Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
It is 2016, the first or second day of November, and I’m making dinner for my parents and sister in my small Brooklyn apartment. They are visiting me from Tel Aviv, which is a rare occasion; usually I travel back home to Israel to see them. We are drinking wine and laughing and talking over each other as we always do, but at some point, my dad gestures at my shirt — ridiculously, cringingly, I’m wearing a tank top that features Hilary Clinton as a superhero, cape and all — and says, “Is it really a done deal?” There is doubt in his voice that infuriates me; he is asking me if Donald Trump could actually win, become the president, and it’s an absurd thought I can’t and won’t entertain — there’s no reason to, if you take a look at the polls, any poll. The only reason my father is asking this question is that he is Israeli, and one of leftist politics, which means he’s lived through election disappointment more times than he’d care to remember — the same is true for all my family members and for me, too: some of my most formative experiences are of political heartbreak. But that’s exactly what they all don’t understand: the US is different! I’m not blind to its many ailments but I’ve chosen this country as my home many years ago because here ailments can heal, because here I do things like canvas on behalf of candidates and call representatives; here I can be hopeful. Or, you know, 2016 me can.
I laughed when my father asked me this question. In a condescending voice I rarely use with anyone, let alone my parents, I said: “Yes, Dad. It’s basically a done deal.” Then I added: “I’d be shocked.” My father nodded. He trusted my confidence; I knew this country, which he and my mother only lived in temporarily and which they left many years ago, with me as a newborn.
The thing is, when it actually happened, I wasn’t shocked. I was at the Javits on November 8, 2016, and hours before anything, the friend I was with, who, being Black, is experienced at detecting the shifting texture of American air as its molecules reorganize toward danger, grabbed my hand and said, “We need to leave.” So we did, and on the way out of the Javits, my friend said, “These people are going to have a collective panic attack,” and we headed to a bar, and by the time we arrived, still fairly early in the night, I knew she was right and I understood. A primal, or perhaps Israeli, part of me took hold and has been managing me since. We know how to survive hopelessness, this part tells me. We’ve done it before. Just tune it all out.
I’m voting — and texting folx and sending postcards and writing this essay — because I want to prove this voice wrong. It’s a voice that believes Trump could win again, believes we’re too far gone to stop him when he tries to steal the election, believes only swing states matter, so why bother? But this voice: it speaks my past pain and disappointments; if I listen, I am its echo. If I listen, I’m inviting those disappointments to recur, to multiply. In times of high stakes like this moment, passivity ceases to exist; passivity is rendered active: it acts in service of our worst fears. So I’m voting, which, to me, feels like a small act of bravery. I hope you’ll join me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to Vote Forward.
Shelly Oria is the author of New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014) and the editor of Indelible in the Hippocampus, Writings from the MeToo Movement (McSweeney’s 2019). Her fiction has received a number of awards, and has been translated to several languages.