Liberals in this town have undergone a profound period of introspection in the ten days since voters elected a new president.
They want to know what can be done and how to fight back. They want to know the silver lining.
Maybe that’s wrong. It implies that a bad thing produces good, and I refuse to credit our president-elect for the innate and longstanding goodness of so many people.
But if there is one, it’s this: D.C. is not a place where hope goes to die. It’s a place where hope is defined.
Young people wanting to study the social sciences or humanities and who are deeply disturbed by the outcome of the presidential election should not be so disillusioned by American politics that they turn a shoulder to D.C. While a sizeable portion of the country uses “Washington” as a pejorative term, it’s among the country’s more diverse and forward-thinking cities.
The D.C. culture I know is wonderfully varied, lush with communities of immigrants from El Salvador, Mexico, Lebanon, Eritrea, Honduras, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Turkey, Guatemala. It is full of religious diversity, LGBTQ activists, feminists, organizers for Black Lives Matter, and thinkers on both the left and right.
At GW, where I’m in my last semester, hundreds of students staged a walk-out of their classes on Tuesday in opposition to white nationalism and bigotry, marching through Washington Circle and on to the White House. Student leaders from nearly 60 campus organizations met to form a coalition of activists who are pro-globalism, pro-diversity, and anti-racism; they spent hours negotiating a well-articulated list of demands to present to university administration. It was, by many estimates, the largest meeting of campus leaders in the school’s history.
Students from Howard, Georgetown, George Mason, American, and UDC—as well as high school students in Montgomery County too young to vote in the election—have all been vocal advocates for inclusionary politics, too.
I expected more of my bubble of young university friends to be disillusioned by the outcome of the election. I was wrong; maybe I was projecting. Because while my bubble is pissed, incredulous, and deeply bruised, they’re also ready to go to work.
Friends who have signed contracts for jobs in the banking industry a year out from graduation are rethinking their career trajectories, considering an immediate pivot to social justice work. Dozens in my circle have committed to working with, or donating to, organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps.
Some who voted for our president-elect did so because they wanted to “shake things up”–people were tired of the status quo. I anticipate people will expend an extraordinary effort on civil service work in the weeks to come—the 80,000 donations made to Planned Parenthood in just a week is but one example—and I anticipate that some of those who voted for our president-elect will credit the reinvigoration of civil service work to his election.
I’m hesitant to call what is essentially a defense of personal liberties a “silver lining” of this new administration. Great commitment to civic engagement has long been a hallmark of District residents and university students. And minority communities have always known how to defend themselves, doing the work white communities have often been unwilling to, or contemptuous of.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in D.C.
And while I wish marginalized groups didn’t feel this cruelty, I do take comfort in the resilience, integrity, and profound sense of community in this city.
For those who can, it’s time to roll up a few sleeves. Our country isn’t done. And D.C. definitely isn’t, either.
Morgan Baskin is a former BYT editorial intern and George Washington University senior.