Two days after the election, I found myself walking up campus towards the Lang Center for Civic Responsibility for the first time since I was a freshman. I had received an email that morning which assured me that although the election season was over, the center would still give SEPTA tickets to students who needed to get into Philadelphia for political protests, rallies, and organizing events. I hadn’t planned on making it into the city to the women’s march that night. But the email nudged at me. I carried it with me all day, until it carried me into the center to pick up my tickets and onto the train towards Thomas Paine Plaza.
It felt good to be taking action. In the wake of the election, Swarthmore’s campus has been as devastated as I have seen it in my time here. But though people may have been crying the day after Trump’s victory, they did so in the arms of their friends and classmates. Swatties have been drawing together and doing what we do best: showing solidarity in times of struggle, and trying to form a new plan for the better world ahead. For many of us here on campus who are women, people of color, members of the LGBTQQIA community, immigrants, or Muslims, these are particularly dark and terrifying times, but I have seen unparalleled bravery among my peers as we forge forward in a new and hostile world. It felt right that day that the college was behind us encouraging us to be brave, and giving us the ticket to ride towards the journey ahead.
When, ticket in hand, I walked down to the Swarthmore SEPTA station, I saw a mass of Swatties standing on the platform. Some held signs. Some talked of plans to stick together in case of violence at the march. Some made introductions. Some handed out candles. All of us were resolved, angry, scared, and ready to channel emotion into action. I did not know many of these women well, but I felt in that moment that I knew something about them, something true and something good. The train carried us towards the march and we talked of the future, of fear, of anger. We had not yet reached the point where we were talking about solutions, but we felt like we were channeling fear into productive action. Together we pushed through the crowds towards city hall.
Helicopters buzzed overhead, drowning out some of the organizers who screamed through megaphones as we assembled and readied to march. The path was cleared from City Hall to Thirtieth Street Station, we just had to wait for the marshals to accompany us. The march that followed took only a little under an hour, but felt like a lifetime. When we finally began to move, we screamed out our frustration and hopes for a better day. Love Trumps Hate! Not My President! On the sidewalks, people stopped to watch or join in, or just add their voice to the roar. In the past days there have been criticisms of the recent protests from both liberals and conservatives alike. But to that I say: there are days ahead in which we will find ways to organize, find ways to bring concrete change. Marching now was in my mind not only a selfish need for catharsis or resolution. I wanted the Americans who weren’t able to take to the streets to turn on their TVs and see people marching across the nation. I wanted everyone who was scared to see that they are not alone in their fear. I wanted people to know that there are whole masses out there that don’t agree with the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist rhetoric that our president-elect and vice president-elect stand for.
Academic institutions like Swarthmore often are called out by both sides of the political spectrum for being ivory towers within which the privileged debate minutiae without taking action. And perhaps to some extent this is true. I could have done more before now. I could have campaigned harder. I could have spent more time engaged in action and conversations, and less time engaged with texts. But I can’t see this as anything but a personal failing. If anything, Swarthmore has always encouraged direct action and political participation. The Lang Center had been there for long years. It was on me to walk through the doors and take them up on their offer of financial support.
Before I went to the rally, I was scared and isolated. I faced the reality of Trump’s America alone in my room as I stress-ate popcorn and worried about keeping the people I loved safe. But afterwards, my fear was directional. I felt a need to walk towards the challenges ahead, no matter how exhausting or dangerous the process might be. And while I’m afraid, I also know that I carry enormous privilege in this struggle. I’m white, cisgender, and femme-presenting. My otherness is not visible within the public sphere, and I do not face immediate confrontation or violence based on my visual presentation. In this invisibility I have the ability and the responsibility to use my voice to speak out against the rising tide of hatred. For most of my life, I have been too quiet on the issues that matter. I until I arrived here on campus three years ago, I did not understand that my silence during conversations about racial oppression made me complicit in the normalization of violence against people of color. I did not understand that change requires action.
Anne Frank wrote that “despite everything, people are really good at heart.” I’m not quite there yet, but I do believe that when the world reveals ugliness and hatred, it also reveals beauty and care. Each of my friends has shone in their moments of bravery, love, and care. At organizing meetings on campus, people are coming together eagerly to see what can be done. People are listening. People are looking for ways to change. I am learning lessons I should have learned years ago. I am shifting the way I see the world. And it looks scary, and different, but I have to understand that to many fellow Americans the world has always looked scary. They did not wake up the day after the election to this struggle. They have been in the struggle for their entire lives, and participation was never a choice.
Above all, I am grateful for every moment I have left at this college. For any and all imperfections, this campus is a sanctuary for any and all who arrive here. Difference is valued. Swarthmore has given me so many gifts and lessons. And one very important SEPTA ticket into Philadelphia. But I think that the goal now is not just to appreciate what Swarthmore is while I am here. It is bringing the values that Swarthmore has taught me out into the world. The goal is creating more spaces like Swarthmore where we can explore who we are and who we want to be without fear. Spaces where we can love without fear, dream without fear, and be assured of our bodily safety each day when we walk into the morning.
Maybe these goals are utopic, but that does not mean they are not dearly valuable. Even at Swarthmore, we do not always live up to our word. Perhaps it is impossible for all of us to dream, love, and walk without fear. But we should always seek to move closer and closer to a better world, no matter how dark the times become. There is a long fight ahead, but I know as always that my college is behind me and the others who will continue to fight for our right to to build our utopias and enact our ideals. Dreaming is important. Dreaming is for everyone. The stronger we believe this truth, the louder we scream it, the closer we get to a better world.