After the Election

Friends of Lenny Letter reflect on the 2016 election.

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1. Evil Does Not Win in Fables

"In folklore, when innocence dies, a newer, stronger hero emerges, tools in hand, moving toward a resolution."

by Brie Larson

These last ten days have hurt. They have felt like a direct blow to the dreamers, to the empathizers, to those who dare to hope. My optimism was drained from my body, leaving me as a shell, shaking. In the past, I have always looked to folklore for guidance, but this time, I struggled to find meaning in those stories.

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Evil does not win in fables. Innocence is rescued. Gentleness, compassion, and understanding rise above, not hate. These stories have guided my life, and to find nothing of support in what once comforted me was crushing. However, after a few days of reflection, I realized where I was going wrong was in believing that the news that woke the world on November 9 was the end of the story.

At this point in our narrative, we have not reached the conclusion. It is not time to close the book. We've merely hit the climax of one tale, defined as the moment when the tension reaches its peak — the "crisis point" in the plot. It's the moment when growth occurs; when the cloak of naïveté is shed. On Wednesday, November 10, we saw the dark corners of this country, and we learned that life is complicated, that it can be scary, and that the woods can be filled with terrors. But, as in folklore, when innocence dies, a newer, stronger hero emerges, tools in hand, moving toward a resolution.

Right now we might be holding our breath because we are unsure what will happen next. It might feel hopeless, but what I'd like to remind you — and I hope you don't mind spoilers — is that you are just about to remember that you hold the key to the end of this story. Symbolically, the key is the crust of bread used for a trail back home, or the torch only the hero can light. In our current reality, it's remembering that our strength and passion have not been taken away. We've only grown louder. Growth can be painful, but pain is no longer a sensation we can avoid. Instead, we can see it as a means to better understand what really moves us. The heroes and heroines hear the cry from inside themselves and listen. Identify what it is saying. What do you feel is at risk that needs your attention? Is it your bravery? Do not deny the call. You have hands to create, arms to hold, legs that carry you great distances, and a mouth to speak the truth loudly. Everything you need to transmute your fear is inside of you.

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"What is this resolution, and how does this story end?" you might ask. It's up to you. I know that if we continue to raise our voices and stand for what we believe in, we can move forward — reenergized and empowered — as the heroes of our own story. We can be the leaders of change if we start giving more than we take. Together, we will make it through the woods.

Brie Larson is an Oscar-winning actress. She is currently directing her first feature film.

*****

2. Hari Nef Is In Pain

The actress and model shares her raw, poetic reaction to the election.

by Hari Nef

I am in pain and I don't know what's going to happen to my life.

I am in pain because people I love are in even more pain.

I am in pain and I don't know what's going to happen to my body.

I am in pain because people I love have signed off on this pain.

I am in pain and I don't know what's going to happen to me.

I'm scraping the bottom of a gutted barrel — a reflex (not a choice).

Hari Nef is an actress and model.

*****

3. Citizens of the World

The Waterhouse Sisters Link Arms After the Election.

by Suki, Imogen, and Maddy Waterhouse

Suki:

I wake up on Wednesday night with a headache. I'd dreamed I was in a plane crash, and I go to check my hands for blood. Nothing. Then I remember why I feel so helpless. I talk to my seventeen-year-old sister in London. Her voice is small and she's scared. My other sister can't stop crying. We go to buy new shoes and teddy bears. She cuddles her fluffy swan all day and falls asleep that night in its clutches, emotionally exhausted. I speak to a close friend who's desperate to get away for a few days after suffering a panic attack. She discovered her manager and mentor is a Trump supporter. She could hear in his voice today that he was happy. My friend is also a survivor of numerous counts of sexual assault. I'm numb.

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Imogen:

That night, along with millions around the world, I watched the United States of America turn red, as if it were bleeding. A night I will never forget. As time went on and hope faded from the room, it felt as if we were living in a nightmare.

Maddy:

At four in the morning, I still had belief. In the sea of red, I chose to see only the blue. I kept thinking over and over, There is no way Trump will win, she can still do it. Sadly and to my utter dismay, at around 7:30 a.m., when it was officially announced and I heard the physical words "Donald Trump is the next president of the United States," I felt completely sick to my stomach. I felt I had just woken up in a different world. I was scared. I never believed he could win. I was naïve about the fact that he even had a chance. I was completely ignorant.

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Suki:

What are we being taught? The cheater wins. Don't do the right thing. Lie, molest, have a pompous disregard for your fellow human. His policies stemmed from backward conspiracy theories.

Imogen:

I've heard people say they wanted him to win because he will run America like a "business." Business is a ruthless, compassionless game. To get to the top you turn a blind eye to the little people, taking down whatever gets in your way. A business is driven by money and greed — the opposite of how a country should be run.

Maddy:

Some people have asked me, "Why do you care this much? You're not American." I might not be American, but I am a global citizen. We are all scared and we have the right to be scared. As a young woman, one of the first of many things that fills me with anger and sorrow was how girls all over the world who are survivors of sexual assault now have to live with this man as president. The message that it gives out to young boys is that basically men can do whatever the fuck they want, get away with it, and still be the president. To me, it feels like we can complain about how devastating this is, or we can view this as an opportunity to become even stronger, come together, and fight back as one.

Imogen:

In times of grief, we look for anything we can to make us feel strong again. Any glimmer of hope or joy. For us, this is the power of love. There are people who do want a better world — and there are enough of us to do something about it. The fight has become harder, but now it is up to us — we must preach love and acceptance. Celebrate difference. Teach kindness. Encourage everyone to engage and have a social conscience. We must unite and be our own leaders. Lead each other. Educate and enlighten. We will make positive change. We won't let the bully win but instead use him to make ourselves stronger.

Maddy:

First of all, for those adults who repeatedly acknowledge the younger generations as being "lost," you are wrong. We have proven both during this election and during Brexit that we have been brought up to embrace diversity and to be less greedy than those who came before us. More than 90 percent of the millennials voted for Hillary Clinton and to stay in the EU. We played our part, and while it's sad to know that we are the ones who will be most impacted, for the longest, by the outcomes, we also know our voices have been heard. At the same time, this is amazing news. It shows that people want change, that people are good, and therefore the future is good. It gives me hope.

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Suki:

It's uncomfortable to know that so many people live in fear. That fear is breeding, and we will be horrified at its manifestations that spread contagiously. Now more than ever, we will be looking to one another for examples of how to behave. The facing the brutal reality of what is actually happening forces you to be the change you want to see in the world. We will only miss our mission if we dim our lights in the presence of darkness.

Maddi Waterhouse, 17 is a student and blogger, madforyou.co.uk.

Imogen Waterhouse, 22 is an actress.

Suki Waterhouse, 24 is an actress and entrepreneur.

*****

4. Hurt, But Not Surprised

ShiShi Rose reckons with a legacy of fear and disappointment.

by ShiShi Rose

I was in Philadelphia when what seemed like the end of the world happened. I was there with my people. We were canvassing for votes for a week. Everyone was hopeful and happy. We were laughing and gathering together daily to talk to strangers and knock on thousands of doors. But if I'm really honest, I never truly felt hopeful. I was never able to be one of those people who said, "Don't worry, she's got this." Because that end of the world feeling I felt, barely sleeping following the election, is a feeling I have felt for most of my life as a Black woman.

I have felt it every time my body was threatened, every time yet another case of racial violence not only occurred but was excused and dismissed. I felt it when Black people were blamed for their own murders. I've felt it every time a racial slur has been yelled at me and I've had to look over my shoulder to make sure the person who uttered it isn't following me. My entire life has been that "After Election 2016 Feeling."

But this time I wanted to believe in something. Even a woman who I never fully believed in. I needed her to give women everywhere hope that we can succeed. I needed her to save us from this mess we are in now. But the truth is, she couldn't save us, because that's not how this country works. Our vision has been obstructed for too long, even those of us marginalized the most and fighting the hardest. We didn't see how bad things were, and we didn't know how to focus our actions. Now white people in this country are panicked, in a state of of urgency, because this suddenly affects them. But guess what? Times have always been urgent.

And I am angry. I'm angry that once again this country has failed me because I was never supposed to be born in this land. I am angry that the white people saying they were on my side were not ready to do more to change this country until they were in pain, too, until they felt personally threatened. And yet I know we will rebuild, because that's what the oppressed people in this country have always been great at. That resiliency in us has been all that has ever made America great.

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I will never give up. I will always use my voice to impact as many people as I can. But there is so much work to do. And so much love that must be shown. We must learn how to defend each other. What this election showed us is that this is bigger than any of us ever realized. People need to be organizing together. Uplifting each other, and creating their own personal revolutions, which will feed those larger ones. It is not the job of the oppressed to lead those who have always benefited from the oppression. So, I just wonder: What will those with more privilege do to change this? And how will their revolution protect people like me?

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ShiShi Rose, writer, activist, and public speaker with work centering around Black rights, reproductive justice, politics, and the intersection of race and gender.

*****

5. Do You Know Who I Am?

Busy Philipps reckons with the election as a mother to two young girls.

by Busy Philipps

The first presidential election I could vote in was 2000. I was so excited to cast a vote for Al Gore. My best friend Emily and I made matching T-shirts that said "Gore Rules Bush Drools." We were 21. We thought for sure it was in the bag. This was (obviously) pre-9/11 and cable news, and the Internet didn't exist in the way it does now — I'm old, I know. We thought for sure the news stations would call it early, but we stayed up and watched and watched and watched and went to bed feeling confused. And woke up confused. And remained confused for a while. What the fuck happened? He won? AL GORE won. But he didn't. They told us, cause of some dangling chads and the Electoral College and Florida, that George Bush was the president. We were heartbroken. We cried. Our other friend Melanie actually threw up. I was devastated. It felt like the world was ending. And less than a year later, it REALLY felt like the world was ending. It did, in a way. I don't know how to describe to those of you born in the '90s and the aughts what America was like before 9/11, and how different it became after, how scared we all were, how it changed our entire way of life, except to simply say it did. But the world didn't end. It got weirder and worse in some ways, but in some ways it got better — it pushed us as a country in the right direction.

I gave birth to our first daughter three months before casting my ballot for President Obama. I brought her with me to the polls. I asked a lady working there to take our picture. I wanted to be able to show her: YOU were there. YOU were a part of history. I put my little "I Voted" sticker on her stroller, right next to an Obama bumper sticker. I watched the inauguration from bed, with her, and again took a picture for her to someday see and know she was a tiny witness to history.

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My husband and I were able to take both our girls to the polls with us to vote for Hillary Clinton. Again, I insisted on a picture (OUTSIDE, don't worry — no illegal ballot selfies). I saved my sample ballot, all filled out. I put my "I Voted" sticker on a letter that I received from Secretary Clinton thanking me for my work as a surrogate for her. All of these things I was saving for my girls, and their children, and their grandchildren, so that they could know that they were a part of history.

I cannot explain to you what happened on Tuesday night. What I felt. We flew to New York to be at the Javits Center. We were so excited. And then.

Again. It feels like the world is ending. But not like before. SO MUCH WORSE. Because of how far we've come. And what's at stake. And who this person is. And now, the last few days of unimaginable hatred. Blackface. Swastikas. Hate crimes. In the name of our new president? This is what I was most afraid of.

I know that this won't be easy. But nothing worth having ever is.

Giving birth wasn't easy (the shoulders are the worst part), marriage isn't easy (SORRY!), having a career isn't easy, raising children isn't easy, and FREEDOM AND EQUALITY FOR ALL certainly isn't fucking easy. (Also, please know that I'm WELL aware that I'm a white cis woman, so while all that shit isn't easy, I know it's a hell of a lot easier for me than for MANY other people in this country …)

BUT.

I said to my now-eight-year-old daughter Birdie Wednesday night, "Do you know what I am?"

"An actress?" she replied.

"That's what I do. Do you know what I am??"

She looked at me (sometimes I forget that she's eight), and I continued: "I'm a fighter. And you are too. And we will fight for what's right and for people who can't fight. We will keep volunteering and raising money for things like public libraries and moms and dads who need help and the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. We will speak up for those who cannot. And this will be OK. I promise you."

Busy Philipps is a fighter.

*****

6. Awakening the Giant

Why Aparna Nancherla can't go back.

by Aparna Nancherla

There is a dull, smothering weight on my heart. The events of this past week are unlike any I have experienced in my 30-plus years on earth. I recognize this as one of the privileges of being a lifelong citizen of this country and my particular circumstances within it. Today, there is a divide that I can only compare to ethnic tensions halfway across the world or wars from different eras that I only read about in poli-sci class in college. But as for me, I grew up in a sea of faces of every shade and belief system and lifestyle and ability. I have had no questions or doubts that America encompasses all of them. Yes, it was my naïve bubble of experience, but I believed the American Dream was open to anyone.

I would never say I've been a politically active person. This election was the first time I've actually ever campaigned for anyone. And even that is a stretch — it was just two days. I went to North Carolina with some wonderful, brilliant, passionate women to stump for Hillary on a few college campuses. But the idea of proselytizing or turning people on to my worldview has always scared me. I fear people with clipboards on the street. I don't expect everyone to agree with me on every issue. But somehow, this election felt different. There was much more at stake both as a child of immigrants, a woman of color, and a friend of many in the LBGT and Muslim communities. These groups felt actively marginalized in a concentrated way I had never experienced before. For the first time in my life, I became the Other. I was merely an inconvenient clerical error in the country in which I was born. Every human, at times, feel as if they don't belong, but to have it confirmed, touted even, by a large part of the country felt like time travel. The uptick of incidents of hate needed to be countered with acts of acceptance. While sometimes it can feel like one person can't make a real difference, it didn't even matter this time — showing up felt like what mattered. It's not as if any election isn't important. We now understand that more than ever. They all are: presidential, midterm, local.

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Ironically, I grew up right outside Washington, DC, and returned there to live after college. I remember being in the city for President Obama's first inauguration. It was incredibly moving. When his victory was announced in 2008, people hugged and danced in the streets. Everything suddenly felt historic in real time, in a way that was palpably unifying. While progress often feels elusive and intangible, this was a real moment to say, "I was there, I saw it, I felt it." Change was being manifested, but in gaining that elusive, hard-won treasure, we awoke the sleeping giant that has guarded it for centuries. This giant has always held unchecked power. Sacrifices have been made to this giant in the form of so many lives destroyed, families wrenched apart, bodies violated, and humanity casually dismissed. When the giant would stir, everyone would go their separate ways in defense and retaliation, driven by fear, driven by anger, driven by an entrenched belief that to question the giant is to challenge the infrastructure of society.

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As late Tuesday night turned into the inevitable Wednesday morning, the giant fully awoke. Oversaturated by the years of progress and stoked with the flames of sensationalism, it stood up and demanded silence. There are those who believe that the giant keeps society productive and peaceful and fair, as long as one lives within the kingdom of its demands. Those who stay in line will not be bothered, though they may well be ignored or overlooked completely. In this election, the giant stood up and crushed all the steady, hopeful, and diligent resistance building up all around it. Crushed, but did not silence. Will not silence. For deeper than the foundation of the giant's power are the core beliefs of shared humanity and the right to live and love freely. That is what I stand for and will always stand for.

After Tuesday, it is easy to want to further isolate and distance ourselves from everything that is happening, to retreat into the bubbles of what and whom we know. There is solace in excoriating the other and embracing the familiar. There is comfort in solidarity and shared experience, but we cannot stay silent. This past election cycle has demonstrated that there is just as much passive bigotry and xenophobia and misogyny in this country as there is active hatred. Passive hatred says, I may not agree with everything you say, but as long as your words, behaviors, and actions don't affect my values or me, I will look the other way and support you in spite of them. This is a devil's pact, signed with the blood, sweat, and tears of others. This logic denies us the generosity of the human spirit that allows us to coexist on a daily basis on this planet.

The question keeps coming up: Where do we go from here? How do we come together? In the broadest terms, there's a massive split in how two parts of this country visualize each other. As in the optical illusion, one part sees two faces and the other sees a vase. There are two parties looking at the same image and drawing vastly different conclusions. So, yes, we must work together; we have to hold tight to our empathy in carrying on. But at the same time, we can't forget those who have now been swept into the giant's blind, all-encompassing, full-blown rage against change. There is no room for ambivalence or apathy or ignorance. When the giant fully awoke, I finally did too.

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Aparna Nancherla is a comedian.

*****

7. Dig Deep, Take a Breath, and Do the Right Thing

Ellen Pao tries to use her old tools to move forward.

by Ellen Pao

"Glass half full," Rashida the nurse said as she wheeled my friend, post-stroke, to the bathroom.

"No pain, no gain," my coach would say, encouraging us to run faster, train harder.

"Karma," I texted to the guy who invited me to knock him out after I found out he was a cheater.

These simple mantras have helped me through so many struggles, but have failed me in today's postelection world. It has been so hard to find the silver lining, to push through, to remain Zen. How do you stay calm as half the country around you roundly rejects your values and identity?

This is not a new change for the worse. This is fear of change for the better. The country to moving to openness, acceptance of differences, and inclusion. The majority-minority is swelling across America and will be ever more present nationwide in a few decades. But some continue to fight it. For people of different races, ethnicities, genders, and religions, this is what America has always been. Intolerance and exclusion are a part of our history and culture. But the worst of it had been hidden, exposed on the pages of the anonymous Internet, or seemingly isolated, and mostly dismissed and overlooked in the real world.

Today we see it for what it is, but we also have an opportunity to unite and work together to accelerate change for the better. Now everyone can see it. We know it is there, how deep it is, how prevalent it is, and how it affects all of us.

Change for the better is inevitable. This election brought four more women of color to the Senate. Oregon elected our country's first LGBTQ governor. Secretary Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Tech CEOs are doubling down on diversity.

And we are resilient, fearsome, and strong. We are empathetic, unifying, and effective. We need to work with each other, to bring ourselves up when others try to bring one of us down, to share our power with those who have none.

Dig deep, take a breath, and do the right thing.

Many of us have privilege. Others can build privilege. Privilege gives you options and makes hard decisions easier. Get your house in order. Save up so you have enough money to leave if you need to — it could be because your boss or coworker decides sexual harassment is allowed or your neighborhood becomes unsafe. It could be something else, something we can't even imagine. Be prepared. Get an IUD. Get a passport. Get your friends to do the same. Be a helper for yourself and for others.

Stay optimistic, stay strong, and stay safe. And help each other so we can get to the better America we deserve.

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Ellen K. Pao is a tech investor, adviser, and writer. She was the interim CEO of Reddit and a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She is contemplating writing a book.

*****

8. The End of Chill

The election results reconnect a writer to her younger self.

by Liz Watson

I didn't wake up on November 9, because I didn't sleep on November 8. As a child, I suffered from sleep paralysis, where a phrase or song could lock my mind into tortured loops halfway between sleep and waking. Barely awake and totally immobile, I'd sweat through the same sixteen bars from "Mambo No. 5" for hours. I lost entire nights this way. This past Tuesday, it returned.

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"I wish it need not have happened in my time." I sensed cars passing my window, their headlights flashing red-pink through my closed eyelids. "I wish it need not have happened in my time." More headlights. "I wish it need not have happened in my time." I could not move.

Morning came. I slogged around my kitchen, performing the signifiers of adulthood I normally neglected, the ones that make you feel like you're in a Nora Ephron movie. I dressed in my robe and slippers. I brewed fresh coffee. I turned on the radio.

Still, drumming in my brain was this phrase I could not place. "I wish it need not have happened in my time."

Obsessed with finding the source, I looked it up and blushed. The Fellowship of the Ring. Book I, Chapter 2.

"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.

"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

I snorted. An embarrassing artifact from my fat and frizzy childhood.

I read the quote again. Once more. Just for laughs. And then I was crying and I could not stop.

I stopped reading The Lord of the Rings, books I loved, because in college I learned better. Didn't I know how childishly embarrassing they were? Better to read dreary novels where nothing happens to sad, pale men.

For similar reasons, I stopped engaging in politics. Girls who talked about politics were tiresome and shrill. Girls who laughed at everything and everyone were fun! Desperate to fit in after an adolescence marred by brutal and (sometimes physically violent) rejection, I found salvation with cool. With chill. The language didn't lie — freezing over was the highest of social virtues.

I bought the right books. I shared the right opinions at the right parties. My conduct was correct, bleached and starched to match an ideal I did not recognize but was happy to perform. I calcified my heart in the name of good taste. I sacrificed my soul to chill.

Tuesday morning, reading that quote, I cried ceaselessly. I cried for the human suffering to come. For the planet. But I also cried with rage. Beyond voting for Clinton, what had I done? I let men I wanted to sleep with grumble about email investigations and "the lesser of two evils." I ignored racism at home in North Carolina to avoid "drama." My apathy was the highest expression of my privilege.

Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Trump. I could not deny culpability. I cried over my arrogance, my self-absorption. Even the line that haunted me was so selfish — I wish it need not have happened in my time, says Frodo. My time.

But meltdowns, messy as they are, by definition must melt things. And as I cried, I felt the stirrings of a childhood capacity for fierce love. For righteous anger and action, unchecked by self-consciousness. I remembered the spiky energy of a girl who once leapt at injustice like a jack-in-the-box, before the world stuffed her back inside.

"So do I," says Gandalf in reply. "And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

It is selfish to mourn that this happened in "my time." But to mourn that fact is to acknowledge its truth. Tolkien was right to say time is given to us, because time is a gift. It is my time. I am ready to accept it and use it.

I apologize for my negligence. To my brothers and sisters of color. To members of the LGBTQ community. To America's immigrant communities. To those with disabilities or chronic health conditions. I promise to honor and fight for you every day.

This moment is too crucial to deny the things you love and that move you. I'm done with paralysis. I was not born to this world to be a cool girl. I was born to shriek and embrace and fight with every muscle.

Chill is a false prophet. Fuck chill. My chill died Tuesday morning. I am dancing on its grave.

Tolkien's words are now my catechism. I decide what to do with the time that is given to me. And I decide to spend the next four years fighting to make this country better. My money, my mind, and my time are mine to dedicate to those in need. No matter what he says or does, the president-elect cannot decide that for me.

The decision remains mine. There is work to do. My thaw is complete.

Liz Watson is a writer and producer living in New York. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

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