A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.
I should begin by clarifying that I am no political reactionary. At no point in high school, college, or post-graduate life have I involved myself in rallies or “movements.” I have not marched on or in capitols, of the state or national variety. And while it’s true that I have long followed politics, often engaging friends (and occasionally strangers) in friendly argument over this or that government figure or public policy, never have I wandered into “activism.”
But this election is different.
Our country has never confronted a candidate quite like Donald Trump. There have been populists (William Jennings Bryan, Teddy Roosevelt), there have been racists (Andrew Jackson comes most immediately to mind), there have been incompetents (uh… the list is too long).
There has never been such a potent mix of all three. Throw in Trump’s casual cruelty (mocking disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski), his random but dependable nastiness (would date his daughter because hot, but won’t because daughter), his regular shtick of “counter-punching” (attack Gold Star parents, claim Judge Curiel can't perform his job due to his “Mexican heritage"), and you know what, America?
You’ve got a real, wholly new, and imminent threat on your hands.
Doubly frightful is the world into which our next president will walk. Not to get all anxious up in here, but our country will face challenges from across the spectrum post-2016: China to Russia, unemployment to national debt, absolute-must prison and law reform to real talk on where Social Security is headed (read: bankruptcy).
So back in March, when Donald Trump was running against Marco Rubio in Florida, I did something wholly unprecedented in Jess-world.
I bought some poster board, I Sharpie-d those bad boys up with Trump truths, and I drove to a local polling location.
By myself, y’all.
Er, let me be precise. Not totally by myself. I had my 11-month-old baby boy in tow.
It was hot, because we’re in Florida. Weather here can be classified “cool” roughly nine days out of any given calendar year.
But I found a corner shaded by mangrove trees, plus I had the good fortune of picking a spot next to a couple of Bernie supporters. And I have to give it up: the Sanders folks I’ve encountered along the way have been a) enormously nice, and b) hopeful. A rare combo in politics these days.
And so for a few hours, I stood/paced on that small stretch of sidewalk, holding up my sign (Trump = Racist, Sexist, Ignorant, Dangerous). My son slept for the most part, lulled into napping by the baby carrier + heat combo.
The experience was illuminating. For one, I was nervous. Really nervous! I’m used to advocating from behind the shield of my screen. If someone disagrees with me, whatevs. You know? I don’t have to face them, look them in the eye, and defend myself with vocal chords as opposed to words in font.
Not to mention, holding a sign on a street corner seems ludicrously public. I felt, briefly, like some sort of exhibitionist.
And there were definitely looks. One woman drove by in slow-motion, brows furrowed while she shook her head in disapproval. There were other thumbs down pointed my direction from out pickup truck windows.
I carried my baby son around for some hours, alone but for him, holding a hand-made sign, because I care about that little man’s future.
But I was absolutely floored by signs of solidarity. That’s what threw me. An older couple stopped to thank me, ask me who I was voting for, discuss Trump’s chances. Another elderly woman gripped my arm, and said in accented English, “Thank you. You could be home now, with your baby. Thank you.” Loads of honks accompanied thumbs up, smiles, nods.
The Bernie dudes gave me several water bottles, and asked if I would join their cause, should Trump win Florida. I responded, “Maybe.”
A reporter for a news outlet from Sweden interviewed me. He asked me to explain why Trump was winning. I offered him a few feeble possibilities. He told me they could not understand it, in Europe. They could not (“Never!”) fathom Americans voting for someone so clearly unprepared, unfit for office. He then asked if I thought most people agreed with me, that Trump was dangerous, but they just didn’t come out and show it.
I said I wasn’t sure. He looked utterly bewildered, scanning the steady stream of Floridians flowing in and out of the library-cum-voting station. And I realized my own squinted eyes and faint grimace mirrored his: a face of apprehension.
The polls predicted Trump would win. And win he did. With that Florida victory, Marco Rubio – the last, best hope to beat Trump for the nomination – was “forced” to withdraw his candidacy. Within a month, the remaining Trump opponents, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, would also end their campaigns.
And now, here we are, Trump closing in on Clinton in swing state polls, the election a mere seven weeks away.
Look, I’ll level with everyone here: I’m no fan of either candidate. Truly, I wish we could hit the “Redo” button and have the Democratic and Republican primaries all over again.
I wish Rubio had beaten Trump. I wish Floridian voters had been more responsible, more informed, more mature. I wish the Democrats had nominated someone with less baggage than Hillary Clinton (note: not hard to do).
But we don’t always get to live in the world we want; we get to live in the world as is.
(For those interested, there are three viable third-party candidates running. I wrote about them here, and am leaning towards that as ballot option).
And the reason I left my laptop and entered the physical space of political statement is that Trump is a unique threat to our nation. I carried my baby son around for some hours, alone but for him, holding a hand-made sign, because I care about that little man’s future.
I don’t just want him to have the ALREADY GREAT country I grew up in. I want it to be an even better place. And there are ways we can make America better, but that’s an article all its own.
One way to ensure those improvements don’t happen is to elect Trump. One way to ensure that our founders’ goal of a “more perfect union” gets set back a few years, or decades, or permanently, would be to elect Donald J. Trump.
My profound hope is that most Americans do agree with me.
That moms, young and old, are out there, quietly caring, but caring nevertheless, that their kids have a country that is safe, aspirational, inclusive, and optimistic.
These are not buzz words to me. They describe the dream of a country I want to see for my kids.
So, yeah. I protested Donald Trump. Let’s hope it wasn’t for nothing.