When I was canvassing for Hillary Clinton in Pittsburgh, PA the weekend before the election, I met a lovely woman who was planning to vote for Donald Trump. Two things happened when Virginia and I started talking: We agreed on a lot. And we liked each other. She said she was distrustful of Clinton and that she didn't believe Trump really wanted to ban Muslims or build a wall or deport immigrants. Despite my efforts to sway her opinion of my candidate, I took Virginia at her word; she had simply been let down by "the establishment" and felt that only Trump spoke to her frustrations. Virginia's father had immigrated from Italy in the early 1900s and lost everything in the Great Depression. She said that Trump, as a businessman, understood money and jobs and that's why she would vote for him. After twenty minutes of talking, we both felt that we, a 94-year-old Italian-American woman and a 35-year-old Egyptian-American woman, had a lot more in common than not, and we parted ways with a smile and a promise to stay in touch. Now, almost two weeks after the election, I find myself wondering: Can we do that on a larger scale? Can we give one another the benefit of the doubt regarding our choices and seek a common vision for our country? I don't have the answers, but despite my many questions since that night, here is what I do know: First, as citizens we must stay (or get) involved; second, we have to start listening, not just talking.
In his election-night speech, Trump declared that he would be a President for all Americans. But how do we reconcile that with everything he said during his campaign? With his recent personnel choices? We can interpret all we want, but in the end, the President-elect himself has to explain to us how his campaign rhetoric will not automatically translate into oppressive policies and assure us that he will immediately and consistently address the alarming rise in hate crimes since his election.
However, while working towards a common vision starts at the top, it certainly does not end there. While any country or organization benefits from good leadership, bad leadership can also be countered by resilient communities. We can hope for the former while actively working for the latter.
And so here is my pledge to my fellow Americans: I pledge to get out of my comfort zone and listen to those whose lives are different from my own. I pledge to respect different political views while still articulating my concerns. I pledge to reach out to my neighbors through community events, interfaith gatherings and town halls. I pledge to remain vigilant against policies and actions that would strip American citizens or residents of their rights or place their personal safety at risk--but without stretching the facts or unwittingly creating the very environment of fear I am guarding against.
I pledge not to allow my cautiousness to slide into apathy. I pledge to stand with you if you are struggling, as many of my friends and colleagues have pledged to me. I pledge to speak out against hatred and racism and injustice and, whenever I can, put my time and money where my mouth is.
I don't know what the road looks like from here. But if there is one thing I still believe after this ugly election cycle, it is this: America is good. America is resilient. And Americans can still provide an example to be followed. It will take every one of us doing their part but I believe in our power to work together towards a better, stronger, safer, and more inclusive country. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to every person who came before us and fought for a more perfect union.
Jasmine M. El-Gamal served as a civil servant in the U.S. government for over 8 years and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on the role of narratives in preventing and reversing radicalization. She previously served as a translator for U.S. troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She welcomes your comments and invites you to email her to start a conversation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org