I am writing on Election Day 2018. For some reason, it feels important to me to put that date on the post. Or, that date marker: Election Day moves. It is a moving target, but it is always a Tuesday and it is always in November, here, the season of dying things.
I am writing to my acquaintances and to strangers, to friends I do not yet know and people who I would probably enjoy no more than they would enjoy me. But mostly I am writing to white people. To cis people. To able-bodied people and neurotypical people. To heterosexual people. And most of all, I am writing to the people who since 2016 have said “wait for 2018” and “2018 is coming” and “there will be a blue wave.”
I am writing at three in the afternoon, when I should probably be working, wrapping myself around what feels like a stone in my gut, in the hopes that a sort of literary bloodletting will reduce that critical pressure enough to let me get on with things. Does that sound dramatic? I don’t know anymore. I saw a new doctor a few weeks ago – a routine checkup – and completed the mental health checklist. “Does anyone not check this box?” I asked, pointing to a line marked sometimes i cry with no specific reason. “It’s 2018,” she said. We laughed.
At three in the afternoon here, no polls in the United States have closed. We don’t know yet if there is a “blue wave” or any wave at all. Voting numbers are up, but not so high as they were in 2016 – and at three in the afternoon on polling day we can’t prove or disprove whether those missing numbers are voters who stayed home, or voters who were turned away from polling places, found their polling place closed, or unstaffed, or without machines. Voters who were taken from their bus and told to go home, or voters who never made it to the bus in the first place.
It is November here and not yet sledding season, but let’s picture a sled. The sled is on a hill; a child is in the sled. At the bottom of the hill is a cliff.
If the hill is civil rights, if the hill is justice, if the hill is moral goodness or righteousness or whatever you personally call that, then the child that is the United States started pulling the sled up the hill in the late eighteenth century. And we didn’t start near the top. For almost two hundred and fifty years we have been, with some slips and stumbles, trying to pull that sled up that hill. And we could see the top in 2016, or it felt like we could. We weren’t there. We weren’t even really all that close, and there were some patches of ice on the way. But we thought we could see it.
In November 2016, two years ago, the child stopped pulling the sled. It got onto the sled and started to slide downhill.
It is three in the afternoon on Election Day in the United States and we are rushing headlong toward the cliff, mittens drawn up and knees tucked.
The blue wave is a mitten, thrust into the snow.
I need you to understand that. I need you to see the child, and the sled, and the cliff with me and to understand that even if every single liberal, moderate, progressive win that is statistically not impossible happens, all we will have done is put out a hand into the snow to slow the sled.
We will not have stopped. We will not suddenly be sliding uphill; gravity will not reverse itself. The Senate will remain firmly “conservative.” I put conservative in quotes because they are certainly not trying to conserve the lives or rights of the people who ought to be under their care. Trump will still be President and right behind him is the actual living nightmare of every LGBTQIA+ friend you have, Mike fucking Pence. I may have lost you at “fucking.” Stick with me, I’ll get back to this Norman Rockwell picture in a second.
The Supreme Court will retain a majority of justices intent on exercising personal “morality” at the expense of human rights and lives.
The mitten is in the snow; that is all.
If we win everything, we will not have stopped sliding toward the cliff, and we certainly won’t be even close to back to where we started, in an America where we had marriage equality in not quite three quarters of states (the other states mostly had banned it affirmatively) and cops were shooting black children in the streets with no consequences. In an America where your employer could tell you whether or not you were allowed to buy birth control.
And we don’t have to get back to that: we have to get past it. We have to get to the top of the hill.
There is value to a mitten in the snow. There is value to slowing down, figuring out how to turn. But a mitten in the snow will not stop a sled.
There is a cliff at the bottom of the hill.
If you voted today (or yesterday, or last week; like most states that skew blue my state is dedicated to ease of voter access) thank you. But your work isn’t done.
If this election is the best possible scenario outcome – and it will not be – your work isn’t done. You haven’t won. You haven’t won; but you have gained a little time to steer and you must start steering, because there is a cliff at the bottom of the hill.
Your work isn’t done.
A week and a half ago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, eleven people were killed in their place of worship. These are their names:
Joyce Feinberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69
And it’s tempting to say, we voted blue, we will put a stop to this, a liberal government will put a stop to this. But this year we cannot even get back to where we started.
Where we started: in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012, six people were killed in their place of worship. These are their names:
Paramjit Kaur, 41
Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65
Prakash Singh, 39
Sita Singh, 41
Ranjit Singh, 49
Suveg Singh, 84
Where we started: in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, nine people were killed in their place of worship. These are their names:
Clementa C. Pinckney, 41
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54
Susie Jackson, 87
Ethel Lee Lance, 70
Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Daniel L. Simmons, 74
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 59
That’s where we started. We started in an America that took the life of Michael Brown, of Trayvon Martin, of Sandra Bland, of Michael Garner. We started in an America where two trans people are murdered per month, the majority of them women of color.
We have to do more than put a mitten in the snow, but the mitten is something. The sled is still going downhill.
At the bottom of the hill is a cliff.
Eleven people in Pittsburgh are not, right now, thinking of the Mishnah, the first text of law. Eleven people are not considering the words of Pirkei Avot, which can translate as “Chapters of the Fathers” but which can also translate as “foundational ethics.” Eleven people are not, but I am.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21)
It is three o’clock in the afternoon, fifteen hundred hours by military time, and no matter what happens between now and the last counted vote, the work isn’t done. If the blue wave sweeps through, it is no more than a mitten in the snow. And I will cheer with you, but I can not lay the burden down, and if we’re ever going to see the top of the hill again, neither can you. The work isn’t done. The cliff is at the bottom of the hill. The child is on the sled.