Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash.
Note: At the time of writing this, Trump refuses to accept the results of the US general election. This essay explores the potential and pitfalls of a Biden/Harris Administration.
A reprieve is not a victory.
It’s a pause in the onslaught. It’s a time to catch your breath, gather the wounded and get them to healers, mourn the dead . . . but all the while keeping an eye on the horizon, knowing that the struggle continues.
U.S. feminists have been waging an uphill battle for four years. Halting the backward slide caused by Trump’s bombardment is not insignificant, but it’s not the same as making it to the top of the hill. Even with the Biden-Harris win, we’re still mired in the muck of a slippery slope with an arduous scrabble ahead of us. Trump may not be able to shove us backwards with the full weight of the Oval Office on his side, but we can’t just kick back and lift champagne flutes to shattered glass ceilings. We must still push against the weight of the crises Trump has escalated: climate, pandemic, racism, misogyny, fascism, and economic collapse.
A reprieve is not a victory.
Feminists in the United States are holding a lot of complex and even contradictory emotional responses to the elections. As we should. Our ability to articulate complexity and nuance, especially in such a polarized world, is a strength of feminism. We advance feminism’s non-binary, non-dominator values when we take the time to speak, think, and feel beyond simple sound bites. We embody feminism when we’re able/willing to hold multiple truths and beyond the duality structures of victor/loser or optimistic/pessimistic. We can feel both jubilant that the Orange Menace lost the popular vote and furious that it was a close race at all. We can feel both cautiously hopeful and cynically underwhelmed by the concept of a Biden/Harris administration. We can appreciate that Harris shattered a glass ceiling while also recognizing that non-feminist policies advanced by a female body – or any body – are still not feminist. We can feel both relieved and worried. We can feel let down and uplifted. We can feel frustrated by politics-as-usual and renewed in our commitment to making change. We can feel all of these things and so much more. Feminism is not an either/or equation.Rivera Sun, Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, and novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice.
The 2020 Elections reflected this complexity. They delivered a mixture of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
Let’s start with the good: The Squad is back and stronger than ever. If there are any politicians aligned with feminist values and policy, it’s the infamous Squad. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded everyone: progressive platforms are winning platforms. Every candidate who backed Medicare For All won their race. All but one of the many candidates who endorsed the Green New Deal was elected to office. Fight For $15 won a number of campaigns to increase the minimum wage. Georgia’s Stacey Abrams tireless work to increase voter registration helped shift Georgia to a swing state. (It’s amazing what’s happens when we stop disenfranchising BIPOC, poor, and marginalized voters.) The Cheyenne Nation elected an all-female government for the first time. New Mexico is sending an all-women-of-color team to the US House of Representatives. Los Angeles County elected an all-female board of county commissioners. LA scored another feminist victory, Measure J, which defunds militarized police (an outgrowth of the racist patriarchy) by funding social services (a policy squarely in-line with feminist values). The Rainbow Wave sent a number of LGBTQIA candidates to public offices. Orange County, Florida, can celebrate one of the most overlooked and impressive feminist achievements: recognizing the Rights of Nature for all of their many waterways. It is crucial to recognize the role of BIPOC women in achieving all of these successes.
The bad news? Biden and Harris are behind the curve of these progressive victories. Given their track records, we know that meaningful change won’t come naturally from the Biden/Harris White House. One of the core challenges of the next four years will be pushing the federal agenda to reflect the solutionary policy proposals being advanced by BIPOC organizers, youth leaders, intergenerational movements, and women. Margaret Flowers, editor of Popular Resistance, points out, “Change doesn’t come from the top, especially within a manipulated ‘democracy’ as exists in the United States. When social transformation occurs, it follows years of educating, organizing and mobilizing at the grassroots. Elected leaders who represent that transformation ride on a wave created by social movements, not the other way around.”
As for the ugly: We know that defeating Trump is not the same thing as defeating Trumpism. And “Trumpism” is just the latest code word to describe racist, sexist, misogynistic, domination-based worldviews that eschew facts and science in order to narcissistically continue their oppression of everyone else. The exit poll statistic that angered and depressed so many feminists was that the majority of white women voted for Trump — representing at least a two-point increase for this demographic since 2016.
Kaylen Ralph said in a recent Teen Vogue article: “If internalized sexism was to blame for white women’s choice in 2016, how to explain 2020, an election in which voters had the choice between two demographically identical old white men? As a voting bloc, white women seemingly doubled down in their support of Trump, opting to align themselves against science, reproductive rights, diplomacy, and economic solvency in support of the spoils they (we?) reap as secondary benefactors of white privilege.”
Dealing with the entwined problems of white supremacy and sexism will be a crucial task for feminists in the coming years (particularly for those who are white). Dismantling the toxic privileges that white women claim through supporting politicians like Trump will take strategy, skillfulness, and focus. But what’s at stake is our collective futures. Many warn that the next fascist white supremacist candidate will be far more dangerous than Donald Trump.
So, we’ve won a reprieve, nothing more. And a reprieve is not a victory.
If we want victories, we’re going to have to take a deep breath, survey the terrain ahead, and boldly push for the change we desperately need. To do this, feminists in the United States could look beyond our borders to feminists advancing causes in powerful ways around the world. Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand won re-election in a landslide, largely because her feminist policies have protected her country from the ravages of COVID-19. In Turkey, the women rose up en masse and stopped the “family values” misogynists from dismantling protections against domestic violence. In Poland, women filled the streets to rebel against attempts to ban abortion. In Chile, the movement that won a gender-equal, citizen-driven process to craft a new constitution did so with the rallying cry, “Never again without women!”
With the Biden/Harris administration, US feminists face a chance to shift gears – not to stop the fight — but to reach with one hand into another toolbox. We can fight, yes, but we can also heal, cultivate, nurture, build, repair, restore, create, and much more. Our diverse capacities have given us the resilience, throughout millennia, to challenge and undo patriarchal injustice. More than ever, we need to utilize these capacities to push forward for meaningful change. Our complexity is our strength. Our ability to work with nuances instead of broad brush strokes is a superpower. The next few years require us to use the many tools at our disposal to ensure that feminist policy and practices are implemented in political policy – and everywhere in our society.
No, a reprieve is not a victory, but it gives us a chance to breathe, strategize, look beyond the immediate, and rise up for change in bold, unexpected, brilliant, and powerful ways.
Need a break from sitting or the news? We thought you might. So we asked Sue Dunham (ey/em), a writer, musician, and activist who lives in the Midwest to pull together a 10 song playlist that will get you fired up, moving and by the end, hopeful no matter what happens.