I was at once heartbroken and angry when I saw thousands of protesters take to the streets in the wake of the stunning election of Donald Trump as president.
As I watched the spectacle play out, my emotions, already scraped raw by the bigotry and division I’d witnessed during Trump’s campaign, suddenly went numb. It was as if I’d fallen asleep in one country and awakened in another.
I looked into the faces of the enraged young people speaking out against Trump’s policy proposals, and each bigoted idea that Trump touted during his campaign played back in my mind. Banning Muslims from the country. Walling off the undocumented immigrants whom Trump called criminals and rapists. Singling out political refugees based on their countries of origin. Nationally instituting the ineffective stop and frisk policy that allows police to disproportionately target blacks and Latinos. Racially profiling Latinos in connection with a “Deportation Force.”
I thought of those policies, and reflected upon the fact that Trump had been elected in spite of them. Then — as I watched the protesters shout slogans into the cool November air — the only question that mattered popped into my mind.
Did they vote?
While I believe in the power of protest, the reality is this: We live in a society in which our most powerful weapon is our vote. With it, we can select men and women who represent our values. With it, we can implement ideas that move our country forward. With it, we can express satisfaction or displeasure. With it, we can protest with a voice as big as the sky.
On Tuesday, we had the opportunity to mount a massive protest. To speak not only against the bigotry that we saw in Donald Trump’s policy proposals, but also against the deeply troubling character flaws he exhibited on the campaign trail.
With our votes we could’ve spoken out against the misogyny Trump displayed when he dismissed as “locker room talk” a tape in which he bragged about behavior that is tantamount to sexual assault. Our votes could have been used to reject Trump’s hypocritical bid to oversee the tax system after he admitted to years of not paying income taxes himself. Our votes could have rejected Trump’s misguided and un-American intention to target his political rivals through federal law enforcement agencies.
In truth, though, we did not use our votes to their greatest effect. Over 5 million people voted for third party candidates who had no chance of winning, thus helping to propel Trump to victory. Millions more did not vote at all.
That both saddens and infuriates me, because those who did not vote are among those who are complaining the loudest about Trump’s victory.
I believe Donald Trump will try mightily to implement the policies he said he would, and because millions of Americans failed to vote in this election, he will be successful.
When millions of us lose health care as a result of Trump’s election, there will be protests. When stop and frisk is implemented, and Latinos and blacks are profiled, there will be protests. When police shootings of unarmed people are dismissed as justified, there will be protests. When a conservative Supreme Court justice is nominated and confirmed, and everything from affirmative action to women’s rights to voting rights is scuttled, there will be protests.
Perhaps those protests will eventually be heard. Perhaps they will not.
However, if we’d protested through the power of the ballot, if we’d taken to the polls as passionately as we’ve taken to the streets, if we’d raised our voices when it mattered most, none of those protests would be necessary.
If we’d protested in the voting booth when it counted, President-elect Donald Trump would have never come to be.