Golden shadows

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s midterm elections, I’ve been thinking of a line from Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 essay, “Slavery in Massachusetts”:

Golden age

The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls- the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.

In even the best times, voting is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. Now that a record-breaking number of people have cast ballots in an election that many saw as a referendum on Donald Trump’s politics of fear, pundits are trying to parse the results: is this a win for Republicans, Democrats, or the country at large? Many on the left had hoped for a complete repudiation of Trumpism, as if a single election could eradicate racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. But as Thoreau observed more than a century ago, simply voting isn’t enough.

Pine and maple

The social dynamics that propelled Donald Trump into office have not changed: fear, anger, and perceived victimhood are still powerful motivations for a particular segment of the voting public. Not even the biggest blue wave could sweep away America’s ongoing legacy of white supremacy, patriarchy, and economic injustice. Karma is long, and any given election cycle is short.

Democracy depends on voters, to be sure…but a just society depends just as heavily on engaged and active citizens. Showing up at the polls is a good start, but it is just that: a start. In the present the aftermath of this year’s midterms, we each are faced with a question: what next? Given the deep divisions, lingering resentments, and daunting injustices our country still faces, what can each of us do–both individually and within our communities–to work for a better world?