When the Electoral College cast its vote, our collective loss over the election resonated doubly. A white pantsuit’s delayed delivery, on 11/9, a symbol of our ambushed hope that day. How do we continue to hope when hope, once so close, seems so lost and far away?
My white pantsuit arrived a day late. When it became clear, on November 8, that I would not have it in time for Election Day, I thought, “It’s OK, at least we’re going to have our first female president! It doesn’t really matter what I’m wearing when I vote.” I improvised and wore another white outfit to honor the suffragettes, who wore white when they fought so hard for the vote for women.
Four weeks later, my family is still asking me when I’m going to open the huge box on the dining room table. I explain that it’s just too painful to even look at it. The suit, delivered on November 9, now represents my hopes for our country to break the gender barrier at the highest level and prevent a terrifying president, hopes that were destroyed on election night.
I finally steeled myself to open the box, realizing later that it was on December 8, exactly one month after our collective loss. I gingerly took the beautiful, flowing suit out of the tissue paper. It was the Tahari that I had found on sale for a hundred bucks. I felt energized and influential just putting it on. But I sobbed when I first closed the single, elegant fastener on the blazer that hugged my curves. Fast, huge tears with barely a chance to breathe in between.
This was not like any other election. So many of us carried the profound hope that a woman would finally be president, but we also held the deep fear that unconscious bias, and worse—overt racism, bigotry, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and plain old ignorance—might win.
The pain cuts deeper than any election in my lifetime. My chest began to hurt around 7 p.m. on election night, as the results began and I saw a steady rollout of red across my TV screen. My chest pains haven’t stopped. I’ve found myself drinking more than one drink each night, when I’ve never drunk consistently before. I’ve cried, shaking with disappointment rage and fear. I’ve cried for my personal reasons, as a woman, mother and advocate for unity and equality, and for my concerns for African American, immigrant, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ, differently abled people and others who are now even more threatened in our imperfect but beloved United States.
Although I’m not a religious person, both my grandfathers were ministers. So the phrase “this too shall pass” is constant in my mind. It’s gotten me through a lot of seemingly unbearable times in my life. But how the hell does this new sense and reality of profound loss and terror ever “pass”?
The implications of a Trump presidency keep reverberating in my mind, my nightmares and my Facebook feed. They are becoming more deeply entrenched as the days pass, with appointments of cabinet members, each more frightening with each day. I have taken every daily action possible to urge the electors to undo Trump. I’m am gut-punched knowing the Electoral College didn’t save us today.
I love my pantsuit. And I love my country. I will recover personally from the election. And I have to hold onto the hope that we, as a nation, will recover and thrive as well. It’s kind of obnoxious when your name is Hope. Until these November-December days, I’ve always been an insufferable optimist. The guilt that I feel over my own loss of hope is crushing. And the pressure I’ve put on myself to move on and “fight the good fight” feels overwhelming.
I’ve devoted my art career to racial justice and equality for all. The ideals that I talk about with students — unity, diversity, oneness, acceptance and compassion — are compromised right now. I’ve been more than tempted to crawl into bed and give up. But this is the time to “walk our talk.” To march, to protest, to write, to create art about resistance. This is the time to be brave and fight for all that we believe in, to do all we can to make a change at the mid-term election, and going forward after that. We have a lot of work to do until 2020.
Some people think I should quit speaking out and sharing my art. They worry about my safety when I have children to raise. But what kind of country would I be leaving my boys if I cower and don’t work for the kind of country I believe in? How can I model bravery and integrity for them if I show them that when when the going gets tough, the tough get under the covers?
Instead, I am determined to continue to make art honoring our abolitionists, teach about the beauty of diversity married with unity and try to inspire more freedom fighters until my dying day.
I might even heal enough someday to wear my pantsuit while doing it.
Hope Demetriades is an artist, writer and educator who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. Her traveling mixed-media installation, “The North Stars: Canonizing the American Abolitionists,” may be viewed at hopedemetriades.com.
Photo: Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016