Rekindling hope after Nov 8 2016 by looking back to 2008
Also published on The Huffington Post
Waking up on the morning after Nov 8 2016 was hard for me, like it was possibly for many others. I am not registered to vote here. I am an US permanent resident, a woman and off-course an immigrant. But I wasn't scared as a woman, a US resident, or an immigrant. I woke up shit scared on Nov 9 2016 as a human. The most powerful nation on earth with immense riches, advances, and literacy, had chosen to elect a man for the highest office who had said 'grab them....' and mocked a disabled reporter!
I was forced to face my fears about the human race again - that irrespective of the human values or the lack of them - what might prevail is narrow concerns on moderate economic growth and mostly unfounded fears of a changing, more diverse nation. This is not to me about being a democratic, or a republican. This is about being human. I have an uncle who is paraplegic, and I work regularly with women who have been victims of gender violence - it is incomprehensible to me that this can happen in a country like the US.
The second part of my fear for humanity stemmed from the positions previously taken by the now president elect. Climate change. Tax breaks translating into highest relief for the richest and off-course the ambiguous, spiteful foreign policy principles. When US citizens choose their president they play a part in shaping the world history for the upcoming years because US position on issues like climate change, decides what happens to our planet.
But then, as I was sinking into despair - I remembered that this is the same nation that had bestowed upon me the privilege to wake up to a very different morning 8 years back.
The phenomenal morning of Nov 5th, 2008 had seemed no different than any other as the sun had poured through the half open window panes of the small room I then called home. But I could feel the difference - in the tingling I sensed in my limbs and the fast pounding of my heart. This was known to happen to me when I was excited but without an immediate avenue available to express or implement - as was the case that Nov morning of Barack Obama winning the US presidential elections.
I didn't even have residency status here at the time. I was an alien. I had lived in this country for four years then, but had not started to think of myself as an American or would be American. I hadn't commenced the process of aligning my ideals and aspirations to those of this country. In fact, they had seemed quite perpendicular at surface to mine.
I was brought up with values of abstinence and humility, and was struggling to appreciate the promotion and pursuit of worldly advancements which seemed so ingrained in the values of corporate America. So I continued to force myself to abhor the American indulgences like a vigilante on guard. Any self-promotion, or achievement of personal excellence, triggered a long instilled quilt for having abandoned the deprived ones whom I felt I should have served instead. I wanted to go back to my country on finishing graduate school, a resolve which had only strengthened with the years spent here.
During the election campaign, I had hoped for Obama to win, mostly because of the honesty and integrity I sensed in his speeches. I was never aggressively interested in the details. I didn't try to plough through the promised policies for the future or attempt to comprehend the historical significance of the possibility. Yet, on watching the election results on that lovely but ordinary morning, I had slowly sensed pride surfacing from within.
I had concluded after a lot of thinking that this feeling of pride had to do with reinstatement of faith in the 'human' race.
I had believed in right vs. wrong too stubbornly for too long. No matter how ambiguous 'right' was made to appear, I wanted to have faith in the human race to choose intelligently and fairly overcoming prejudices. And I believed democratic actions of the conscientious populous as the only mean for the 'fair'/'good'/'right' to prevail in any nation. But at that time, my belief was shaking up.
I come from India: a country with abundant passion and multiplicities. Layers adding to her glory and riches, yet spears protruding through those layers inflicting scars of inequality and poverty. I have witnessed how insignificant boundaries like regionalism and religion have been used to perplex people beyond the real issues the country has been facing for decades. Helpless and frustrated I had watched those issues concern radical people more than the poverty they saw around, more than the need for education and health for all, more than the rising pollution threatening their children.
But at other times I was elated at the ability of the 'conscientious populous' of my birth country to amaze. When the masses take to streets to protest real atrocities. When unfair acquisitions of land threatening environment is challenged by the poorest of the poor who tie themselves to trees willing to be cut down. When presidents and prime ministers from minority religion and gender were elected spontaneously and overwhelmingly. When soft drink giants were forced to retreat to save ground water by the same people who could have been employed by them.
So I believed that once India achieves prosperity for all, her strengths will far exceed her challenges. Corruption will have no need to exist, and social justice will be pursued by all. I believed freedom from the seven sins could be achieved easily when prosperity fostered. Iron clad laws and their unbiased implementation, national resources to serve the people of the nation, and political will for greater good could all be attained through economic development. The foundation for high quality of living and state supremacy will be laid and protected in such a nation by conscientious democracy.
Knowing of her riches, I had therefore come to the US expecting to witness a nation mostly free of human flaws. I was hoping to be enlightened of the virtues of this nation, to understand what kind of governance and policies developing nations needed to pursue to achieve socio-economic success. But I was getting more and more frustrated in my acclimating years in the US witnessing what seemed to my naivety as evidence of corruption in a much grander scale. Yes the cops couldn't be bribed here with lose change, but legislatures can be lobbied legally in favor of big corporations. Everything can be bought, every argument justified. Corruption felt moral and legalized in the America I witnessed.
I was not against corporations or capitalism at all (I now work in corporate America) but I believe almost all of us can sense the ambiguous, ever eluding 'right' from wrong, irrespective of how the story is spun. It is more a matter of heightening or stifling that sensation which is a conscious choice. So I was tired of hearing out well prepared arguments for 'both sides' of the stories that shouldn't have had two sides to begin with. I was bewildered by privileged people (in comparison to the masses in the developing world) choosing to ignore the aforementioned sensation to achieve more and more even when they had enough.
Why was it so difficult to consider common sense gun control measures with mass shootings after mass shootings? Or to implement similarly obvious food safety or climate policies? Or to understand and agree to the need for a social safety net that every one of us might need one day? How was it possible if I lost a finger and had no money, I will have better chances of recovery in India than in this land of state of the art facilities? Is it really all about personal freedom over government impositions? Or about jobs or job loss? Was the line between pursuit of excellence and indulgence in greed really so thin that it seemed non-existent for so many?
Along with economic prosperity, I had believed education to be the other key to awareness and conscientious actions. I thought it is the illiterates who can be mobilized and misled easily and the severely impoverished who can be manipulated and kept ignorant in lieu of their struggle for mere survival. It was dismaying and heart breaking to realize that even after access to all the education and information in the world, there will always be someone who will either wholeheartedly believe, or feign to believe, that God really cares more about whether or not we oppose same sex marriage than whether or not we help the homeless, the single parents, the orphaned children, the abused, the old and the ailing through strengthening social safety nets. Such beliefs will be justified by many others -sometimes citing religion, at other times citing precedence - but at most times citing tolerance of personal differences. This reality to me was distressing and devastating.
Maybe this was just my coming to age which I was doing far too late, but witnessing legalized corruption and justifiable ignorance of facts and science through manipulation of the masses happening in the Unites States of America was shaking up by aforementioned belief in 'right' more than anything else ever had. I was starting to feel that we humans as a race are in constant pursuit of self-interest and segregation - looking for a 'them' to blame and deprive for all that troubled 'us' - whether or not we resided in abundance or paucity.
And this is what had changed on Nov 5. Going through glimpses of election coverage witnessing the fast rise of Barack Obama - the young and dynamic senator embodying glaring anomaly from the predominantly white crowd surrounding him - I started reading up on the long and painful history of this country with racism. From the unbelievable atrocities of the past to the subtle fears of today, I slowly understood how a first African American President will surely be an event of monumental proportion for this nation. Because if this happened, it would mark an event of human race as an entity prevailing over other differences.
I was afraid that prejudice, generalization and mistrust obscuring human kindness and rationale, is only normal. Our animal instinct of survival lying within us. And therefore I was convinced with what I had learnt so far that in no way will this country - with still a predominant Caucasian electorate - would choose a black candidate as its president. No matter how capable he promised to be or how frustrated the nation was with the declining economy and long raging wars, the doubt - the underlying, dark, pervasive doubt - would prevent most from taking a chance. And those with active interest in manipulating any opportunity of premonitions will prosper over the conscientious motivations.
But I was proven wrong. The good which prevailed on Nov 5 2008 had less to do with the ability or achievements of the President elected. The good was of people opening their hearts. Of people taking a chance on someone different. The right here signifies the nation of predominantly Caucasians being led by a black president where the former had oppressed the later for decades. Of human race prevailing. This nation set precedence of acceptance, a step that could, as it did, open up debates and insights into the true state of racism in this country.
For my personal journey, it had opened up fantastic possibilities by re-instating hope in this nation, and the one I had left behind. Maybe there the male fundamentalists would choose to elect a 'westernized' woman one day who openly accepted using birth control, whose posters they had burnt earlier. Or maybe they will protest against the atrocities of 'us' instead of getting manipulated into searching for 'them'.
That morning had opened my heart to the amazing people this nation is made of. I had been falling prey to my own shortsighted generalization - that morning jerked me into understanding of human vulnerabilities, but also of immense human potential.
So now waking up to a different kind of Nov morning which could challenge the core of all above, I needed to look back and remember the achievement that November of this nation of which I am now a permanent resident of. This is still that same nation. Things have come to surface, and our belief has been upset some - but hope needs to thrive over fear and acceptance of all needs to thrive over mistrust that this surfacing is only for future good. This will in fact enable real understanding of hate and fears, which then can be mitigated. We need to have confidence in ourselves and our race, that we - US and the world, will survive this and emerge stronger.