I thought this would be a very different post, but things did not turn out the way I envisioned. I think it is safe to say that things did not turn out the way many envisioned. Here is a documentation of my experience before and after the 2016 presidential election.
A couple of weeks ago my friend and I went to see an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was called Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism. A small painting by Frida Kahlo titled Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States hangs at eye level. Kahlo’s image couldn’t be timelier, especially in light of the events of recent days.
Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932, by Frida Kahlo (Colección Maria y Manuel Reyero, New York) © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The Days Leading Up
In the days leading up to the election, the Bryn Mawr community was ecstatic. “I’m with Her” signs hung in the dorm hallways, decorated our dorm room walls, and were plastered on the bulletin boards in the classroom wings. There was a feeling of exuberance. The other candidate represented everything we fought against. With glee we awaited his downfall. We watched SNL election skits every Saturday, listened to Trevor Noah make fun of him week after week, and read the New York Times and believed its Presidential Predictor, where Donald Trump’s chances never surpassed 20%. And we started contemplating how it would feel to have the first woman president. Never mind that the election was a week or two away—the future president had already been determined. Yes, some of us had been Bernie supporters, but this was no time to abstain. And so we rallied behind Hillary Clinton, happy at the prospect of our first female president, and fully assured of victory. I was foolish to think that the great majority of America would vote the same way a liberal college community in the suburbs of Philadelphia would. Bryn Mawr is diverse, but Bryn Mawr is not a microcosm of the United States.
On November 2, Anne Hathaway visited Bryn Mawr. Her presence set off a stampede to the campus center, where Hathaway, sporting a shirt that proclaimed “proud to support Mme President,” smiled her beautiful smile and took hundreds of selfies with fans. Campaigning for Clinton at a women’s liberal arts college yields one of the most welcoming experiences. I am unsure whether Hathaway’s presence changed anyone’s minds about their candidate. What I do suspect is that it gave us Clinton followers even more confidence. There were so many celebrities on our side, fighting for her, fighting for us. And who was on his side? That guy from Duck Dynasty? Or Dennis Rodman, that basketball player who was Kim Jong-un’s bestie? We didn’t give it much thought.
As the election grew closer, our spirits soared higher and higher. Disappointment hurts all the more when you are prepared for victory. Yet to lose? That was too preposterous an option to consider. Ludicrous, even.
The Rally in Philadelphia
On Monday the seventh, the night before the election, Hillary Clinton held a rally in Philadelphia. Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bruce Springsteen, and Jon Bon Jovi joined her. The rally was scheduled for 7:30 pm, but the mall opened at 4:00, at which point the crowd was already in the thousands. Clinton would speak on Independence Mall, with Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in the background as she made history. After standing in line for two hours, a ham sandwich in one hand and an “I’m with Her” poster in the other, I became one of the lucky 30,000 who made it onto the Mall. Many who stood in line for even longer did not.
I’m sure many went eager just to hear FLOTUS deliver another “when they go low, we go high” speech. Yet this time POTUS himself drew shouts of jubilation and raucous applause when he told us, “I’m betting that tomorrow, you will reject fear, and you will choose hope. I’m betting that the wisdom, decency, and generosity of the American people will once again win the day—and that’s a bet that I’ve never, ever lost.” We were giddy with excitement. Everyone was so full of hope. We could not wait to vote the next day.
Casting My Vote
The day came and I voted in my first presidential election. Bryn Mawr had organized a van that took students to the voting place every ten minutes. Many people were wearing their Hillary shirts, and everyone was smiling. I took a picture of the “I voted” sticker I received, and sent the image to my parents. My father replied, “It’s great that your first presidential election will be a historic one.”
Thomas Great Hall during Election Night
That night we piled into the Great Hall ready for a spectacle. A large white screen was placed on the stage, and someone had set up a projector. The atmosphere was one of elation. Everyone was talking excitedly and munching on the Philly pretzels provided courtesy of the Student Activities Department. I am guessing that same department hung the bunting that joyfully decorated the walls of the Great Hall. We sat and waited.
Within hours, the Great Hall went from a carnival to a morgue. Laughter turned to tears. When Pennsylvania fell, there was stunned silence, interspersed with sobs. As the election coverage plowed on, people began to leave. I watched in disbelief as the nightmare unfolded. I collapsed into bed at 3:47 am, the words of Trump’s acceptance speech ringing in my ears.
The Day After
The day after the election, it rained. Each morning, I open my curtains and let the light stream in. That day, I opened the curtains, and there was no light, only an endless gray sky with shrieking winds and cold rain. A couple of people jokingly said it was God weeping. The reality was too depressing for the joke, and smiles turned to grimaces. The grief on campus was so palpable, so cruel; it was as if there had been a death. We lowered our umbrellas, obscuring our faces.
Two Days After
Two days after the election the rain had stopped. The skies were a lighter shade of gray. The campus was still enveloped in anger and disgust and terror and sadness. And yet, there was strength. I was reminded of my love for the Bryn Mawr community. Bryn Mawr mobilized, showing unity and grace in the face of a tragedy. Community diversity assistants sent out emails assuring us they were there if we needed someone to talk to. Denbigh’s lovely CDA, Koko, ended an email with “Thank you guys for your understanding. And believe me, we are strong, and we will continue to be strong.” Peer mentors, customs people, and hall advisors all sent out emails, adding extra hours to their schedules and opening their doors to students.
President Cassidy sent out an email that so perfectly summed up Bryn Mawr that I will quote the last paragraph in its entirety here: “Statements have been made during the presidential campaign that suggest threats to women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights. On this campus and in our lives we will continue to work hard to foster a community that always strives to be supportive, inclusive, and respectful of all members. We will seek to understand the perspectives of those who have been left behind during recent decades of dramatic economic changes. And we will strive together to enact change and healing in the world today and to prepare the next generation of leaders for our country and the world. These are values that Bryn Mawr supports and we will work together as an entire community to achieve them.”
March in Philly
That night there was a protest in Philadelphia in front of City Hall. The rally was called “Our 100: Philly Women in Formation, Vigil & Protest.” Each of us wore black and held a candle. About 2,000 people participated, marching down JFK Boulevard from Paine Plaza to 30th Street Station and back again.
We joined in sorrow and in activism. Our purpose that night was to make our voices heard. We chanted “love not hate!” over and over until the whole of Philadelphia was listening. While Donald Trump might be the next president of the United States, we are ready to fight the bigotry, the misogyny, the racism that helped fuel his rise to power and that have poisoned our nation.
Sources: CH991362 Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, 1932 (oil on tin) by Kahlo, Frida (1907-54); 31×35 cm; Private Collection; (add.info.: Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America; Autorretrato en la Frontera entre Mexico y los Estados Unidos. Frida Kahlo (1910-1954). Oil on tin. Signed and dated 1932. 31 x 35cm.); Photo © Christie’s Images; Mexican, in copyright