we 'won' the elections - but what's next?
I've never been a part of a majority identity, anywhere I went. I don't know what it feels like to see fair representation in a political or legal system, whether it's in the United States or my own homeland, Malaysia. Two countries with extremely flawed politics, questionable leaders, and blatant racism.
The very first general elections I remember was in the year 2004. I was 7 years old, an aspiring author who always kept a diary on hand (only two years later did I find out that the stories I wrote about in my diary was actually the news, and by 'author' I meant journalist). I had no idea what was going on and what was at stake, but my parents were glued to the screen for hours that day, eyes full of frustration. I asked my parents at the end of the day if they were happy with the results. They told me our government had other people they preferred listening to first.
As I grew up, I finally understood what they meant. 'Other people' meant a religious and ethnic majority in the country. Every single day I saw people around me learn to adapt to being a low priority. It’s so easy to submit to that way of thinking when chasing things that feel more urgent - getting good grades, graduating school, slogging away for stable income, paying bills, and taking care of children. To many, it felt like there was a need to sacrifice one for the other
I also experienced how easy it was for the middle class to brush off dissatisfaction because "when we make more money, we'll make our life better." That's wrong. There are some fundamental structures to better livelihood that our money can't fix. It takes a competent vessel to make changes at that level.
Although I've never had the chance to vote in my life, a general election has always felt emotionally charged to me. Most of them ended with me in tears, shocked at how little I understood the millions of people in my country and how so many stood against everything I hoped for.
So the feeling of victory is an indescribable one to any minority. It's an acknowledgment that feels unattainable, and to have it in your grasp can feel like the heavens are changing the face of the world right in front of you.
Yesterday was a victory for 75 million people in America. A victory that felt dangerously close to a loss. I moved to America shortly after Trump was elected as president. Coming from a predominantly Muslim country, a Trump administration was not good news to any of us, Muslim or not. Over my last four years here, I've lived in constant anxiety over systems at play that made my visas so difficult. Coming across links on Twitter about immigration updates meant stumbling across angry comments from thousands of people who wanted Trump to take people like me out of universities and workplaces.
Was I happy yesterday when I learned that Trump was booted out? Of course!
But did I think of it as a victory? Well, not exactly.
If common sense wasn't common enough among our own communities, it's even more scarce in political circles. Yes, they're some of the most 'educated' and 'informed' people in the nation. But when you're a slave to money and power, public interest and the 'right choice' sounds little to not enticing at all, as much of a no-brainer as it can be.
Yesterday was one of the many victories this country will have to make in succession for public interest to really be addressed. A Democratic president and vice president won't make a difference, especially when they're this married to an elitist system. Real democracy doesn't end when all the votes are counted, it's a way of life. Real democracy is made up of daily habits and attitudes that promote unity, understanding, compassion, and growth. It needs to be practiced continuously because you never know when the system is going to take it away from you.
For example, the 2018 Malaysian elections. The year I felt a national victory for the very first time in my life as a minority. The opposition had overthrown the corrupt reigning political power. Stifled voices had broken through a wall that could not be breached for half a century.
What happened next? Two years down the road and our government is made up of power-hungry politicians that nobody elected into office. Laws are being implemented and broken to benefit the elite. Racism and bigotry still a way of life. Our trust in a functioning democracy as a developing nation? Completely broken.
Real change - a change that lasts - comes from the source, from us, and the way we live our life. As idealistic as it may sound, I do believe that there are things we need to change about humanity in its entirety. It’s exactly what local activists are doing one community at a time. Changing the way we treat each other as members of a community, the way we
acknowledge problems and address them, the way we apply pressure to broken systems.
I definitely don’t do enough to be a more active member of my community, and I know that I don’t exercise my privileges enough to fight for those who have less than me.
I know that I have to, there’s no excuse for it. I do believe that every single person, as busy as they are, has the capacity to exercise some sort of social responsibility. By making a commitment to change our actions and attitude at an individual level, we can collectively exert enough pressure onto those in power and ultimately, not fall victim to their own personal agendas.
Here are five things that I think everybody should do to open up conversations and promote tolerance and productive debate:
Broaden your perspectives.
Listen to people you don’t agree with, follow accounts that speak about different political views and ideological beliefs. Understand the ‘why’ before criticizing the ‘what’. Don’t cancel or rip a random person online to shreds before you somewhat understand any personal or external factors that build toward that perception. If the person’s unsalvageable, educate, and walk away.
Always, always stay informed.
Don’t just wait for another unjust murder or nationwide protest to start doing your research on social inequalities. Follow news outlets, activists, and authors for timely reports and analysis on current events from both sides of the political spectrum. You need to know at least the basics of political discourse happening around you. That’s step 1 to getting community buy-in for any sort of movement.
Hold your words and actions accountable without excuse.
Society today lacks compassion and understanding more than anything else, so make sure that you yourself are practicing it. Imagine what the world would be if everyone did this? Love spreads love and hate spreads hate. If you want the world to change and be a certain way, make sure your actions line up with it, even when you’re with your closest friends or family.
Don't get comfortable.
This is the worst thing we can do as advocates for change - adapt to the way things are for so long that we don’t see anything wrong with it. To hold elected politicians accountable, we need to draw a clear line between what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. And this line must be drawn beyond an understanding of how it affects our families, it needs to represent the livelihoods of everybody, especially the most impoverished and underrepresented.
Finally, be brave to act on things yourself.
If there’s one thing we learned in this election (and every election, for that matter) it’s that every vote counts. Every person counts. Don’t wait for someone else to address a problem that you know is wrong. Don’t wait for a friend to post about something, attend a local rally, or start fundraising for a cause. If you don’t see a resource, be a resource or reach out to somebody who can be that resource.
And with that I say, it’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of this term pans out. This country is more divisive than ever, and the Biden Harris team had made big promises despite a weak track record to back it up. We can’t leave everything up to our politicians and let them guide us, we’re more than capable of guiding them. If booting Trump out of office comes hand-in-hand with consistent pressure and critique on those who have replaced him, that’s when we’ll start to see the outlines of a real victory.