By Joe Bergeon, Staff Writer
Over the course of a year, I placed tens of thousands of calls to accomplish what we all thought was more than possible: getting people to the polls, to volunteer, and to be energized. As a volunteer, you’re lucky to reach one out of ten, but that didn’t dissuade any of us from doing what we could to help elect the first female president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.
In the winter, we called into every county in Iowa, the smallest towns in New Hampshire, and the suburbs of Las Vegas and Charleston. In the spring, we called into the Super Tuesday states, the “Acela Primary” states, and the Rust Belt. Before the summer, seeing the finish line, we called into the biggest prize of all: California. We weathered the storms of angry Bernie supporters, angry Trump supporters, and the folks who ‘just don’t like’ Hillary Clinton. We weren’t discouraged when the Bernie supporters told us that she was a corporate hack, an ally of Wall Street, a DINO who only cared about preserving the political establishment and the power of Debbie Wasserman Schultz; when the Trump supporters told us that she was a criminal, a liar, and a bitch; and when everyone else complained about the emails. Even after all that, we still remained confident. How could America elect such a radical? How could America turn its back on the values we hold so dear?
I woke up on November 8th, ready to see the hard work pay off and the dawn of a new era in American society, when the barriers would be broken and the bridges would be built. Throughout the morning and the afternoon, I, like many others, stayed glued to the television, and spent a few hours at the polls to greet voters and thank them for turning out on behalf of local candidates. When the polls closed, we went to our victory party at a restaurant on the marina in Kennebunkport, the traditional bastion of the Bush Republicans.
We felt good. At 8:30, we were playing pool, eating and drinking, chatting and chanting as results began to roll in. By 9:30, we began to watch more closely as we saw the margins in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio begin to move in favor of the other side. At 10:00, the prayers started to become audible. At 11:00, a freight train hit us, and we began to fathom the unfathomable: we failed.
Never in my short life had I ever felt such a tempest of emotion. In these past several months, we’ve watched with little surprise a transition beset with chaos and a lack of professionalism. We’ve read about spikes in hate crimes and harassment at the hands of the white-nationalist right. And it all culminated in the inauguration of President Trump. With this, knowing that it could have been different and we could have done more, I’ve been exhausted and exasperated.
That agony was on my mind today, as I marched on Main Street in a small town in Maine. Temperatures didn’t crack 40 degrees, nor did the sun make itself visible. In spite of the weather, over 750 people showed up to protest the President and to voice their concerns about the potential for a reversal of women’s rights, civil rights, and the ability to obtain affordable health care. They arrived with signs alluding to Hillary Clinton's remarks at the 1995 U.N. Conference on Women, the rhetoric of the new President, and the rallying cries of protesters before them. This sister stand-in coincided with the others on this day in cities and towns across the country.
But there was one moment that stabbed me in the heart: as we stood there, a large pickup truck with a Confederate flag drove by, the occupants yelling obscenities out the window, taunting those standing on the sidewalks. A little girl, standing in front of the parish church, began to cry as she heard this, and turned to her mother behind her. A look of frustration passed over the mother’s face, with small glimmers of both anger and defiance. “Don’t worry, honey,” she said softly. “You see all these people standing here with us? They believe that women are equal to men, and they’re going to fight to make sure that those bad people won’t make you feel less important. Don’t worry, honey.”
But the thing is: I didn’t see 750 people making calls. I didn’t see 750 people knocking on doors, registering young people to vote, making sure the elderly received absentee ballots, or providing transportation for those who couldn’t make it to the polls on their own. I didn’t hear the voices of equality in the streets, or witness the energy, the hard work, and the organization. I sure didn’t see 750 people fighting to make sure that those bad people won’t make that little girl feel less important. Yet I stood alongside them, speaking to them, encouraging them to get involved. I watched them stand with signs reading, “Yes We Can,” “Love Trumps Hate,” “My Country, My Voice,” and my favorite, “Men of Quality Don’t Fear Equality.” I saw the passion of their hearts, the forcefulness of their convictions, and the determination in their eyes.
Now, marchers, I hope that you join with me on a fight that will never cease and a journey that has no end. If you can get on a plane to go to Washington D.C., you can make five calls or knock on five doors. If you can stand in the cold for hours on end, you can get your friends and family to vote. It doesn’t start one month before a presidential election, it starts the day after. Don’t leave it to someone else; do it yourself. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on.
So, marchers: show the world what democracy looks like.