Months ago, I was at a gathering of smart, community-minded women, and we were talking about the upcoming presidential election. What struck me about the talk was that all of the black women felt sure that Trump would be elected president, while most of the white women were deeply skeptical that that was possible. The black women didn’t quite tell us that we were naive to the hostility and hate of Americans all around us. Instead, they shook their heads and exchanged glances, knowing better.
For so long, I was both unenthusiastic about Clinton and worried about Trump. I read more about Clinton, and my enthusiasm grew. Trump worry caused persistent anxiety, but deep down, I couldn’t really believe it would happen. Then, in the few days before the election, I got confident. And excited. I was pumped about the history-making moment of voting for a woman president and the opportunity to repudiate hatefulness and incivility. I watched Clinton’s final gorgeous, long-form, uplifting commercials packed with all sorts of people gathering together joyfully, I watched the huge line of people bringing their “I voted” stickers to Susan B. Anthony’s grave, and I sobbed.
On election day, M remained fretful and too cautious for overt optimism, but J had caught my mood. When she got home from school, I put on my white feminist t-shirt and J dug out her Rosie the Riveter costume, and we brought a little figurine of Susan B. Anthony with us to the polls. Here’s J pointing out her candidate of choice (on all 3 party lines):
We were giddy walking home, and the day was so beautiful. I took a picture of J, dancing ahead so quickly that she’s a speck in the distance, and I thought of that Hamilton line, “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
Now I feel like I set J up for heartbreak.
This morning, J cried and cried. We fumbled with what to say to both of the girls, but it was hard when Cute W and I felt like crying, too. We weren’t sure if J would make it to band practice. We finally got her to start getting organized and moments later she returned to me with renewed sobs. She had a worksheet she was supposed to complete for social studies, highlighting which of her social studies teachers’ predictions about the electoral college were right or wrong. He’d predicted that Hillary would win by 108 electoral votes. I just told J to put it aside and I’d email the teacher.
Yesterday, I’d shared a picture of J and me and Susan B. headed out to the polls on Facebook. A friend commented that, as a girl, she’d had a stamp of the famous Susan B. Anthony quote: “Failure is impossible.” She said she wished that she could find it again, to stamp it all over everything.
We actually have that quote on a magnet in our kitchen. I’ve always thought that it was a bit of a strange quote to highlight, because the suffrage movement had endured so many defeats, so much ridicule, so many actual failures, that it seemed that failure is not just possible, but frequent. Anthony’s statement seemed to, well, contradict reality.
Today, I feel like I would like to contradict reality.
I went looking for a bit more context to the quotation, which I already knew was from Anthony’s last speech, a brief one at her 86th birthday celebration. Apparently she was pretty weak, and she was thanking all of those who had supported her and would continue to work for women’s rights even as she was no longer able to do so. “With such women consecrating their lives. . . failure is impossible.” It was a statement of faith in the young women who followed her and the future beyond her own life, a bold burst of optimism that defied daily setbacks.
We are going to try to stay busy. I will try to believe that even though this election did not make the kind of history I want, this heartbreak could be an opportunity for growth, a landmark in the formation of my smart, opinionated, feminist girls.
I will try hard to have faith that with daughters such as these, failure is impossible.