Try as I might, I can’t think of another time when young people have felt this voiceless. It began with Florida, and then Ohio. The country started to bleed red, but it wasn’t until the cameramen inside New York’s Javits Center, Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters, turned their lenses on an emptying crowd of sullen faces, that an entire generation, myself included, had to start making peace with a new reality: dignity had crumbled in the shadow of the id. Many young people thought this counter-narrative couldn’t happen in the postmodern era of civil equality and social progress. We were wrong.
Living with this error of judgment will not be easy for anyone who had something at stake on Tuesday. As a gay man who grew up in the time of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, my mind wanders to the number of closet doors that have been dead-bolted after Mike Pence, a conversion-therapy enthusiast, basked in the applause of red-hatted “agents of change.” It would have been infuriating if it wasn’t so heartbreaking and immobilizing. As a brother of two young women, I question how any son, brother or father could actively hand over control of his mother’s, sister’s or daughter’s well-being to a white-collar army that would sooner protect their right to a bullet than a women’s right to her body. As the Chicago-born son of an immigrant from Trinidad, I marvel at how, for many years, I labeled myself as a white man simply because it was the easier thing to do. I’ve never been more ashamed to be a “white man.”
White voters who blame their social ills on “the Other” are not the future.
We millennials are often branded as a generation of whiny social justice warriors, but that attitude has moved the country forward. It’s our pride, activism and push-back on a racist and sexist status quo that elevated an energetic, elegant African American senator from Illinois to the highest office in the land. It’s our demand for equality—our belief that it’s not just a constitutional right but a human right—that drove us to rally on the steps of the Supreme Court in our fight for gay marriage. It’s the understanding that our forefathers endowed each of us not only with freedom of religion but also freedom from religion that’s allowed us to maintain Roe v. Wade and assure women that our generation—this young, broke, lazy, immature, dissenting crop—does not consider them second-class citizens. It’s our oppression, financial, racial and otherwise, that moved us to organize under idealistic game-changers like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and gave us a voice. And boy, is it a loud voice.
With the election of Donald Trump, our accomplishments are under siege. The emperor in new clothes has yet to take a definitive stance on anything; his lack of policy in fact could very well be a silver lining, but it is in no way a shield from the bitter swell of regressive thinkers who handed him the victory. They want to hack away at our freedoms to extend theirs. Donald Trump and his supporters want to defund Planned Parenthood and limit access to safe abortions. A GOP Congress wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and deny the right of identity to transgender people. Our Vice President-elect wants to deny the very existence of gay people.
But Trump, Pence and their silent groundswell of rural, white voters, so many of whom blame their social ills on “the Other,” are not the future. Nor do they comprise the majority. They are nothing more than a last stand, and the good news is that Trump consistently underestimates millennials. According to Mother Jones, if only people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in this election, Hillary Clinton would have won 538 electoral votes. Black, Latino and women-only models show similar sweeping victories.
This is the real future. This is our future, and we will re-emerge in 2020 stronger because we’ll be armed with six million new voters and outnumber Baby Boomers for the first time. Until then, we can’t give up hope. We need to activate our political future by living it out every day. Numbers equal power. So involve yourself in local politics. Support the representatives fighting to hold on to our gains. Talk to each other. Listen. Find our new Obama and Bernie and rally behind him or her early on. In two years, vote to take back the Senate. And in four years, vote to take back the White House.
In 2008, millennials changed history based on the promise of hope. During Trump’s presidency, that hope needs to make us stronger, more vocal and more “millennial” than ever before. We can do it.
And to Hillary: rest easy today. You done us good.