By: Lizette Guevara
Lizette is from Merced, CA and graduated from St. Mary’s college of California in 2016 with a degree in Anthropology and Ethnic Studies. This year she is working on the legal team at Bread for the City, a large social service non-profit in Washington, DC.
After much thought and consideration, I have decided to use my reflection to write about a topic that I’m sure we’re all so tired of reading about: the election. Although I know this subject has been the center of most discourse throughout the country, I want to share my personal connection to it and how it has affected my service year in ways I could have never fathomed were possible.
When I accepted my placement earlier in the year I knew that the election was going to play a role in my service year, especially living in D.C., but to be completely honest I thought it would mean celebratory post inauguration parties with punny themes that mock white feminism and endless memes roasting Donald Trump/ his supporters.
Although Hillary Clinton was not my first choice for President I still voted for her because I respected the experience she had that qualified her for the position much more than anything Donald Trump had to offer. Like most people that we know, my housemates and I were pretty confident in Hillary’s victory and that the powers that be wouldn’t allow a sentient Cheeto puff to hold office.
During election night a couple of my housemates and I decided to go to a local restaurant known for hosting social justice centered events because we knew that they would be screening the whole event. We knew that we were going to witness a historical moment so we wanted to celebrate it with a room packed full of like-minded people. When I say the place was packed I am not exaggerating. Every single seat was taken and there were about 20-30 people who were perfectly content with not having a seat and simply standing in the bookstore portion of the restaurant in order stare at the large screens. The restaurant was literally roaring when we walked in and my housemate and I were able to squeeze three people into a spot that was probably only meant for one. As the night dragged on and the red spaces on the election results map got larger and larger I’m pretty sure the whole restaurant went through four of the seven stages of grief by the time we left. When we got on the bus everyone was silent, at that point we just wanted to be home and be by ourselves to pray for a miracle.
When I woke up the next morning the miracle did not come and the silence continued. Once I got to my office I noticed that no one could make eye contact with each other, let alone conversation. There were a few hugs and tears, but we couldn’t even bring ourselves to tell each other that “things are going to be ok”. I had a check-in with our program director later that day which quickly turned into a therapeutic session since we both hadn’t been able to share our thoughts with anyone until then. It felt like a national tragedy was unfolding all around me and there was nothing that I could do. When I returned to my office the tension and the sadness in the air still felt very heavy, but to my surprise everyone was carrying on like it was a normal work day (just an extremely quiet work day which is highly unusual for the people that I work with).
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more proud to be a part of my organization until that moment. Even though I’m 100% sure every single person in my office thought that the world was about to end they knew that we still had work to do and that this just meant we had to work harder than ever.
Prior to this year I had very little experience in direct service social justice work; most of my work history and education included organizing and facilitating dialogues around social justice issues. I knew that this year was going to be a challenge when I applied for my position, but I didn’t expect to feel the amount of disenchantment I was feeling those first couple of months. I kept struggling with the fact that I was doing my best to aid marginalized people through an extremely broken legal system and I was constantly thinking to myself “what is the point?”.
Why was my organization and others like mine putting so much time and effort in helping people who were battling laws and larger institutions that literally set them up to fail? When I saw all of my coworkers silently continuing their work in the midst of so much misery and anxiety resulting from the election was when I realized the importance of organizers/advocates working in tandem with those who provide direct services to marginalized communities. Until full equity amongst all communities is reached there will always be work to be done on both sides. This conclusion is what has been my main motivation to give my best self to every client that I encounter.
Since the election I continue to be amazed by the strength and resilience of the people that I live and work with. In times when I am feeling especially powerless I am immediately lifted up and reminded that this is not the end of the world, but we all must continue to do our part in order to prevent it from happening.
In Their Own Words
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