What Happens After Nov. 3?
This Wednesday is going to feel different. Regardless of the outcome of the election — and we may not know for days to come — the presidency does not solely solve the nation’s problems and never has. There is still much work to be done, and the urgency of that work will feel renewed on Nov. 4.
Over the past year, the college community has seen a fair amount of activism with campaigns such as #ReclaimAmherst and initiatives like AC Votes. Through the donation matching program launched by the Association of Amherst Students, our community raised around $87,000 for various organizations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Voter registration among athletics teams is at the highest rate it has ever been. In many ways, political engagement at Amherst College over the past couple of months is something to be proud of. However, we must not pat ourselves on the back for too long — we must continue this work regardless of Wednesday’s results.
Electoral politics are not the be-all and end-all of our democratic system. We must not forget those who are not represented in the electoral system and thus cannot participate. Voter suppression is rampant in Black and Indigenous communities. Incarcerated and undocumented people are not granted voting privileges. There are huge swaths of the population who go unheard in the electoral system, which means their voices must be amplified in other areas of political activism. Further, the scope of the challenges our society faces — when it comes to issues of racial justice, climate action, reproductive rights, the list continues — span far beyond one seat of elected office and require grassroots organizing and real-life, on-the-ground social shifts to effect meaningful change.
So one election should not be the end of Amherst’s heightened engagement with our local and national political landscape.
The issues that made this election resonate so deeply with community members on and off-campus are the same ones that will continue to impact our lives as our nation moves forward. Some will experience them less directly should President Donald Trump leave the White House while others will, in silence, continue to bear the full brunt of America’s systemic efforts to disenfranchise marginalized communities. The Trump caravan through the Town of Amherst over the weekend — the second rally of this sort this semester — serves as a very physical reminder of the fact that there is a portion of the population, not just of the country, but of Hampshire County as well, that not only opposes the college’s mission, its students and their fight for human rights but actively works to intimidate us into giving up on that fight.
Luckily, we have spent this year demonstrating that when we come together as a community, we are both strong enough and committed enough to fight on. No matter which president sits in the White House or which party dominates Congress, when we organize together our activism can make a visible impact both on national issues and problems we face on our own campus. AC Votes, with the support of the college, has worked hard to radically increase Amherst students’ voter turnout rates this year, and as the election wraps up, we can channel that energy into other forms of engagement.
Our political action must go beyond the ballot box. In recent years, the Amherst campus has been known for moments of pop-up activism that generate intense initial energy and quickly taper off. Our response to the election results should not follow this pattern. We must focus on sustainable activism that gets to root issues rather than bandaging up symptoms.
The issues on this November’s ballot exist on national, local and campus scales and thus must be addressed on all of these levels.
On the national level, the primary ways to stay engaged are to keep getting educated, donating, signing petitions and (safely) attending protests and other events. For issues like climate action, look to organizations like the Sunrise Movement. For racial justice, educate yourself with resources from the Movement for Black Lives, Race Forward or other places. Taking action with and continuing to get educated by these organizations helps build a national dialogue and framework for change.
But perhaps where Amherst students will see themselves make the most change is on the local and campus level. We must remember that national issues are Amherst College issues, and can be addressed from our own backyards. The college’s Climate Action Plan requires energy from students to hold the administration accountable for following through. The college’s anti-racism plan demands the same energy. Beyond moments of pop-up activism, we must ensure that our community’s promises are kept in the long term.
And after Amherst, look to local government. Whether that means engaging with the Town of Amherst or staying engaged with politics from your hometown, get to know the policies and the people that are making changes that affect you and those you know on the day-to-day.
Consider the impacts of recent on-campus campaigns such as #ReclaimAmherst on our campus or Black Lives Matter on the national stage, both campaigns have not only succeeded in achieving some of their aims but more importantly, have succeeded in framing the conversation and creating an environment in which activism and political participation were an expectation rather than an add-on. We should work to make sure that that spirit carries on into this next presidential term.
Of course, this is a long to-do list and not something that any single person can take on alone. Instead, for activism toward change to be sustainable, we must cultivate a widespread politically active culture.
Perhaps the clearest way to build that culture is to actively encourage it; this means students should talk about problems on and off-campus and professors should recognize the value this brings to our community, making time for students to do things like vote or attend important rallies or marches. Some leniency in the days after the election would be particularly crucial, as students process the results and ready themselves to continue their political engagement.
Our sole value and priorities should not be placed on in-classroom achievements. We must pat ourselves on the back more for making changes in our communities. When those achievements are more positively reinforced within the culture of Amherst College, it will be easier for community members to see the value in acting. This cultural shift is not an unprecedented demand. In fact, a worldly perception of the Amherst student — that is, seeing them as someone who has a role outside of a class discussion or lecture — is the very meaning of terras irradient. To be an Amherst student has been, and should continue to be, to participate in building a better world.
Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 11; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 4)