We Need to Start Talking about the Emotional Impact of Election Day

This week I was invited to participate in a focus group to solicit ideas for an upcoming conversation around the impact of the November 3rd elections on the philanthropic sector. And make no mistake, the impact will be seismic no matter the outcome; these are the most consequential American elections in which my fellow Generation Xers and I will have ever participated. Up and down ballots across the country, in rural towns, suburban hamlets, and urban centers, the winners of this election (from the President and Congress to State Legislators and Attorneys General, to Mayors, Sheriffs, Boards of Supervisors and School Boards) will determine the policies and practices that will govern us all.

The import of this election season is evidenced by the ubiquitous voter registration and “Get Out The Vote” campaigns being waged by the right, left, and middle. Increasingly those efforts have extended to preventing voter suppression and intimidation and mounting legal challenges to ensure votes are counted fairly and accurately. And regardless of partisanship, all of us should prioritize free and fair elections where every vote is counted and every vote counts.

The next priority for me and many others should be prioritizing our emotional health by centering ourselves and building the emotional fortitude and stamina that will be required in the post-election aftermath. That seems like a tall order when so many are running flat out exhausted just to get to the election day “finish line.” The reality, however, is that November 3, 2020 will not mark the culmination of our efforts or an ending, but the end of a beginning. In fact the most recent battle in the war to realize the promise of America for all her residents has really just begun; the difficult and daily work of governing is how we materialize that promise.

No matter which party controls the White House, Congress, and State Houses across the country as a result of these elections (and there’s a good chance we won’t know by the time the polls close), the days and weeks in the immediate aftermath will be emotionally and mentally taxing. The reality is that no matter which party prevails, on Wednesday, November 4, nearly 1,000 of our family members, neighbors and community members, colleagues, and congregants are projected to die from COVID-19; unemployment numbers will continue to rise (and access to affordable and equitable health care will decline) in a country where 140 million people were poor or low-income prior to the pandemic; over 179 million people will be in danger of a utility shutoff; and 30–40 million will be at risk of eviction.

I hearken back to November 9, 2016 and the shock, befuddlement, and denial I felt having gone to bed with the expectation that Hillary Clinton would be victorious and waking up to the news that Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. I remember my stunned stagger to the school bus stop with my then 8- and 6 year-olds, the heavy silence of an environment usually cacophonous with the laughter of elementary school children and their preschool-aged siblings and the banal chatter of watchful parents. The pundits’ proclamation that White suburban women clenched the victory for Trump rang through my head as, through eyes bloodshot from tears, I silently asked “were you one of them?”

And we need to prepare for a similar emotional and mental assault after November 3.

The reelection of President Donald J. Trump and a conservative wave will mean the triumph of falsehoods over truth, of those who are expendable over those who are essential, of “law and order” for a few over justice for all, of rising 401Ks over rising quality of life , and of acceptance of the unacceptable. In short, it will likely mean more of the last 8 months for the next 4 years. That triumph will also be a repudiation of my very being as a Black woman and that of my family. Black folks will be confronted anew with the fact that we keep loving a country that doesn’t love us back. And while virtual learning will mean no teary eyes at the bus stop, my heart will be in my throat every time I pass my neighbors on my daily morning walk, bump into them at the grocery store, or run into them while picking up take out, wondering “were you one of them?”

If Joe Biden/Kamala Harris and a range of progressive candidates are victorious, we will be dealing with the triple threats of an unhinged President Trump driven to govern out of spite and not the good of the country, a possible assault on a peaceful transition of power for the first time in our democracy, and the specter of nationally televised white supremacist-led terrorism (the Proud Boys have told us they are standing by and those intent on “liberating” our country are plotting and planning); not to mention the everyday harassments that will not be horrific enough to make the news cycle but cut as deeply.

There is clearly an outcome that gives me greater hope for the longer-term future but make no mistake about it, the immediate aftermath of these elections will be harder than pre-election. So draw on your faith resources (I pray that you have some), center yourself through those practices that anchor you, put your sister circle on standby, and prepare for the emotional aftermath of November 3.

Social Justice Advocate. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. Philanthropic disruptor. On Twitter @ricshawnroane.