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In aftermath of election, women are 'sad but strong'

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Posted on November 17, 2016 |
By Emma Cotton



protest8558.jpg
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENTS, faculty and staff gathered outside Old Chapel Wednesday afternoon to protest the deportation threats issued by President-elect Donald Trump. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

MIDDLEBURY — Sitting in Middlebury’s Sama’s Cafe on Monday morning, Sujata Moorti sighed deeply.

The Middlebury College professor of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies had been processing the results of last week’s election. Like many people around her, she believes President-elect Donald J. Trump will encourage the “rolling back” of important policies — ones that promote the well-being of women, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color and marginalized religious groups, among others.

On the morning after the election, Moorti invited students to the student center, where they could watch Clinton’s concession speech, talk and support each other.

“In those three hours, between 150 and 200 people walked in and out,” she said. “It was truly stunning to watch as men and women met, and how bereft they felt, and how incomprehensible this whole thing felt.”

In a state that voted almost two-to-one in favor of Hillary Clinton over Trump, Moorti’s feelings of sorrow and those of students she sees on campus are one example of devastation that has been felt widely in Vermont amongst voters who hoped for a Democratic administration that might perpetuate progressive values.

In Middlebury, a town in which 78 percent of votes went to Clinton, people have expressed despair and anger about election results through protests and public outreach, including a march to the town green on Sunday (see story here) and a demonstration on the Middlebury College campus on Wednesday afternoon drew several hundred people.

Several Middlebury students have taken action. Two protests have already been staged in a display of solidarity with other nation-wide protests. On Friday, Jenevra “Nevie” Wetmore, a Middlebury College senior, reached out on a local electronic bulletin board offering to mentor youth from the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) community.

“I’m a gay girl from Vermont in my senior year at Middlebury College,” her post read. “Thinking about the election results, I worry for young Vermonters, particularly those in marginalized groups. I grew up in a space where queerness wasn’t discussed. I didn’t know any LGBTQ people who were out, and that harmed me as I grew older.

“I don’t know what else to do,” the post continued, “other than offer myself up as someone who would be glad to talk to young queer Vermonters who, perhaps, don’t have a large LGBTQ support network.”

Since then, Wetmore said in an interview this week, she’s received about a dozen responses — not requesting her mentorship, but thanking her for her kindness and productive mindset.

“The majority of them were people who didn’t have anyone for me to talk to, but they were just really happy to see it, which was really sweet. It made me cry,” Wetmore said. “I don’t typically put really personal information about myself on the Internet, and I had some concerns that I would get some unhappy emails, but I didn’t.”

Moorti also fears for the younger generation — particularly for young girls who will grow up at the whims of a culture that may be strongly affected by Trump’s leadership. Her niece, having turned 18 the Sunday before the election, eagerly cast her first presidential ballot for Hillary Clinton.

“She was so devastated,” Moorti said. “So at about four in the morning, I sent her an email offering her solace, but also telling her that once we get over the first emotions, we have to start thinking about resistance strategies. Even in the worst conditions, there have always been resistance strategies.”

Anna Dowdy, a 16-year-old Middlebury resident and Middlebury Union High School student, followed the election closely.

“When I found out that Donald Trump was elected president, I honestly felt sick to my stomach,” she said. “I was so disappointed. Not disappointed in an ‘aw, shucks, we lost’ kind of way, but disappointed, hurt, and confused by the fact that the adults in my country had failed me. I’m 16, I’m not old enough to vote, but I have a lot of opinions.”

Though Dowdy hoped for a Clinton win, her optimism began to fade after tapes of Trump speaking pornographically about women were released. Worried that Trump might perpetuate a culture that tolerates sexual assault, she was enraged that leaders of the Republican Party seemed dismissive of his words and actions. Like Moorti, she fears that Trump could retract policies that have been enacted to benefit women.

“As a young woman, I was devastated when I saw my peers sharing information on how to get a four-to-10-year IUD as soon as possible,” she said. “I witnessed an entire classroom of young women and men discuss abortion rights in a peaceful manner while the teacher was out of the room, and while I’m always for discussion rather than suppression, I was saddened that a woman’s right to her own body was even a discussion that 16- and 17-year-olds needed to be having.”

‘SAD BUT STRONG’

Moorti also acknowledged that millennials — who, according to exit polls, generally voted Democrat — may feel more resilient and energetic following the election, based on the actions of her students and family members.

“They’re sad, but they’re strong,” she said.

Fears about fundamental changes to policies are running more deeply. Moorti herself worries about the resilience of reproductive rights statutes, laws that hold institutions accountable for sexual assaults within their jurisdictions, and the funding of Planned Parenthood. She’s also concerned that Trump’s win legitimized a culture that tolerates misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia.

But with the outcome of the election uncontested, she has chosen to be optimistic about the future actions of individuals on a community, statewide and national level.

“We have to hold our legislators’ feet to the fire and make our families feel that we are active participants in society,” Moorti said. “We can act, instead of being acted upon. And we may not win every stage, but that is the part of being active citizens, that we keep engaging.

“I think what is happening on the federal level is enough to despair, but we cannot be paralyzed by that,” she continued. “We have to start figuring out where we can make these changes. To teach our children, or families, and my students that we can make small inroads, and every small inroad — that incremental change — will make culture shift at the grassroots.”

Ebony Nyoni, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Vermont, agrees that small actions of resilience and support can make a substantial difference.

“It means a lot for people to reach out to various social justice organizations just to say ‘I’m with you,’” she said. “We’re heading into a time of big unknowns, and we need to know that people out there are with us.”

And Wetmore, a young woman who has already taken a step of kindness, hopes that others will follow with similar actions.

“It’s an awful feeling of helplessness that one gets when something large happens,” she said. “I just wish that more people would take that helplessness and just do smaller things, like reaching out to people on an individual level.

“I don’t think you need to join a protest or join some large political uprising, I think you just need to reach out on a human level. That makes a difference. That’s all I really know how to do at this point.”

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