Like many Americans, before Election Day I never imagined we would see the Inauguration of a President Trump. As a PhD sociologist, I study and teach how our experiences and the social environment we live in shapes our beliefs and actions. Yet when it came to the presidential election, I remained willfully oblivious. Political segregation, demarcated by demographics and geography, is a reality for me. I couldn’t imagine Donald Trump winning the election because none of my friends or family supported him.
The mood in my social circle since the election has been somber, if not downright depressed. Mostly we are saddened that the United States will be represented by a race-baiting, misogynist, mean-spirited, unqualified President. We are extremely frightened that his nominees to the Supreme Court will further embolden attacks on women’s rights, voting rights, immigrant rights and LGBT rights. We worry about what will happen to our undocumented community members. As a white woman of Jewish heritage and mother of biracial children, I echo Van Jones’ sentiments on election night, I feel intense pain about living in a country where almost half of voters cast ballots for a candidate hostile to people of color and religious minorities.
And yet, when the conversation among my friends turned to the Women’s March, I wavered. Without a specific agenda, the Women’s March on Washington, and its sister marches, felt like a tactic for assuaging my feelings of guilt for not taking Trump seriously or doing more to defeat his candidacy. I also worried that those marching against Trump or for “human rights, dignity, and justice” did not find the time to march against police killings of black men and women or, in my hometown of Chicago, for initiatives to address the rise in gun violence. I also wondered about the plan post-March. How will the energy of the thousands of women, like my neighbor who organized friends and family to attend Chicago’s march, be harnessed to oppose instances of hate, exclusion and misguided policy during the Trump presidency?
Moreover, the March does not bring us any closer to understanding why we have a President Trump. It is easy to dismiss Trump supporters as sexists, racists and xenophobes, but as a sociologist I know the truth is much more complicated than this. In fact, good analyses of the Trump demographic exist. Many point to the way in which the global economy has left people behind. Our education system has not prepared students for jobs in the new economy, social mobility is stagnant, and inequality is at a high. Most fundamentally, our political system rewards corporations, not people.
Of course it is profoundly problematic, to say the least, that these feelings of being “unneeded” as the Dali Lami wrote, got expressed through Trump’s rhetoric of fear and hate. But Trump’s election is a symptom of broad structural problems, not just in the U.S. but globally. After the March we will need a more specific agenda and strategy to build a better and fairer system. While Trump’s rhetoric matters and should be stridently countered by narratives of inclusion and compassion, we should not get sidetracked by the admittedly awful things Trump is bound to say. We need to find ways to stop what he and his cabinet members plan to do and build political organizations that can win elected offices across the country.
Finally, we will be more effective if we try to understand those who voted differently than us. For people on both sides of the political divide, this will be much more emotionally and logistically difficult than any march or protest. Our political system desperately needs more dignified real dialogue. One of our first goals should be to create spaces for safe interchange – not Twitter or Facebook fights – with people who don’t share our views. Not to compromise our values but to pave a path forward.
In the meantime, I will march with my daughter, neighbor, friends, and like-minded community in Chicago. If the words would fit, my sign would read, “It is not okay to casually dismiss sexual assault. It is not okay to strip young people of their futures in the only country they call home. It is not okay to deport people whose only “crime” is trying to provide a better life for their families. It is not okay to pull back on enforcing civil rights. It is not okay to eliminate funding for the arts. It is not okay….”