprising acts of resistance will rise from the spirit of resilience and solidarity energized by this dangerous turn in American leadership. Maybe all the women who attend the Million Women March in Washington should wear the hijab in solidarity with those who feel the very real vulnerability arising from the threatening rhetoric of the campaign.
I think of this remembering the symbolic power of an action taken just days after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 when public protests were banned. Ten thousand pairs of shoes were lined up in the Place de la Republique–shoes from Pope Francis, shoes from the Dalai Lama, shoes of the living, and shoes of the dead. They stood in for the 200,000 people anticipated to gather on Paris streets ahead of the Paris climate summit.
Sure, take to streets, sign petitions, move to a red state and run for the school board, donate to organizations that work on the local level or promote human rights. Think of the great spirit of inventiveness the Earth calls forth after each major disturbance it suffers. Be artful, inventive, and just, my friends, but do not be silent.
Alison Hawthorne Deming Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in Environment and Social Justice The University of Arizona
Alison Hawthorne Deming’s most recent book is the poetry collection Stairway to Heaven (2016). She is Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona and a Guggenheim Fellow.
Header photo of Flag, by Jasper Johns, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Alison Hawthorne Deming by Cybele Knowles.