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Finding an Upside to Post-Election Anxiety

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

In the spirit of coping with post-election anxiety I’ll share what I learned in 2004. I strongly disagreed with environmental policies of the Bush Administration and was devastated that Gore’s promise of a greener future hadn’t materialized.  So, in 2004 I poured my heart and soul into campaigning for the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, based on his environmental platform.

I was joined by a small team of people committed to the same political goals. The 8 of us spent most weekends selling raffle tickets to raise money for my Committee to Defeat George Bush initiative. We raised thousands of dollars, and then as a grand finale, held an art auction gala.

I was 6 months pregnant on the night of the big event, and excited to donate the more than $13,000 we’d raised to our candidate. And then election night came and we gathered to watch as the results rolled in. We were devastated.

After election night, I decided to pick myself up and redirect my energy. That money could have had a much bigger impact had we donated to an environmental non-profit directly. We were successful in raising the funds, why not just change our strategy and keep the momentum going?

I was excited to share my brilliant insight with the team. However, among the few people who answered my calls, one woman shared that her dad, who had been part of the team, had to go on Prozac to cope with the disappointment.

So in the end, the impact it had on this terrific group of caring people distressed me more than the election results. And it dawned on me that we were fighting the wrong battle.

Of course, in hindsight, the contentious (for then) 2004 election was a walk in the park compared to now. Which on the surface sounds bleak for our future. Fortunately, when we look back through history, we can see that change is never linear. In fact, some thought leaders and historians view this point as pendulum turnaround time.

In their new book, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett argue that, though the U.S. suffered a similar confluence of political, economic, cultural, and social upheaval in the past, Americans were able to come together and organize to create change. And, these authors believe, we can do it again.

This article is a must-read for understanding our current national turmoil in the big-picture context and helping to stay our course, regardless of the uncertainty surrounding us.

The uncertainties and upheavals of 2020, the world-wide coronavirus pandemic, the very real awakening to the inequities of racial-social-economic injustice, the threat of catastrophic climate change, and the divisiveness in the fabric of American society, certainly challenge us all in understanding our place in our rapidly shifting world.

Yet the takeaway from my 2004 election lesson is that we can’t count on a broken political system to right these wrongs. Pouring countless hours and dollars into a political race is ultimately diluting your ability to make a real difference. It’s the causes themselves that need you. Advocacy groups like Green America offer opportunities to make a real difference to the issues that matter to you.

To be sure, this week will continue to challenge us, regardless of our political leanings. These practices to strengthen resilience will help you to weather the storm.

The reality is, in the days, weeks and probably years following the election life will go on mostly as usual. Both candidates have held the seat before. Our friends and relatives with opposing political opinions will hopefully remain our friends and relatives.

And we have the opportunity to, in the words of Margaret Mead, “be the change you want to see in the world”. Meaning we don’t have to take on the whole world in order to make a difference.

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