It’s been a full year since Donald Trump became president. A full year since he stood on the National Mall and swore to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,” just as Barack Obama had done eight years before. Attending President Obama’s inauguration was one of the most patriotic moments of my life. Instead of attending Trump’s inauguration, I joined with half a million other women in the next day to raise our voices in protest.
Needless to say, I entered Trump’s administration ready to fight. In my Instagram photo from that day, I’m wearing my Wonder Woman shirt, my smirk and stance challenging the camera.
But despite my attitude, I was worried. In fact, I had been worried since I blearily read the results the morning after the election. I was worried for you and even moreso for the many families less privileged than ours. As we’ve seen since then, my worries about the treatment of immigrants, LGBT folks, black people, and poor families were justified. Everything has been as bad as we expected. In some cases, it’s been worse.
Standing on the National Mall in the February cold, I stomped my feet and tried to ignore how sore my lower back felt. Watching the stage, I strained to listen to the speakers, from Silicon Valley billionaires to Native American activists. I was at one of the biggest climate change protests ever, focused on defeating the Keystone XL oil pipeline. While it attracted 12,000 people, it’s unlikely that many were in the same situation as I was: five months pregnant.
Despite the cold and a serious lack of bathrooms, I marched in hopes of shifting the tide against climate change. Now, with the election of Donald Trump for president and the Republican domination of Congress, I find it more important than ever before to be an activist mom.
Of all of the think pieces I’ve read on dealing with Donald Trump’s presidency, there is one small, furry voice that we haven’t heard from: Elmo.
What on earth would innocent Elmo have anything to do with our soon-to-be President, who brags about groping women and lies through his teeth? He’s actually dealt with Trump before – or at least a puppet version of him. In a Sesame Street parody of the Apprentice back in 2005, Elmo is a contestant in a contest to be Donald Grump’s assistant. As the other Grouches (including Oscar) say, “Donald Grump has all the garbage!”
All of us looking to get through the next four years with our sanity intact can learn from what Elmo does in the sketch:
To my children,
I’m sorry. That’s really the core of what I have to say right now. I’m so, so sorry.
I’m sorry that I was crying as we snuggled in bed this morning. Sprout, when you asked me what was wrong, I said, “The really mean person was elected leader of the country.” I almost choked saying the words. They just seemed so wrong. I’m sorry that I may be crying when I put you to bed tonight.
I’m sorry that our country elected a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic bully to lead it. That this is the sort of leadership the people of the United States of America actually want to have. That someone who stands for everything that I’m trying to teach you to stand against is going to be the most powerful person in the world. That we can’t hold our future president to higher standards than I hold you.
My earliest memory of civic engagement was entering the voting booth with my mom. My town had the old-fashioned voting machines, long before digital things permeated every part of our lives. You went in, closed the curtain, and clicked off your selected candidates. Then, the most exciting part happened, at least according to my young mind. You pulled the giant lever, which both registered your vote and flung open the curtain. Of course, my mom let me do that part.
What strikes me the most now is that I don’t remember voting as boring or something my parents did out of civic duty. I remember it as exciting and fun. Goodness knows there are few adults who think of it that way.
Besides showing my tendency towards being intensely wonky at a young age, I think these experiences set the foundation for my involvement and interest in local and national policy. Unlike some people who are into politics, I’m not all that interested in the individual candidates or parties. Their back-and-forth games frustrate me more than anything else. Rather, I’m deeply invested in the issues, whether they’re as local as our Bikeway Master Plan or as national as the Keystone XL Pipeline. Seeing involvement in politics as something genuinely enjoyable rather than a burden started me down this path. Now, it’s something I need to remember when I struggle with setbacks and disappointment. I could certainly stand to gain back some of my youthful innocence around the subject.
To both his and my sake, that’s why I’m bringing my son to the polls with me tonight, even though he already went with my husband. I want him to see me not only fulfill my duty, but also my pride in doing so. Even without the mighty metal lever to pull, I want him to experience a bit of that excitement. (Hopefully, I can figure out how to let him touch the screen without messing up my vote.) By participating in the process as early as possible, I hope it becomes not just a lifelong habit, but a role he embraces as a citizen of our community, our country and our world.
Even though tomorrow isn’t a official holiday in the U.S., it’s totally worth celebrating. It’s Election Day!
It’s very easy to get cynical about politics – I live in the D.C. area, after all – but it’s still worth it to participate, especially if you’re a parent. Decisions made on a national level about clean energy, climate change, health care, poverty, and agriculture can affect the country and world for generations to come. Elected leaders at the state and local level influence how our cities and suburbs grow, how we move around them (including how safe it is for children to walk and bike), what industries thrive, and how clean the air and water is. Even the smallest, most local elections can affect your daily life. For example, school boards have a huge influence over the curriculum and structure of our schools.
In addition to the direct impact of voting, it sets a great example for your kids. I have fond memories of standing in the voting booth with my parents and pulling the big, old-fashioned red metal lever that registered the votes. I’m sure that seeing my parents participate in the democratic process seeded much of my community involvement today. Voting with your kids shows them that you’re invested in the future of your community and they should be too.
Now, if you are a regular reader, you can probably guess my politics. Despite that, I won’t tell you to vote the Democratic Party line. For one, some Democrats are terrible leaders (I’m looking at you, Andrew Cuomo). Secondly, most of their politics are way too conservative for my taste, even it’s often the best our system has to offer. But most importantly, I would never recommend that because no one should ever unthinkingly vote the party line. If you haven’t already (I admit, I haven’t), do some research into the candidates before stepping into the booth. Every community has different needs – make sure our system can serve yours appropriately.
So go out there and vote tomorrow! If you don’t know where your local polling station is, you can look it up on Google. And when you finish, wear your “I voted” sticker with pride.