On Saturday, November 7, 2020, at 10:20 a.m. Central time:
“I almost cried.”
“I did cry.”
“I ran up and down the sidewalk, laughing and waving my arms.”
The Presidential election had just been called for Joe Biden, and everyone I talked to had had a visceral physical reaction to the news. It is worth noting that I, my family, and most of the friends I speak about here are left-leaning; more conservative readers likely had a different experience than I did on November 7. On that day, I was standing in a friend’s entryway starting to put on my shoes when the alert lit up my phone. Without meaning to, I sank to the floor, cradling the screen in my hands. A bubble started to expand in my chest as I clicked from The New York Times to The Atlantic to Fox News to MSNBC, eyes wide, torn between tears and the face-splitting smile hidden under my mask. My friends and family reflected this unbridled joy back at me when I saw them later that day, texted with them, or spoke to them on the phone. It can be hard to let ourselves bask in this kind of celebration when there is work to be done, but this election cycle has reminded me that giving ourselves space to dwell in moments of joy—unrestricted—is an essential life practice.
Given my own process of moving from shock to celebration, both individual and communal, it was strange, that afternoon, to see the tone of people’s Instagram stories and Facebook posts. They were celebratory, yes, but it was a celebration overwhelmingly seasoned with grains of salt—that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are not perfect, that their election does not mean that America’s ills will magically disappear. It’s true, they’re far from perfect, as people and as politicians, far from the representatives of radical change that I and many of my friends had hoped to see in the White House. It’s true that, in Viewpoints columnist Sylvia Ebenbach’s words, “racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, and elitism won’t just go away because the final votes were tallied and Biden was declared victor.” Because of these truths, many refused to give themselves space to be publicly joyful, purely celebratory, even for a few hours.
While I understand this impulse, it can, in the long-term, do more harm than good. If we move from fight to fight without pausing to rest in moments of success, we may feel strong. We may feel that we are getting things done and that taking that pause would be giving up or wasting time. These feelings, while understandable, are not a recipe for long-term success or personal well-being. Adding grains of salt to every victory will exhaust us. We will burn out and, to lean into the recipe metaphor, our dish will be inedible. This holds true not only for the 2020 election cycle, but also for activism, school, work, family, friendships—every aspect of our day-to-day lives.
The recipe is not exact. Sometimes it will be important to immediately capitalize on our successes, liberally adding grains of salt to push ourselves to continue the momentum of the moment. But often, as with the 2020 election, it is more important to let ourselves rest and dwell in our success for a moment, to put the salt away and run up and down the sidewalk, laughing and waving our arms.
Elizabeth Winkler is a third-year in the College.