I didn't cry when Bush won. I expected to. I'd done my best to refrain from anticipating the outcome of the election because even entertaining the idea of Bush winning was so upsetting to me. I'd put my heart into this election, registering voters all summer and becoming meaningfully involved in the political process for the first time. I thought that if Kerry lost, I'd feel defeated and ineffective, become seriously depressed and apathetic.
But I didn't.
I stayed up late with my fingers crossed while they counted Ohio's votes. But when Kerry conceded the win to Bush on Wednesday, what came over me was not a sense of hopelessness, but of possibility. I felt reassured by the buzz of political energy that I'd felt over the past three months; most people in this country have not witnessed political activism of these proportions. This election transformed a massive group of hitherto complacent American citizens into an attentive and participatory body of social activists, and our impact did not go unfelt.
Registering voters in Carrboro gave me an excuse to speak to my neighbors for the first time. Politics gave me a reason to communicate, to open a dialogue, to forge connections with others in my community whose nameless faces have been familiar to me for a long while. And this type of grassroots organizing, cooperation and sharing of information and ideas (which is taking place all over the country) holds awesome potential for the type of significant social transformation we should hope for and anticipate. In fact, it holds much more potential, and in a much more profound and far-reaching sense, than another Democratic presidency.
To be sure, the results of the election were terribly disappointing to me. But at the same time I struggle with the outcome, I am vividly aware that what's far more important than the results of the election is our response to those results. The fact that so many are so deeply upset is reassuring to me. It's an indication that we are finally paying attention.
What matters now is what we do with the energy that has been cultivated over the past several months. Will our enthusiasm and commitment waver over one lost battle? Will it dissipate, degenerating into apathy and a sense of futility? Or will we realize that now, perhaps more than ever, our participation is of immense importance?
I remain steadfast in my belief that the world can change, that it's going to change profoundly in the course of my lifetime, and that what determines whether those changes are navigated well or badly is the active participation of an attentive and informed American public.