On the night presidential candidate Donald Trump won election to the highest office in the country, community activist Devin Cabanilla couldn’t sleep. At around 1:00 a.m., he made the spur of the moment decision to arrange a panel discussion the next day at Hing Hay Coworks in the International District.
That evening, a handful of people showed up, many of them sleep-deprived, shocked, and saddened by Trump’s victory, to share their fears and grief, and discuss solutions and action they could take. They were joined by Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Dr. E.J. R. David, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Filipino-American writer and activist. Cabanilla moderated the discussion and live-streamed it on Facebook to over 1,000 people using his phone.
While the discussion often turned to solutions and actions, many people attending expressed their initial feelings of fear, anger, and hopelessness at the results of the election.
“I know people and I’ve talked to people who are terrified for their lives,” said Michael Huang, founder of a digital marketing company, and the youth group Extraordinary Futures. “The fact that a country that you call your home made a decision that would bring that fear out—that to me is something that will be with me until I die.”
David told of how he dropped his young daughter off at school that morning, and felt the need to remind her that she can do anything she wants if she just works hard. As he was heading back to his car, it occurred to him that given what had just happened to the country, what he’d told her was a lie.
“Right now I don’t really believe that that’s true, a lot of the things I just told her and I’ve been telling her for years,” David said. “I want to be hopeful—on social media, and my friends and my wife tells me to be hopeful, you know, we’re gonna make it through, we’ve got to stay strong, we’re resilient. I’m not there right now. Right now I really don’t see much hope.”
According to Bukhari, CAIR Washington received calls that day from worried parents asking if they should send their kids to school, and women who wear headscarves wondering if it would be safe to go outside. The response from CAIR was that they should go to work and school as normal—it’s their right to live a normal life as an American and not be harassed.
Bukhari acknowledged that the next four years would require struggle. Last year—the year of Trump’s campaign—saw the rise nationally of more hate crimes against Muslims or those perceived as Muslim than ever before, he pointed out.
“I think what last night showed us is that we have a lot of work to do for the next four years,” Bukhari said.
Trump’s first 100 days include a plan to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Michelle Burge, a south Seattle resident, pointed out that this will likely lead to further racial profiling of immigrants and people of color, and even possible unlawful detention or deportation.
Bukhari noted that there are still at least two months before Trump is sworn into office, enough time to get organized and if necessary prepare legal defense for people in danger of being deported.
“The time really is now to start moving. If it wasn’t yesterday, if it wasn’t last year, then now is the time to get those resources organized and mobilized,” Bukhari said. “Our main job is to organize from here onward.”
Mariecris Gatlabayan, an archivist and Filipino American Historical Society national trustee, talked about the importance of channeling anger into productive action.
“I think you can be pissed, but you can take that energy and you can move it forward,” Gatlabayan said. “What happened is the other half of the country took that anger and that hate, and pushed us back. And right now we’re gonna have to grieve first. That’s just part of the process.”
For her, it’s impossible not to be hurt, especially because, as she put it, so many people decided racism, sexism, ableism, and xenophobia weren’t deal breakers for them.
“What hurt the most was that they’re still scared of us,” she said. “That for whatever reason we’re taking something away from them all the time. That has not gone away — people are just quiet about it. And now that we’ve elected someone who wasn’t quiet about it, they don’t have to be quiet anymore. That’s the scary part for me.”
Members of the group discussed ways to move forward, and also how to connect with Trump supporters to bring them to the other side.
“I would like to not think there are simply just people who believe in his worst traits of misogyny, of sexism, of exclusion and racism, but maybe that he was speaking to something deeper to them that was resonating with them,” said Huang. “There may be people that are just true bigots, that don’t get it, but I believe in humanity in the sense that there are people that are just simply ignorant or they don’t know the good stories. And what’s happening is that these conversations are hitting walls and those people are retreating to their corners.”
Huang said it’s important for people to protest, but also reach out to the middle to the people who can be convinced and try to bridge the gaps. Otherwise, in the privacy of the voting booth, these people will vote for candidates they think understand them, rather than progressives who seem to want nothing to do with them.
“I think power from within, dismantling the system from within, building up our leaders, building up our role models, learning how to speak to everyone, to ourselves, to them as well, is the most powerful thing that we can do,” he said.
One silver lining to the election, Huang said, is that Seattle and the nation put many women of color in office. One thing people can do, he said, is to call them and other elected officials.
Carlo Nakar, a therapist and Masters student at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, was struggling to feel optimistic. He expressed how painful it was that Trump surged to victory thanks in large part to Evangelical Christian votes. Nakar is a Christian himself, but feels as though those Christians didn’t care about his welfare.
“I love talking about things that we can do,” he said, “but we need to take care of this trauma that we’re feeling right now. … This is the most public reminder of racism that we’ve seen in two generations.”
David also felt pessimistic about solutions that don’t involve addressing racism directly.
“Every time we experience economic difficulties in this country, the white community is often very quick to look at scapegoats,” David said.
And while solving economic problems will help alleviate some people’s anger, it won’t be enough, he said.
“I think fixing it that way really dances around the problem,” David said. “We’ve done that before, first of all. And essentially what we’ve done is we’ve just made people comfortable and tolerant enough, because they’re comfortable enough. But they’re not really addressing these deep-seated biases and ignorance that they have. And so the next time it gets bad again, those things come back out.”
A second personal community table discussion was held via Facebook Live and National Conference Call on Wednesday, November 16 with the topic POC Safety in Seattle. To view it and the November 9 discussion, visit www.facebook.com/Election-2016-NOT-DONE-720881941396641.