Posted December 2, 2016 by Cooper Point Journal in Community

Navigating the Changes Ahead

Highlights of Evergreen’s Post-Election Forum

By Tari Gunstone

Students and faculty looking for answers on how to move forward after the unexpected election of Donald Trump gathered in the recital hall on Tuesday, Nov. 9 for a post-election forum titled “Navigating the Changes Ahead” sponsored by the Academic Deans and academic program, The Global Hunt for Civic Intelligence.

The Forum featured a panel of voices from social activist, author, and previous Seattle City Councilmember, Nick Licata, and three Evergreen faculty members, Sarah Eltantawi, professor of Comparative Religion and Islamic Studies, Larry Mosqueda, professor of Political Science and Political Economy, and Doug Schuler, professor of Civic Intelligence and Computer Science. Faculty member Zultán Grossman facilitated discussion in addition to the audience during an open question and answer segment.

Each panelist provided their individual perspectives on their feelings about the election and what kind of action they believed was now necessary to fight for progress. They freely shared how deeply upset they were about the results, including their frustration with certain damaging actions taken by the Democratic party and their fear of a Trump regime as Eltantawi put it. Mosqueda addressed the somberness of the crowd, stating that there was a “sense of death in country today.”

Having watched the concession speech of Hillary Clinton as well as Barack Obama’s address which both passively legitimized Trump’s dangerous campaign by telling Americans that “ we owe him in open mind,” and that, “we are actually all on one team,” I felt relieved to be in an institutional environment where the speakers felt comfortable expressing their anger and weren’t pressured to cater to the oppositional opinions in the room.

Evergreen is of course a largely liberal institution where Trump supporters would feel entirely out of place and overwhelmingly opposed, but that does not mean it is an oasis without racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism, anti-LGBTQ sentiments, or even Trump supporters. Still, Mosqueda’s proclamation, “Trump is not my president,” was greeted with loud applause by the attending student body.

While the panel members were honest about their vehement disapproval of Trump, they did spend a significant portion of the forum discussing the necessity of not further implementing a division between “us and them.”  Eltantawi, an Egyptian immigrant who experienced the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, shared, “I speak from personal experience . . . that it is a problem if we consider ourselves on one side and put the rest of the country on the other side.”

Other panelists agreed that effectively fighting against a Trump administration requires a critical mass of disapproval that is plausible only through a strong sense of unity that broadens beyond the liberal sphere. Licata said, “We need to understand who the opposition is,” and Eltantawi chimed in that, “we need to exercise caution when we talk about who ‘they’ are.”

The image of dark blue concentrated cities floating like islands in a sea of rural red on the colored electoral maps create reason to believe that Trump supporters are all rural, white citizens. The assumed identity of uneducated and racist quickly follow. Eltantawi reminded the audience that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton voters were on average lower income than Trump voters, and that “pinning the Trump phenomena on poor, white, uneducated communities or racist individuals acts as a scapegoat.” She did not deny that racism was more than likely a motivator for many Trump voters, but suggested that we lose nuance when we reduce their support all to one factor. She invited the audience to, “plead nuance, plead empathy, and retain humanization,” when analyzing Trump supporters. The panelists agreed with Licata when he said that, “A lot of people voted for Trump because they felt left behind from the economy and that the government had betrayed them…they wanted to give the middle finger to government corporations.” Trump presented an anti-establishment option that Hillary Clinton epitomized the exact opposite of.

With Eltantawi’s idea of pleading nuance, it becomes easier to accept that not everyone who voted for Trump genuinely believes that all Mexican immigrants are rapists and want Muslims kicked out of America. What we do see is half of our country investing hope in a man and ideals that are destructive to the rights and opportunities of anyone in our country who is not a white, heterosexual male. Eltantawi argues that, “We need to offer a real systemic solution to these issues and these people who are going to be let down by investing hope in Trump.” Schuler further encouraged this idea by saying that, “Instead of running away from something, provide things for people to run toward.” Students asked questions about how to engage with “the opposition,” specifically concerned about Trump voters’ reachability. The panelists suggested that students try to find common ground with the opposition. “You don’t have to like or approve of people you form coalitions with,” said Eltantawi. Recognizing that we all want change is key, but it does feel difficult to pinpoint commonalities in what that change should look like.

As seen by the surge of hate crimes in our country post-election, the victory of a presidential candidate whose platform was rooted in hatred, bigotry, and violence, has unleashed the ugly actions of our country’s pent-up racist and sexist individuals. These extreme behaviors certainly do not lead one to believe that civil conversation can easily be exchanged with Trump supporters. Eltantawi stated that this administration is going to put us in a position where, “we are going to need to put our bodies in front of people who are vulnerable.” However, the consensus among the panelists remained confident that getting involved and fighting for social change can create a significant shift in our country that could be powerful enough to influence at least some of the 26.3% of citizens who voted for Donald Trump (as well as the nearly 88 million citizens who didn’t vote at all). Schuler shared that working for social change and creating a civic society, “is not sexy work, it’s a lot of nitty gritty work that is local, tedious, and non-militant.” All panelists agreed that protesting our rage is healthy and important and keeps us from paralysis, but protesting alone can’t change our situation. There are many opinions circulating right now about what needs to be done. “I get nervous when people say you have to do this or have to do that, we kind of have to do everything,” said Schuler. The panelists urged the audience to seek out alternatives that help answer the questions of our country’s problems and realize, now more than ever, how deeply we need each other. Licata directed his attention to the heavy hopelessness lingering in the room, reminding students that, “you have more power than you think. Utilize creativity and organize together.”