Shocked. Numb. Terrified. For many people who had expected to celebrate a Hillary Clinton victory on Nov. 9, the election instead marked what has felt like a descent into a frightening, surreal place.
Across the Washington area, as President-elect Donald Trump met with President Obama and fired up his transition machinery, Clinton supporters and others scrambled to come to terms with living next door to an administration they fear will threaten their understanding of what America stands for.
Since the election, some have already experienced harassment; some have agonized over how to explain the election results to their children or their overseas relatives. Over the past week they have struggled to absorb the news, regroup with friends, family and strangers, and figure out how to move forward. Here is how some of them are doing that.
Finding resolve in civil rights giant Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)
Samira Mehta wore a hot-pink shirt bearing the likeness of Gloria Steinem as she went off to vote on Election Day. It was a good day to be a feminist: The nation was poised to elect its first female president.
Waiting in line for lunch at Panera, Mehta, a 38-year-old college professor, smiled at a young mother wearing a Clinton T-shirt, before she turned to face the woman behind her, who was saying something under her breath. “You dirty Muslim, we shouldn’t let you vote,” the woman said.
Mehta was taken aback, but not entirely surprised. She is actually a convert to Judaism, but her father was Hindu, an immigrant to the United States from India, and in the years since 9/11, she has heard worse, she said. The story she told friends later that day had a positive spin, focused on a little boy who had come to her rescue. “That’s not nice, you should say sorry,” he had said, before the woman recoiled and left the restaurant.
That night Trump was elected president, and Mehta said she woke up in a new country feeling afraid.
In the days to come, she replayed that lunch conversation more fearfully.
She said that she felt a pit in her stomach as she absorbed the notion that a quarter of eligible voters had chosen a candidate whose campaign had often appeared to hinge on racism and misogyny. Trump’s election felt like a referendum on her, she said, as an intellectual, a woman, a person with brown skin, a Jew.
She began to regard strangers with caution. On the Metro two days after the election, she began an initially “charming conversation” with a couple from Kansas, but soon became guarded as she wondered how they voted “in the privacy of the voting booth.”
A turning point in her mood came on the weekend, when she went to hear her former student sing at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, a 175-year-old D.C. church with roots in the anti-slavery movement. She was buoyed to hear the preacher call for the community to rally together to fight racism, homophobia and Islamophobia.
She also had tickets to the new Museum of African American History and Culture, where she was inspired by an exhibit about Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) who has dedicated his life to civil rights.
“That’s where my despair turned into something like resolve,” she said.
‘The trees are still beautiful’
Spirits were high at the election night party Larry Bauer attended on Capitol Hill, but as returns showed an irrepressible lead for Trump, the mood shifted. Bauer caught a ride home to Silver Spring at midnight. He watched till the “bitter end,” then sat outside in the cold on his balcony until 5 a.m. He left a message for his boss that he would not make it to work, then he went to bed and stayed there for most of the day.
Bauer, 60, came out as gay when he was 18. “The struggle for gay rights has been such a big part of my life, and the potential to undo that, it strikes me at the core of my being,” he said.
Trump’s position on gay issues has been unclear, but his running mate Mike Pence has opposed gay rights efforts throughout his career as Indiana’s governor and in Congress, and so have many Trump voters.
Bauer, who works for the federal government, said he has felt restless in the days since Trump’s election, as he tried to understand what a conservative Supreme Court appointment would mean for gay marriage or abortion rights. He downloaded the history of the Senate, the House and the presidency since 1907 to analyze how often one party had controlled all three, and what that could portend for the coming years.
He also searched for things he could do to reverse course — to help reform the Democratic Party or the electoral college system, perhaps, or take part in a demonstration. “I’m so ready to hit the streets,” he said.
The past several days have also been about self-care: a lunch with friends, where no one talked politics; a night at the Baltimore symphony with his sister (although the two had tickets for Mahler’s “Tragic” Sixth Symphony). And he took his Norfolk terrier for long walks.
“One of the things that helps me the most is getting out in nature and reconnecting with the parts of the world that have not changed,” he said. “The sky is still the same sky. The trees are still beautiful.”
‘Stages of grieving’
On Nov. 8, Fran Forman wore a pantsuit to work.
“I was absolutely, 100 percent expecting her to win,” said Forman, a retired cataloguer for the Library of Congress who lives in Tenleytown and works the front desk at Iona Senior Services. Even at midnight, when it was painfully clear that Clinton stood little chance, “I felt like maybe if I shut off the TV and went to bed, maybe I’d wake up and it would all be different.”
It wasn’t, and on Nov. 9, she wore black to work.
The election had meant so much to her, as the child of an immigrant, as a 73-year-old, as a woman. She had contributed to Clinton’s campaign and made phone calls to register voters. Now, it felt as though she hadn’t done enough.
At work, she held back her feelings. “I can’t be political, sitting at the front desk,” she said. But inside, she felt broken.
“This may sound ridiculous, but the worst thing I have ever gone through was grieving – my husband passed away 15 years ago – and it was like that. Stages of grieving,” she said. “First you’re in shock, then you’re numb, then you’re mad, angry, and then you just want to take action.”
And so, the day after the election, she sent money to Planned Parenthood. Over the weekend, she and her daughter-in-law decided to join the “Women’s March on Washington” being planned in Washington for the day after the inauguration. On Monday, she saw students protesting at Montgomery Blair High School and remembered being 17, a student at that very school, helping to organize a rally there for presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.
Even though she was too young to vote then, she said: “I was very passionate and active. I want to become more politically active now. … I’m going to research, talk to people, find some kind of grass-roots to work for in preparation for two years from now, find out what I can do to do my part.”
‘I can’t let this happen to other people’
It didn’t take 24 hours for Andrés Pérez to be attacked. The day after the election, the Montgomery Blair High School junior was standing at a bus stop in Hyattsville when a stranger smirked and said, “Well, now you’re going back to your country.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Because you’re all getting deported, now that my man Trump won.”
His heart pounding, terrified of getting into an argument, Pérez walked away.
But the fear persisted. The man at the bus stop wouldn’t have known it, but Pérez, 18, came here three years ago from El Salvador, and he is undocumented.
Thursday was no better. At the College Park restaurant where he works, a group of customers overheard him speaking Spanish to a co-worker and began shouting “Build a wall, build a wall.”
“That,” he said, “was the first time someone had talked to me like that.”
It was enough. On Monday, putting aside his fears of going public with his status, Pérez organized a protest march at his school that drew about 1,000 people and helped galvanize protests at other schools.
“I was like, ‘I can’t let this happen to other people,’ ” he said.
Noting that people in less immigrant-friendly states than Maryland are in a worse position than he is, he said: “If I don’t get people moving and speaking up for their rights, then who’s going to do it? I want to be the one making it happen.”
Focusing on finding a permanent job
The last time Chanel Marbley voted was two decades ago for Bill Clinton. After a felony conviction soon after that, she thought that she couldn’t participate in elections. But two weeks ago, she learned that former felons do have voting rights in the District, so she went to cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton.
“It makes you feel like you can make a difference,” she said.
On her way into the polling place, her 6-year-old son Qadir, asked her, “Mommy, do we have to pray?” She stopped on the sidewalk and held his hands in hers and asked the Lord to guide the country in the right direction.
The next morning, as she rose at 4:45 a.m. to get to work at a construction site, her heart sank as she learned that Trump had won.
“After the vulgar and mean things that he says about different races … how is he able to be president?” she asked.
In the days since, she has alternated between trusting in God for things she cannot control, and feeling as though she has a lot to get done before January, when she thinks the country is going to take a turn for the worse for people who are black and poor.
Since Election Day, she is more focused than ever on succeeding at her temporary job, where she does logistics and general labor for $15 an hour. She hopes to make it permanent soon so that she can get benefits and training to become an electrician. Then she can move out of the rodent-infested subsidized housing where she lives with her five children.
Marbley is also focused on supporting her kids, who have been affected by the election. Her 11-year-old daughter came home upset because she learned that the principal at her private school had supported Trump.
Marbley has watched on the news as teenagers walk out of school to demonstrate, and she feels encouraged.
“If they feel so strongly about what is going on, a lot of people need to take heed,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the kids. They are growing up and they are about to be our future.”
Comfort in others
Maureen Betz was not a die-hard Clinton fan. She supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the primary, but she never dreamed Trump would be elected president. After casting her ballot on election night, Betz helped her neighbors, who had campaigned for Trump outside their polling place, by driving home their heavy sign, before turning into her driveway confident that Clinton would win.
At work the next day, at a nonprofit organization in the District, she struggled to maintain composure and offer support to staff members who were breaking down about the election results. She herself was devastated.
How could her country have chosen a person who bragged about his own sexual behavior?
The licensed social worker, who works in mental health, likened her reaction to what victims of trauma feel. “They don’t feel safe, like they don’t have control,” she said.
To begin healing, she said, you have to “name” the trauma “and to say it’s not okay.”
So on Thursday, she took time off work and went to the White House. She stood outside the gates of the north lawn, while Trump was inside meeting with Obama, and held up a sign.
It said: “Welcome to Washington! Please be advised that Sexual Assault is a crime according to local and federal statutes. Enjoy your stay!”
She stayed there for hours. People offered hugs and thanked her for her message.
“There was some comfort in being around people who were having similar feelings,” she said. “Other people saying, this is not acceptable, this is not okay.”
A clearer path forward
Driving to work that Wednesday morning, Tori Paide tuned in to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. When Clinton said, “to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable,” Paide thought of her own elementary school daughters and had an urge to pull to the side of the road to weep.
But the tears wouldn’t come.
This was not how she’d expected the day to unfold. Paide, of Glenelg, Md.,
had planned a “happy hour” of free acupuncture that night at Still Point, the wellness spa she owns in Takoma Park. The idea would be to help people de-stress after the drawn-out, painful election, to help them move on from Donald Trump.
Now, her clients were even more stressed. As the evening progressed, Paide ushered people upstairs to lounge chairs and popped needles into their hands, feet, and heads. Afterward, several joined her to drink rooibos tea and commiserate. They hadn’t slept well. They had stumbled through the day. They felt numb and choked and scared.
“It was kind of the feeling you have after a major breakup or some unexpected life change – maybe you didn’t see it coming and you’re like, ‘Oh, where do I go now?’” one woman, a yoga teacher, said.
Paide nodded. The day had felt like a bad dream. But over the next 24 hours her mind raced, and something kicked awake. She was 44, and it had been ten years since she’d opened her business. She liked what she’d built, but perhaps she should be contributing more, somehow. “Today I was just having idea after idea of how I can impact our community,” she said. “It kind of feels like a midlife crisis.”
But she still felt gummed up and frightened. And she still hadn’t cried.
It wasn’t until the weekend, as she was driving home from the grocery store, that the tears finally came. And with them, a clearer path forward.
“I grew up with my mom saying, ‘If you don’t like something, write your congressman. And here I am with all my faculties, completely capable of engaging with my government, local and larger, and I haven’t been, and it’s just time to be.”
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