I was nervous leading up to this Election Day. Really nervous. As were so many people.
And I've been thinking back to two moments on Election Day 2016, before the returns started to come in, that I kept wanting to write about but felt weird and nervous about mentioning, but want to describe now:
That afternoon I'd gone to the Belmont Library in SE Portland's Hawthorne neighborhood to get out of the house and to get online. I'd already visited the Belmont Goats, in Lents near where I live, as a way to ease my nervousness. Since Oregon is vote-by-mail, I'd turned in my ballot the week before, visiting the County Elections office to do so, so the main political thing I could do was wait for results.
While there, I and a library staffer wound up speaking to a young twenty-something man who thought he was registered, but hadn't voted, and didn't seem inclined to do so. The staffer mentioned that he could go to County Elections, a simple short bus ride away (literally just down the street), and check, and if he were registered, he could vote there. The young man still didn't seem to want to do that. He felt it would be too much work to check, and he felt voting didn't make a difference.
I get frustrated by that belief, and I try to fight against it.
Here's the more striking moment for me, at that library on that day two years ago. I was online, with my tablet connected to library wifi, and I happened upon a thread. It showed screenshots from 4Chan, a part of the Internet I do not go because so many people there are mean and awful. The screenshots showed 4Chan discussions from earlier that day where young voters fired up to vote for Trump had realized they hadn't registered, and were freaking out about not being able to vote, without, you know, ever having found out how to register so they could until maybe that day. Some were yelling conspiracies ("They want to stop our vote!!!"), but they were ignoring that THEY HAD DONE NOTHING. It should be easier to register and to vote — my state has since created automatic voter registration when you reach age 18, and we approved Vote By Mail 20 years ago — but these 4Chan assholes had never checked how to do so. And, briefly amid my nervousness, I'll be honest, I felt some schadenfreude.
Reading that thread, of screenshots of panic from people supporting someone awful, felt like I'd quickly, briefly glimpsed events happening in another timeline. There's the idea that every moment someone Makes A Decision, different timelines sprout off: someone does This, someone does That, someone does Some Other Thing. Larry Niven's short story "All the Myriad Ways" is based on that; so's a lot of other science fiction. And on that day — one that ended with me and so many of my friends and family watching with horror at the decision we Americans, as a nation, had collectively made — I seemed to watch the start of the timeline where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had become President.
And none of us, none of you reading this, were on that timeline, and it rolled away like a train to a world we won't see.
The past two years have been long. They have often been demoralizing, and maddening, and (here's a big thing) draining. Life has been more of a fight. And many of us were worried that a lot of us would be too drained to keep fighting, through this election and whatever happens after this election. There was a good chance that the results for the United States from this election would have been bad, where the threat "this could be the last fair election in American history" did not seem like an empty one.
I am so glad to say, "But."
But, this election gave those of us who've been scared reasons to feel that this fight will, that this fight can, go in a better direction. Democratic gains in the U.S. House of Representatives. A significantly larger number of women, POC (people of color), and non-straight (and out) government officials. Medicaid gained support even in conservative states like Idaho and Utah, and has the potential to help more people stay healthy. Certain progressive causes got significant support. Democratic candidates in tough-to-win states like Texas and Florida came very, very close to winning, close enough in some cases that it can be (and, in Georgia, looks to be) contested. Here in Oregon, some (I feel) dangerously bad ideas on the ballot got shot down.
We've been through so much these past two years (more than that, considering how long the 2016 Presidential campaign went on) that we're allowed to be tired. But so many of us still fought to improve things. So many of us are still fighting to improve things. This can be a shot of energy. We didn't get one future, but we still have a chance for a good future.
Let's make this timeline a better one.