After a hard-fought, surprising, and, for many on campus, disheartening election, two events on Wednesday night offered students and community members a chance to unpack what the election means and how to move forward.
First, in Sharpless Auditorium, a panel of Haverford political science faculty members convened to offer thoughts about how to interpret the election results and to answer questions from the audience. Many wondered, “What comes next?” And one possible response came an hour later, at the second event in Chase Auditorium, featuring Amelia Kegan, legislative director of domestic policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Kegan traveled from the nation’s capital to talk about prospective lobbying efforts that her organization expects to take up, and presented ways for people to remain active and get their voices heard by those that represent them.
In tandem, the two events gave community members a chance to consider the whirlwind of change that is sweeping the country just a week after election day. While most of those who spoke—in presentations and in question-and-answer sessions—voiced concerns about American politics, many positives also emerged.
Zachary Oberfield, associate professor of political science, quoted Dreams of My Father, a memoir written by President Obama in 1995, which spoke of the “American character” that encompasses “men who embrace the notion of freedom and individualism and the open road, without always knowing its price, and whose enthusiasms could easily lead to the cowardice of McCarthyism, as to the heroics of World War II.” Oberfield agreed with Obama’s portrayal of the American people, which he interpreted as “both optimistic and pessimistic,” explaining, “I take that both as pessimism and some sort of ‘Wow, I can’t believe that this happened,’ but also potential optimism, in that there’s potential there that these people can be won over.”
Oberfield was joined by four other professors, each of whom spoke about last week’s results from their own teaching and research perspectives: Visiting Assistant Professor Tom Donahue added an approach of political philosophical reasoning; Professor Anita Isaacs spoke about patterns of Latino voters; Associate Professor Susanna Wing talked about the implications of gender in the election; and Associate Professor Craig Borowiak discussed forces behind the rise of authoritarian tendencies throughout the world. Though each professor had their own interpretations and spoke from their own perspectives, they all could agree with Oberfield’s opening statement: “I’ve been rattled by all this.”
As the panel moved from presentation to conversation, audience members inquired about positive takeaways from the election analysis. “I was wondering if you have found any hope in the next four years,” offered one audience member. To this, Professor Borowiak stressed the possibility of adaptive responses from those who feel slighted by the results, stating, “facing opposition of this nature ends up stimulating a great deal of creativity.” Oberfield, whose research has focused extensively on bureaucracy and governance, added, “the American political system is setup for defense…if that gives you optimism, you’re going to see a lot of defense.”
Defense is where Amelia Kegan comes in. Her organization, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, focuses on political advocacy for causes involving peacebuilding, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, climate change, and income inequality. Her presentation stressed not only the ability for individuals to gain recognition for these issues, but also the need for people to get involved in political advocacy.
“When you think about Capitol Hill, there are a lot of lobbyists on there,” said Kegan, who explained her desire from a young age to lead systemic change. “There aren’t many lobbyists who are advocating for a lot of the issues…that I was really passionate about. So that made me realize that there was a huge need out there.”
Making sense of this year’s outcomes, Kegan, within the frame of her Quaker background, called the 2016 race a “disciples in the boat election,” referencing a biblical story from the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus is crossing the sea of Galilee during an intense storm, and remains asleep while his disciples are left terrified.
“It’s not that they [the disciples] don’t think that Jesus has the power to calm the waves or the storm, it’s that they are scared that here’s a guy who has that power and is not doing anything,” Kegan stipulated. She linked this situation to that of the nation, explaining, “We have seen across the country people who feel…that they are perishing…they are saying, ‘We’re dying out here, and yet our elected leaders, the people who are supposed to help us, seem to be absent.’”
Just as with a stormy sea, Kegan views the prospect of a Trump presidency with an air of uncertainty, but predicted that for her organization’s causes (such as poverty eradication, environmental justice, and fighting mass incarceration) a lot more “defense” will need to be taken up in the near future. For Kegan, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I feel good in the defense space,” she said. “I feel like we have been doing this a lot…it’s a lot harder to get stuff through than it is to block stuff.”
To this end, Kegan recommended certain tactics to make individual voices heard. Calling representatives, she said, can prove very successful, as well as writing letters, getting published in local papers, and meeting face-to-face with public officials.
Appealing to the students in the audience, Kegan made mention of the FCNL’s Spring Lobby Weekend, which brings hundreds of young people to Washington D.C. each year to provide training on lobbying and civic engagement. Haverford students are no stranger to the event in the past, as the College’s Quaker Affairs Office (which also sponsored Kegan’s visit) organizes a group of students who attend each year.
Through all the varying emotions—despondency, hope, fear—among community members, Kegan wanted her listeners to keep one thing in mind: “If there’s one thing I want you to walk away with, it really is that understanding of how powerful your voice is.”
-Michael Weber ’19
Photo of Amelia Kegan by Leigh Taylor