Reasons to Hope One Year After the Election

In my memories, the sky was grey and cloudy on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016. I can picture, clear as day, walking through my campus; listening to people around me talk about the results of the election and looking up at the impending storm. That is, of course, only my recollectionin reality, the morning of Nov. 9 may have been cloudless and sunny (through some research it seems like the day was overcast, though perhaps not the “moment before the storm” darkness that I imagined).

Why do I remember that morning in that way? Pathetic fallacy, I suppose. Nov. 9, 2016, was a dark day, emotions-wise, for a lot of people, so in my mind I’ve equated the emotions and the weather.

I’ve written before about the moment I found out that Donald Trump won the electionI heard loud, bewildered shouting in the middle of the night, and assumed the outcome that was a growing possibility had turned into reality. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed up to watch the full coverage of the election, even though it crept into the darkest hours of the night and then the early hours of morning (and even though I had a journalism assignment due the next day).

At the time, I think very few people had an inkling of what was about to happen. When the world woke up on Nov. 9, on the morning I remember to be grey, a lot of us asked the same thing: What now?

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As I wrote in my post after the election, I had been ready to write an article about the first female president of the United States. Accepting not just that I wouldn’t be writing that article, but that I would not be seeing that realityfor at least four years, and likely longerwas disheartening, to say the least. But it was not only Hillary Clinton’s loss that made Nov. 9 difficult; it was who she had lost to, and the policies and rhetoric that were about to take centre stage in the Oval Office.

Watching Clinton’s concession speech made me cry but I was determined to move forward with an attitude of hope. “I looked at my reflection in the mirror and promised myself that I was going to keep fighting for what I believe in, and supporting others who are doing the same,” I wrote.

That bleary morning turned into another night, and then another day. Time passed. In January, Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I won’t list everything that has happened since then because, unless you disconnected your cable and Internet after the election, you likely know what has happened next. There were, in short, a lot of reasons to be concerned, fearful and angry.

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But there were also reasons to be hopeful. One of the best examples of this was the Women’s March the day after Trump’s Inauguration (pictured above). The sheer number of women and men marching in solidarity both in the U.S. and around the world was nothing short of incredible. The message of the marches was loud and clear: Trump can try to limit womens’ rights, but women will not be intimidated by this—they will fight for what is right.

The ACLU was also a strong force in standing up for equality, freedom and human rights. “President Trump has been in office for 42 weeks. We’ve sued him and his administration 56 times,” the organization tweeted yesterday.

Another source of hope came two nights ago. It was Election Night in America all over again. I had an eerie sense of déjà vu as I curled up on my couch and watched the news. The music, the graphics, the anticipation building up to the results. I allowed myself a smile when the journalists said certain races were too close to call, thinking of the failure of many to accurately call the election last year.

But the feelings of déjà vu ended when the results starting coming in. It wasn’t just that Democrats secured two major victories in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jerseyit was there were historic wins for representation and equality.

Danica Roem, an openly transgender woman was elected to the Virginia state legislature. Not only this, but the incumbent Republican she beat, Robert Marshall, actually called himself the state’s “chief homophobe” and previously introduced a controversial “bathroom bill.” Roem had an incredibly classy response to a question about her predecessor. “I don’t talk about my constituents. Bob is my constituent now,” she said. (Mic. Drop.)

Virginia also elected its first two Latina delegates. Another notable victory included Ravi Bhalla, who is Sikh, being elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey (interestingly, Bhalla has called himself “Everything Trump hates”). He is the first Sikh mayor in New Jersey. Vi Lyles was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, the first black woman to hold that post. The list goes onyou can read more about the historic wins in this Vox article.

Today marks one year since the morning many of us woke up worried about the future. There are, of course, still reasons to be worried. But there are also a lot of reasons to be hopeful. In the year since Trump won the election, people looking to make their voices heard have mobilized into movements. On Tuesday, voters showed a rejection of Trump’s rhetoric in favour of acceptance of the very people who Trump speaks out against. The newly elected political representatives now have the power to create real, positive change in America.

This is progress. This is a reason to be hopeful. And it is a reason to keep speaking out and speaking up as we continue to live in the world that was made a reality on this day last year.


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The Circle In Real Life: Mandatory Voting?

Technology’s place in society, questions of privacy versus security and issues of government transparency were all explored in The Circle, a new movie directed by James Ponsoldt and based on a novel by Dave Eggers. I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with Vox’s appraisal that the movie is “bafflingly bad,” but it certainly contains confusing elements and has a startlingly abrupt ending. However, the movie does feature several topical ideas that have relevance to our society and everyday lives.

Among those ideas was one that, as someone who has studied politics, I found intriguing: mandatory voting. In the movie, staff at the Circle, a Google-esque tech company, have the idea to link voting with citizens’ social media accounts. Essentially, in order to vote, you need this account; or, to put it another way, if you have this social media account, you must vote. In the meeting where the idea is pitched, someone draws a comparison to a totalitarian regime.

But, as another character says, we have hundreds of laws that govern people’s actions, and that’s not considered totalitarian. Laws surrounding driving, for example, are more or less accepted as being beneficial for the safety of members of society. Following speed limits, or general rules of the road, are not seen as optional, or as personal decisions. So then is voting a personal decision?

On one hand, of course it is. Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” Who people vote for is a personal decision; I’d argue that the decision to vote (or not vote) is also a personal decision. If people do not want to exercise their right to vote, then it’s their will to do this, so long as they live in a country that does not enforce mandatory voting.

In theory, mandatory voting is good because it encourages (or, rather, forces) citizens to get involved in the democratic process. Low voter turnout is a problem even in countries that pride themselves on their democracies (America had a turnout of approximately 56.9 per cent in the 2016 federal election). Mandatory voting would change this; but it wouldn’t automatically mean that citizens were well-educated about the choices on the ballot.

To professor and author Jason Brennan, this is a critical issue. He writes that “Bad choices at the polls can destroy economic opportunities, produce crises that lower everyone’s standard of living, lead to unjust and unnecessary wars (and thus to millions of deaths), lead to sexist, racist, and homophobic legislation, help reinforce poverty, produce overly punitive criminal legislation, and worse.” In other words, voting matters. It has huge societal implications, ones which reach beyond the voter and impact the millions of people in the country where the election is taking place. 

Brennan argues “That citizens have no standing moral obligation to vote” since it is only one way to contribute to a civic society. If citizens are not going to vote ethically, and with the greater good in mind, then “They should stay home on election day rather than pollute the polls with their bad votes.” This, to me, is a compelling argument against mandatory voting. If people are not educated about the candidates, they will make uneducated decisions. This can negatively impact a country and, really, the entire world.

So then I return to my earlier question. Should we be able to decide whether or not we vote, or should this be a decision that the government makes for us through something like mandatory voting? I think it’s incredibly important to hear all voices in a democratic society; and yet, I’m not sure if forcing people to vote is the right way to do this. There are other ways to encourage people to vote, such as having a wide range of candidates who can speak to the issues affecting people, having more civic education so that voters are not ill-informed and making the voting process easier.



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Politics and Pretend Paper Planes

This week, I found myself pausing before opening the Twitter app on my phone. Do I want to see more poll numbers? I asked myself. Do I need to read more headlines that make me angry and concerned? No. I don’t. But, as a journalist, an avid follower of the news, and someone who has a genuine interest in politics, it’s hard to look away from it all.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to look at, though.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: this election cycle has been crazy. It takes a toll. When you see that children have begun echoing Trump’s rhetoric. When you see that a black church was set on fire and vandalized with the words ‘Vote Trump’ in what appears to be a hate crime. When you see that the person who has said so many offensive things on Twitter—not counting his real-life statements—that the New York Times could fill two entire print pages with the statements is actually gaining in the polls.

Donald Trump didn’t create this hatred and negativity—he simply gave the existing movements of racism, sexism, xenophobia, you name it, a common point to rally behind. He took all of the isolated crusades of darkness in America and drew a web to connect them. Racist remark by racist remark, sexist comment by sexist comment, scandal by scandal, he united a dark movement of hatred and fear. Trying to avoid this movement on social media is like trying to stay dry without an umbrella when it’s raining. It’s impossible. And it’s not going to end with the election.

Sometimes, you need a break to remind yourself of the light. A break to feel hopeful about the future of humanity, and to remember that it is in fact possible to move forward. A few nights ago, I found this hope in the exact same place I so often lose it—Twitter.

I saw a Tweet about a website called Paper Planes. When you open the site, you’re given a (virtual) piece of paper to fold up like a paper airplane. After adding your location stamp, you use your phone to throw the plane into the world. Text on the screen tells you how many other planes are flying with yours—the plane I just sent off was in the virtual airspace with 1,027, 747 others—and then you are given a net to use to catch your next plane. I just unfolded a plane that had been to Israel and Warsaw, Poland. Then I added my location stamp, folded it up, and sent it away for someone else to discover.

The site is as simple as that: no usernames, no messages or texts. Just you, your phone, a virtual paper plane, and a million other people doing the exact same thing all over the world. You don’t know anything about the person who sent it—you have no way of knowing their political affiliations, or if they even care about the American election.

All you know is that they, like you, decided to take a few seconds out of their day to fold imaginary planes and send them across the world. In such a deeply negative period in politics, it’s refreshing to feel unity with people around the world from something as simple as a plane on a phone screen.

A website with a million paper planes can’t stop Trump (I wish it could, though). It can, however, serve as a powerful reminder that despite all of the things that make us all different, we can almost always find common ground. When we do this, we begin to see other people less as a frightening group to stay away from and instead as people who aren’t that different from us. Unfolding a plane and seeing it is filled with location stamps filled me with hope at the possibility of cooperation, acceptance, and positive change.

Lately, it’s easy to become absorbed in social media and news about politics and forget the things that make us human; the things that bind us together and allow us to rise above hatred and fear. Sometimes, being reminded of these things is as simple as throwing a pretend paper plane and remembering that there is always a very real possibility that things will get better (if we work to make this happen). As Albus Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times—if only one remembers to turn on the lights.”

Canada, Keep Telling America It’s Great

Having lived in Canada for my entire life, I’ve always raised an eyebrow at the “Canadians are so polite” stereotype. I mean, sure, we’re nice—one time the cashier at Tim Hortons “accidentally” made my mom a medium tea and charged her for a small, and another time I ran into a moose on my way home from school and it complimented my snow shoes (kidding). Seriously, though, Canadians are nice. But from my experiences, we’re not nicer than people in other parts of the world; people just think we are.

Reports of our kindness have been greatly exaggerated. Canadians being polite is an easy trope for Canadian news stories to fall into, because it’s such a prevalent stereotype. Such was the case with the recent ‘Tell America It’s Great’ campaign, an attempt by a Canadian marketing company to infuse some much-needed positivity into the lives of Americans. It is easy for people to assume that Canadians did this to fulfill the stereotype of being Canadian and oh, so polite. In fact, this is exactly what the author of a Vice Canada article did.

After explaining that Americans don’t care about what Canadians think—news to me, and, I would think, to the Americans who were moved to tears by the video—the author proceeds to declare that the “campaign is a thinly disguised excuse for Canadians to pat themselves on the back about how nice they are.” Not to be rude, (I am Canadian, after all) but, um, pardon?

This isn’t about being Canadian; it’s about being human. It’s about the 46 per cent of Americans who, according to an ABC News poll, have found this election to be a serious source of stress. It’s about bringing a positive message to social media, which has been plagued by toxicity during this election cycle. It’s about having the opportunity to do something small to bring a smile to people’s faces.

The problem with brushing Canadians’ kindness off as, well, a side effect of our nationality is that it puts a shadow over the kindness. Obviously, one video isn’t going to instantly cure all Americans of the stress that they are under. But if it helps at least one person, which it clearly has, then so what? Why would you ever discourage someone from saying something positive?!

The moral of the story is this: be kind to people, and encourage kindness when you see it. After the horrible, hurtful things that have been said in this election cycle, we absolutely need more empathy and compassion in this world—no matter what our nationality is.