Three days before Donald Trump won the presidential election, I was called a nigger while walking down the street in Washington D.C. This had never happened to me before.
On the morning of November 9, I woke up wondering if it would happen more frequently in Donald Trump’s America. I cried.
I wasn’t alone. Have you ever been in a city when it collectively goes into mourning? I watched D.C. recoil into itself as Tuesday evening’s festive atmosphere turned to horror and then a stunned grief. D.C. has the highest percentage of Democrat voters anywhere in the country; 92.8 percent of the District voted for Hillary Clinton. Only 11,553 people voted for Donald Trump – there are probably more Republican staffers than that in the city.
On Wednesday, November 9, almost as if by decree, everyone was dressed for a funeral. The streets were eerily quiet; it rained for the first time in weeks. No one was out. In my university classroom that night, we were all dressed in black. My professor had clearly been crying, and she scrapped our scheduled lecture to let people talk about how they felt.
Immediately, there was a recognition that people felt scared and isolated and alone. The university began sending out e-mails offering counseling support and announced an interfaith prayer event on main campus. My local coffee shop stuck a piece of paper in the window announcing it was a safe space; the wedding planning blog I read posted links to suicide helplines. A friend who volunteers for a domestic abuse hotline said they had never received a higher volume of calls than they did in the days following the election.
D.C. is a city familiar with public grief. I watched the election results come in at a bar at the intersection of 14th and U streets. This was the epicenter of the riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and has always been a culturally significant area for African Americans. U Street was dubbed “Black Broadway” in the 1920s due to its importance: it was the largest urban African American community in the nation. It took decades to rebuild the community following the riots.
This is a city of doers, and despite being in mourning, it is already beginning to rebuild. Just like U Street, which is once again a neighbourhood where you go to see and be seen, DC is finding itself in the aftermath of trauma. Since the election, there has been a protest or political event every day in the District. There have been candlelit vigils, hug-ins, even a political rally led by Bernie Sanders. Lincoln’s Cottage, “where Lincoln came to deal with epic division and chaos in our country,” opened its doors to all, stating that “Our lights are on for you. All of you.”
I realized that even though I had moved to D.C. expecting to learn about politics, I’m learning about something more powerful - about the resilience of hope, and of people. And about lights that shine for all of us.