This was the outfit I wore to vote in my first ever Presidential election, which was May of this year. In hindsight, it was probably the worst possible election in which to debut my voting status–none of the candidates were particularly palatable, and all had made compromises that were, in their own ways, difficult to swallow. I knew who I didn’t want to vote for, though, so by process of elimination I cast what I termed a “protest vote,” choosing the only person whose compromises I could stomach (looking back, perhaps I shouldn’t have stomached them), and who I believed would run my country best.
Today, she is dead. Has been for a while. She was struggling with stage four cancer then, and even on the campaign trail it was clear she wouldn’t make it. My vote was for a country I believed should be, and sometimes, when I look at the news of our current president’s latest shenanigans, I do wish I’d voted with a little more strategy. But back then I believed that a vote was the one statement I could make as a citizen, the one act of change I could participate in.
Now, I think a little bit differently.
2016 has not been a great year in politics. In that May election, we voted a foul-mouthed, trigger-happy sexist into office (Honestly, he’s actually doing some good for my country; it’s his fanatical supporters that are ramping up the negativity.), and with that decision paved the way for the hero’s burial of our most infamous dictator, who plundered the country so badly that we’ve never really recovered. That burial announcement came via the Supreme Court, just yesterday, and was met with great celebration from his family, who are all–son, daughter, widow–still involved in current politics.
(Apparently, our history has a short memory.)
As if the glorification of a tyrant were not enough, today, Donald Trump won the US elections, proving that America is still more sexist than a developing nation. I’m not sure what the political effects of this decision will be on my country, but on a personal level Hillary Clinton’s loss to an accused sex offender, misogynist, womanizer, cyberbully, and corrupt businessman did a number on my faith in humanity. Yes, she is a shifty, vaguely-robotic career politician, but she was also an example of the heights a woman could attain with ambition, drive, diligence, and intellect. She could have been a role model, a pantsuit-wearing #Girlboss, a sign that the times truly were a-changing.
Except apparently the times aren’t.
Following on the heels of that announcement, a news article came out revealing that our President had made lewd comments about the legs of our Vice President, a woman I had voted for and had watched win a hard-fought battle against the dictator’s son. I got my eleventh-hour salvation moment, as I watched Leni’s numbers climb, and until the end I kept hoping Hillary’s supporters would get theirs too…but sometimes the ceiling shatters, and sometimes it doesn’t.
In the aftermath of this one-two punch, I did what most millennials do: I mourned on Facebook. As my teammates streamed Trump’s victory speech I waded through a sea of thinkpieces and memes, all sharing the same sentiments: humanity had failed, and what in the world we were going to do now? One post, by a friend who is also a teacher, jumped out at me. It read: “How am I supposed to teach kids that bullying, sexism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and violence are wrong NOW?”
During the dark days of our own election season, there were a ton of smear campaign ads made about the man who is our current president. The approach was pretty much the same in all of them: kids repeating his multiple swearwords, his threats of murder and vengeance, his lewd comments against women. The argument was that the president’s foulness would someone trickle down into our children, and was this the example we wanted them to follow? Back then, since I already hated the man, I was all for sharing those videos…but faced with the current situation, I’m starting to think a little differently.
See, when I was a kid, I couldn’t care less who the president was. I thought the news was boring. I didn’t really care what happened in politics as long as I could still play outside. But I did care what my parents did. What my uncles and aunts did. What my teachers did. It was their behavior I copied, their examples I followed, until such time as I was old enough to form my own opinions, and even then, it is their behavior that has formed the basis of many of my judgments.
We like to think of the president as the parent of our nation, and it’s true, he does hold a lot of influence on the immediate direction our country will take. But presidents aren’t forever–unless you’re Putin, I guess–and in the end what will be left standing of the state are its citizens.
It’s tempting, seeing how sexism and racism and xenophobia and ignorance are currently winning, to just throw in the towel and remain numb. Joke about immigrating. Drink ourselves into stupors. But that’s copping out when the fight is far from over. See, our government does not define us. We define it. If we want a better government, we can start to build one, beginning now. Because it isn’t the president our friends and family will see on a daily basis: it’s us. We are the leaders people will look to daily for guidance. And while we can’t control how President Duterte or President-Elect Trump might act, we can combat some of the ills that put them in power by being the people we wish those leaders would be.
The shirt I wore for Election Day was merch from Les Misérables in Manila. Les Mis is my all-time favorite musical; it ruined my life long before Hamilton was ever in the picture. In particular, the song that always gets me is the Finalé, when the ghosts of the barricades sing to usher Valjean into Heaven. After everything that has happened, after the revolution has turned into a massacre, after the heartbreaking news of “The people have not stirred,” these ghosts still sing:
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade,
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes.
“Tomorrow comes.” are the last words of the musical. At first I thought it was just an arbitrary choice–happened to be the last words of the last verse, so let’s repeat in harmonies for that big “showstopper” effect. But as I’ve reflected over the events of today, and how they feel so much like that fruitless July revolution, I’ve gained a different understanding of those words altogether. It’s almost as if those ghosts knew that one day, someday, people what remember what they fought for, and that though they never saw the end to the injustice they died for…one day tomorrow would come.
2016 has been a long, dark year. This year, it seems, hate has won. And maybe it has. But that’s just this year, and though we’ve lost, the fight isn’t over. Rather, it just means it has to go on a little longer. There is a world beyond the barricade that we long to see, and until we get there, the revolution continues, woman by woman, and man by man.
This is our revolution: love, kindness, decency, honor, and respect. It’s taking the fight to the streets, practicing what our current administrations have failed to preach. It’s being the leaders we wanted, instead of the ones we’ve got. It’s choosing, even in the face of a world turned upside down, to live as if history has its eyes on us, and not on those so-called people in power.
Today we tend to our wounded. We mourn our losses. But tomorrow will still come, and so we rise up. Because more than anything, our revolution is hope.
Of course I was going to work some Hamilton in there. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tweets are what’s keeping me sane right now.