On election night, after a long afternoon of poll-watching, I rushed home to change into my white pantsuit with the rhinestone “HRC” on the back and headed out to my local election party. As the night went on, I started to feel silly and embarrassed by my outfit. I went home and went to bed before the election was called for Donald Trump. The next morning, I wondered, as many parents did, how to explain to my daughters that the “mean guy” won. The rest of my week was spent in alternating states of shock and grief and anger. Many of my friends who wore so much white as a tribute to the suffragettes now swore to wear only black for the next four years to mourn the loss of the America we so desperately wanted. I initially agreed, but on Sunday morning, as I got ready for church, I reached past my dark winter clothes and put on one of the white blazers I had worn so proudly since seeing Hillary Clinton in her white suit at the Democratic National Convention. In the car, I second-guessed my outfit and hoped others would think I was just wearing “winter white,” but when I caught my reflection in the glass church door, I stopped. I was proud to see myself in my uniform of justice and equality even in the face of such a loss, even if the material was too lightweight for the cool weather.
We lost and it was tough. We thought change was going to come from the top down. We thought issues such as childcare reform, parental leave, education funding and mental health treatment would all be at the top of the list of policies from our new president. Instead we elected a man who has promised deportations, wall building and a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe and Obergefell. While Trump has eased his rhetoric some since the election, his picks for advisers and staff point to continued divisiveness and rollbacks of the rights of many Americans.
There were big wins for women in Illinois, Nevada and California, but these victories seem a long way from Arkansas, where the movement backward has already begun. Where does that leave us? It leaves us with much work to do. We must call out oppression and racism and never be silent in the face of authoritarianism on a national level. But we must shift our focus. We must keep our eyes and ears open here at home. We cannot be so preoccupied with mourning and protesting that we allow a primarily white, primarily male, primarily GOP state government to further cut money for special needs therapy for children, to pass discriminatory laws in the name of religious freedom and to restructure ARKids First and Medicaid in a way that limits coverage. Big tax cuts are coming for the rich and, unless we speak out, they will come on the backs of children and the poor.
We must ensure our voices are heard in local government by attending city council meetings, quorum court meetings and the meet-and-greets some of our legislators hold from time to time. We must run for office, even if we expect to lose, because an opponent ensures an incumbent must clarify his or her position on the issues and answer for his or her past votes. We learned the hard way during this election that the forces working to move us backward yell the loudest, and, unless we speak out strong and speak out together, they will drown us out.
For those who are mourning and choose to wear black, I feel you. I’m with you. But I’m also still with her and with all who fight for love and light and equal rights for everyone. Because we are still the daughters of Susan and Sojourner and Elizabeth and Victoria and Geraldine and Hillary. We still fight to bring justice and hope to our country and our state. A million voices may not make a huge impact on a national level, but a hundred voices on a local level can. So, I’ll see you at city hall. I’ll see you at the county courthouse. I’ll see you at the Capitol. I’ll be the one still wearing white.
Autumn Tolbert is a lawyer in Fayetteville.