By Zach Zimmermann

At 5:30 pm last night, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. was elected president, the first thing I did wasn’t to cheer for victory. I sat down and took a deep breath, a much-needed breath. With that being said, let’s just start this article off with a deep breath, because I feel as though we have been holding that breath in for the past 5 or so days. The fact that 2020 is currently being defined by a global pandemic is enough, but the fact that this already tumultuous year coincided with the most crucial election in modern American history is the cherry on top. It’s cliché to say that “this moment will go down in history”, although there’s not really a better way to put it. 

This reflection is extremely important as it informs our future path. At the moment, this path seems hopeful, yet it won’t come without a fair share of hard work. Because honestly speaking, Joe Biden scraped by with just enough votes, and he is not nearly the perfect candidate, and Republicans will likely still control the Senate, and Trump is mounting legal battles, and America is more ideologically divided than ever before. So while I am hopeful, I am also cautious, pragmatic, and intentional. In this next year, we cannot let ourselves fall into a false sense of security. On the contrary, we have to work extremely hard to set the stage for meaningful change. With that being said, there are five ways to set this stage that I believe are the most vital. 

Firstly, and most necessary, is for everyone to begin the process of healing and reconciliation. America will not be able to move forward if those enacting change are broken, conflicted, and undetermined. Change and these three words are antithetical. 

Secondly, people must be empathetic towards one another. The concept of “basic human decency” has been tainted and twisted these past four years due to the constant visceral antagonization of the other side. It will be absolutely impossible to move forward and make change if half of America feels alienated. This is why empathy is so important. Empathy will sow the seeds of unity and will ignite the cohesive movement towards change. 

Thirdly, we all must recognize that simply ousting Trump will not immediately redefine America and fix all of its problems. We are not moving into a post-racial, post-misogynistic, utopian version of America. While these problems might not be pouring out of the new president’s mouth everyday, these issues are rooted exceptionally deep in the fabrics of society, thus requiring overarching structural reform.

Fourthly, we all must be prepared to suffer the potential setbacks and challenges of change. Change is a long and gruelling process where at many points it may feel like we are going further backwards than we are going forwards. Typically, marginalized groups suffer the most from challenges related to change. Those who hold privilege — white people, men, heterosexuals, the wealthy, etc. — must step up and relieve the less fortunate of this burden as much as possible. 

And lastly, the American people must continue to fight for a democracy that is equitable, true, and strong. The American people must continue to vote for politicians that work at the pleasure of their constituents and who don’t fall victim to money and power. The American people must continue to hold leaders accountable for their actions. The American people must continue to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to vote. Unfortunately, America’s current political sphere has continued to lengthen itself from the true meaning of democracy. Even with a Biden win, the current state of affairs will not allow for true democracy to thrive. With a probable Republican-controlled Senate and most state legislatures, DC and Puerto Rico will not be granted statehood, the electoral college will not be removed, partisan gerrymandering will continue, the filibuster will not be repealed, and marginalized voters will continue to be suppressed, among many other issues. The fight for true democracy is not over.

This is how America needs to prepare for what comes next.

Despite all of this heavy and overwhelming information, we must allow time to celebrate, or not, in whatever way you see fit. Celebrate Biden’s win; celebrate Trump’s loss; celebrate Kamala Harris making history; celebrate the powerful women in congress; celebrate minorities; celebrate grassroot social movements; celebrate activists; celebrate change; celebrate whatever you feel is worthy of celebration. If you wish, celebrate right now because on January 20th, the work begins. And of course, always remember to take a moment and breathe.

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