by Rachael Goldberg
Waking up, I was expecting this whole election mess to be over. Hillary Clinton was going to be president and while there would be a lot of work to do, at least the fact that I am a woman would mean celebration and not an 1850s sense of fear. When I walked into the kitchen and saw the faces of the people eating breakfast, I felt less certain. They told me that Donald Trump might be the next president and my heart sunk. What?
The riad we are staying in is very open and we could hear frantic nervousness fill each room. We hung onto useless, false hope, not accepting the facts that were laid out in front of us. Not until we all got the notification: “Donald Trump will be the next president of United States.”
Tears, confusion, nervous astonished laughs. Was this a joke? Walking to the COP22 conference center, we all had different ways of dealing with the emotions we were experiencing. Some of us talked in outrage and sadness, some cried, and others like myself were speechless. We walked in pairs. Hugging and ticking off the things that we won’t be able to do or won’t happen under a Trump presidency. We thought about how our mostly female delegation might not have the right to get an abortion, about undocumented migrants in the United States, about the people at Standing Rock and other indigenous communities. The list seemed endless and somehow it was growing.
When we arrived at the venue you could see the tiredness and despair on people’s faces; many were in tears. It was surreal to be at this international conference on the day of the election that could affect so many people from around the world. Even though we knew from the start of this election that the outcome would mean a president that would not deliver the changes and policies that we wished to see, all of us felt confident that we would be seeing a win for Hillary and the idea of a super-politician was less scary than a blatantly racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic man. The morning’s outcome left us, and so many others miserable.
It was hard for us and other youth and civil society groups to do much of anything during the day, as it was so easy to feel immobilized. We were in mourning. As for the rest of the conference? Besides the devastated people scattered about, I had trouble comprehending the fact that everything around us still seemed to move in a similar way as it had to the day before. Meetings were happening and the conference was moving forward (at least as forward as these conferences ever move).
At noon we gathered together, as it was clear that we needed each other’s support in order to manage and process the morning’s shock. We exchanged hugs, stories, fears, and thoughts. But we also talked about what this election meant for COP, what this meant for us, and especially what this meant for marginalized communities and how there is a particular need now to focus on protecting and supporting the people around us. And we cried–We cried lot. We sat together with our heads down in silence crying, unable to say anything.
Just after the meeting, we walked together to an amazing action that SustainUs was putting on. (If you’ve seen any media from COP22, you’ve probably seen pictures of this action.) Preparing for a Hillary win, Sustainus had created a “Presidential to do list.” The election’s outcome made it clear that this needed to be changed to “The People’s To Do List.” We held hands with these people from around the world and cried sang, hugged, and listened to stories. There weren’t many dry eyes in the group.
As for the rest of the day we went to our various meetings, continued to comfort and support those we ran into and tried to keep ourselves busy. In the evening, we managed to video chat the [Earth] group back at College of the Atlantic. It’s hard to express how good it was to see all of their faces and process the day’s event with warm, familiar, compassionate people.
The question is, now what?
There’s no one answer, and I definitely have no authority to be telling people what to do or how to feel, but one thing that has helped me is to remember that people can be remarkable and have the capacity for so much love. It is time to organize, resist and fight. Looking back, we can see all that social movements have accomplished and that organizing has brought us things like the right for women to vote and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws. In one press conference climate justice groups compared the difference between Clinton and Trump as being the difference between jumping in a frying pan or jumping into the fire. Well, we are in the fire now, but there have always been people fighting, and our role now is to fight harder.
Others today have reminded me that even though the president holds power, the people hold power too. And the power that the people hold can be strong, and beautiful.
It’s hard to know what to say as we send people off into the world; as it’s hard to know if everything will actually be okay. So I will share the worlds my sister used after I kept the whole riad awake while talking with her, With love, stay motivated, keep seeing the beauty in the world.