It's finally here. The crippling effects of imperial overreach, political paralysis, and a complete loss of touch with reality have culminated in a truly shitty year. I'm left now with a president who is openly bigoted, a congress that is apparently bought by multinational corporations, and no more David Bowie. I spent 2016 travelling all over the northeast getting involved in any political activity I could. I volunteered for the Bernie Sanders campaign and Ken Gucker's state senate race in Connecticut. I organized for NextGen Climate in the Philadelphia area, attended Roots Camp in D.C., and even started my own organization at Widener University. It gave me the opportunity to meet hundreds of people and none of them were racist, sexist, or misinformed.
In November, just after the election, I attended a Reclaim Philadelphia meeting (one of the many progressive organizations in Philly). It took place in what looked like a re-purposed warehouse. There were Bernie posters and worker's union flags covering up bruises and cracked paint on the walls. Attendance was so much higher than expected that they ran out of chairs and the younger people were asked to stand. We broke out into groups and were asked to speak about how Trump's election had effected us. Rather obnoxiously, I suggested that:
"I'll spend the next couple of years in the U.S but I don't plan on spending my life here. I can't raise children in a country capable of electing this man. I can't imagine doing that."
That's when a woman in my group revealed she had a young daughter. Her daughter was Hillary Clinton's biggest fan and now kids at school were bullying her. There was a clear anger for my ignorance to her situation. As embarrassed as I was I learned an important lesson; All Americans, no matter how different, are interconnected and dependent on each other. How we vote is powerful. It can decide whether or not a cancer patient gets treatment or if we encourage bullies at a child's school.
When I was phonebanking for Ken Gucker I ended up on a call with a local mechanic. The man had been working in the area for years and had seen the value of unions in his community. I talked with him about how Gucker was endorsed by several auto workers unions and I believed Mr. Gucker would do right by him. He asked if Gucker supported Right to Work legislation. While Gucker firmly opposes Right to Work I had a mental lapse and blurted out yes. Before I could correct my mistake the mechanic hung up. The president of the local auto union overheard the conversation and called the man back. It took about half an hour of tense conversation for him to believe that Ken did not support Right to Work. The mechanic said that if we were not sure where Mr. Gucker stood on unions then we should not bother calling him back. Before that experience, I didn't really understand the stakes of the worker's rights movement. As a college student, my advancement in society is supported by professors and university policy makers. For those working in the trade industry, their livelihoods are constantly under attack. Locked in an endless battle with billion dollar corporations who are constantly trying to lower their wages and devalue their work. Working Americans across the country have banded together to demand fair treatment and most in our government are trying to dissolve those bonds. The working class in our country is disappearing because we are allowing it to. We don't value our working class and it seems our government does not either.
Life as a student at Widener University means transitioning from the pristine walkways of campus to the often destitute streets of Chester, Pennsylvania. It means overhearing conversations degrading people who were born into poverty. If our country is to correct its course we need to improve our ability to empathize with others. The reason 2016 made me a better citizen is it exposed me to people I never sought to understand. When I go to vote I'll be sure to remember the young mother in Philly and the mechanic in Connecticut, among others. But when people vote simply because they're angry or scared we can expect to see more candidate like Donald Trump find success.