By: Grace A. Pan, a senior at Yale University
For me, November 8th, 2016 may well be a day that will live in infamy. Like many others, I woke up that morning with a tangible sense of empowerment, heading to the polls with my girlfriends as we cast our votes in our first ever presidential election for the first ever woman President of the United States. And like many others, I stayed up late that night, sobbing with my friends as we realized our votes were not going to elect the first ever woman POTUS.
The deeper pangs hit the next day when I watched Hillary Clinton’s poignant speech in which she implored us all to “never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” Here was one of the world’s most dedicated, skilled, and passionate women experiencing perhaps the most devastating, high-stakes loss of a lifetime. Yet even in loss, she was able to, with poise and grace, call on her fellow women and Americans to keep fighting. With her resilience, she has renewed a sense of civic duty that many in my generation seem to have given up on.
It is no secret that millennials have the lowest voter turnout of any age group. Having grown up long after the suffragettes’ movements or the Civil Rights Movement, it is easy to believe that inequality only exists in the deadened pages of the past. It is easy to believe that as a society, America has progressed far past historical injustices. It is easy to fall complacent.
But in the same way that President Obama’s win hasn’t diffused racial tensions, Secretary Clinton’s potential win wouldn’t have done away with all the barriers we face as women. We live in a nation where less than 20% of the sitting U.S. Congress is female, where Sam Bee is the only woman on late-night, where I am often the only girl in my physics classes. Secretary Clinton’s painful loss holds this structural sexism up to scrutiny, making clear that our nation isn’t a peachy post-historical one, and inspiring in us a greater need to passionately fight and serve just as she has.
On November 12th, I walked with 20,000 other people from Union Square to Trump Tower. Young women and men brought posters and friends; elderly couples came with their adult children; mothers and fathers held up their daughters on their shoulders. These parents, in bringing their young girls, wanted them to see that unity and equality are the still the values that need fighting for. They showed them to not be afraid to stand up for what is right and to make sure their voices are heard.
For many of us, it was also the first time exercising our First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble. We were an eclectic group, but it was incredibly uplifting to see people willing to speak out for the rights of those different from them. (My personal favorite was the back-and-forth between women and men: “My body, my choice!” followed by “Her body, her choice!”) While some may be critical of those only now coming to the defense of others, sometimes it takes a loss for people to recognize each others’ similarities. Surely we all had differences in our political or personal beliefs, but I ultimately felt safe and supported in this community of strangers, most of whom looked nothing like me or even each other. I was truly moved by how empathetic everyone was, coming out of the protest with a rekindled optimism and powerful sense of individual responsibility and impact.
Nationally, the week following the election saw a massive surge in donations to non-profit organizations; for example, Planned Parenthood garnered more than 200,000 new donations, 40 times more than in a typical week. Many of my friends and I set up recurring donations to various non-profits and used social media to encourage others to do the same. These donations give me the hope that collectively we can make a large impact, starting with belief that each individual can make a difference.
And on Inauguration Day weekend, more than 100,000 women and allies will unite to March on Washington to stand for environmental rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights — human rights.
I hope that these displays of civic duty and feelings of empowerment don’t just ride the coattails of this election but continue to manifest in every one of us as we continue our work as parents or professionals or activists or children. I hope that we do not become complacent, that we do not just read think-pieces without taking action, or abstain from political participation altogether. Hillary’s loss has been painful for many of us, as it represents a cracked glass ceiling that didn’t break, or the sense of a promise rejected. But this “what could have been” is not so far in the future if we believe in our ability as individuals to make change, to be the role models our daughters need.
Irrespective of our political leanings, we can all consider Hillary’s challenge to us that she delivers through the frame of scripture: “My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.” I am optimistic that out of the confusion and despondency of this loss will rise a greater yearning for equality, a renewed sense of duty, and action.
Grace Pan is a budding physicist who aspires to use her amateur roles as photographer, comedian, and writer to help promote gender equity. She co-organized the American Physical Society's 2015 Conference for Undergrad Women in Physics and is the photographer for all women in physics events at Yale. She's ecstatic to help bring visibility to women in male-dominated domains, be it physics or politics.