National tragedy necessitates a strong voice

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The last week has been among the most trying of my life (albeit a short one, so far). I have spent much of my time throughout the past week thinking back to an interaction that I had here in San Antonio on Election Day.

There was an hour and a half until polls closed, and I was out knocking on doors on the west side of San Antonio making sure that people got a chance to vote.

As I was walking down a cul de sac I watched a group of 10 or so children, all seemingly under the age of eight or nine, play in the street.

Some of them were tossing around a ball, others on bikes or just chasing each other around giggling. It was refreshing and calming to see this group play, given all the stress and sleep deprivation.

As I knocked on one of the doors at the end of this cul de sac, a young Latina mother came to the door. I said hello.

Her daughter, curious as to who I was, left the group in the street and stood near me as I spoke with her mom. I asked the mother if she had had a chance to vote.

Before she could respond, her daughter, who must have been no more than five years old, stomped her foot on the ground and said, “I hate Trump! He is a bully!” Her mother laughed, and so did I. She said she hadn’t voted yet but promised that she would be leaving the house to do so soon.

Part of me felt good; another vote in the bag! However, I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken by that little girl’s reaction.

When I was four or five years old, presidential politics was the last thing I had to worry about; that’s how it should be.

Yet this little girl knew in her core that the Republican nominee was a bigot and a bully. That’s the result of a year-and a-half long campaign based on racism and division. She will now grow up with that same man as her president.

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Since August, I have been working 80+ hours a week in Texas on a congressional campaign in a district that makes up 40 percent of the Mexican-American border. It is nearly the size of New York state by area, and is 70 percent Latinx. Before that, I worked similar hours on a campaign in Vermont.

On Nov. 9, I watched with horror as America elected a white nationalist and sexual predator as president.

As a straight white man, I can only imagine how others felt as they watched the election be won by a man who threatened to deport their parents, or ban members of their entire religion, or strip them of the right to control their own body.

What I have felt has been sadness that our country chose bigotry and division over an inclusive vision for our future.

Anger that our president-elect says that my brother, born in the U.S. with a Mexican father, wouldn’t be qualified to serve as a federal judge because of his heritage.

Frustration that so many young people didn’t vote when we had the power to decide this election. Fear about what the next four years could look like.

In addition to this little girl, there were other interactions that I will never forget from this campaign.

There were the dozens who told us that they had been denied the right to vote because of Texas’ draconian election laws, ones that were clearly intended to disenfranchise minorities and low-income Texans.

There was the emptiness of watching as one of our volunteers cried about Trump’s victory, saying America had awarded the presidency to a racist bully.

That volunteer, a disabled Latino man who, despite playing by the rules and being a hard and honest worker, had become homeless after being robbed and beaten because he was unable to fully pay his medical bills.

As I have tried to think about what is next, both for me personally and for our country as a whole, I can only hope we can honor these experiences and fight for progress and decency.

America deserves, and is, better than Donald Trump and his cabal of misogynistic, anti-Semitic and white supremacist advisors.

I have been inspired to see so many other young people speak up and speak out for a more inclusive and just America. As one of my coworkers said, “We lost an election, but we did not lose our voices.”

We will need all of our voices, coming together over the next four years and beyond to ensure America lives up to the ideals of economic, social, racial and environmental justice, despite Mr. Trump’s attempts to move us in the opposite direction.

But if there is one lesson that I’d share from my experience working on campaigns for much of the last two and a half years, it is that for change to come we must come together to take action, in addition to raising our voices.

At the most basic level that means voting, but as my high school social studies teacher Tim Kipp often said, “your contribution to democracy does not end at the ballot box, it begins at the ballot box.” It is what you do beyond voting that makes a difference.

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So please, get involved with your community and organize folks around the causes that you believe in.

Knock on doors and make phone calls to bring that message directly to voters. Support candidates and organizations you believe in when you can afford to—and yes, $5 does help.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others have taught us, that has been, and will always continue to be, what it takes to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

Lachlan Francis

UVM Alumnus