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Finding The Space To Heal

Maybe pausing and letting yourself feel is the key to moving forward

The day after the election, I went to an emergency healing circle at UC Berkeley’s Multicultural Community Center. Previously distracted by two midterms and six hours of back-to-back classes, I hadn’t really allowed myself to feel the loss of the previous night until then. I also had mixed thoughts, because the results of local elections in Berkeley had panned out extraordinarily better than the national one.

At the healing circle, I participated in some meditation and sat with and listened to other students of color who, like me, wanted to come together to talk and grieve in a safe space. The students spoke about everything from enduring the past year of constant problematic coverage to how we can work to combat the potential repercussions of Donald Trump being our president-elect. Many of these topics resonated with me, but I was particularly struck by comments about the importance of self-care. One student said that we should let ourselves process all of our various post-election emotions before jumping back in to help at-risk communities. She said something else that was so clarifying to me: “Take care of yourself first, because if you go in there with broken pieces, you may break them even more.” Another student described this dynamic like an airplane emergency: You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help the people around you; otherwise, you're no good to them.

We were all raw, shattered pieces of glass in that room. As activists, many of us were focused on what we’d done wrong and what we could do to help, moving forward. Being reminded to pause and put ourselves back together first was really important. And we began that process right there in the healing circle.

I sat there and listened to students from undocumented families or friends of undocumented people talk about how worried they were for the future. I listened to LGBTQ students voice their concerns about our new vice-president’s support for conversion therapy and to students concerned about the future of abortion rights, funding for Planned Parenthood, and gender and racial equality. I listened to students lament the increasing disregard for expert opinions about pressing issues like climate change, as well as the worsening quality of our national conversations overall. Students expressed concern about access to higher education — specifically the prospect of tuition and student loan debt skyrocketing each year. I listened to students talk about the hopelessness they felt given how many people had voted for Trump — and given how many didn’t vote at all.

I soaked it all in. I felt the anger, confusion, frustration, hopelessness, sadness, and despair floating around the room and swirling within me. But I also felt the openness we shared, the safety we provided, the love we all felt for each other — for strangers — and the overwhelming sense of togetherness we had created. The counselors in the room continually reminded us that we can feel and grieve how we need — that our feelings are justified no matter how much or how little is personally at stake for us in the election’s aftermath — and that we cannot judge ourselves for those emotions.

That healing circle was so crucial to my ability to move on from the election. It taught me that, as an Asian-American woman, although I have more privilege than other POC in some ways, I am allowed to be upset by the results. It reminded me that I couldn't fault or judge myself for grieving the hard loss and allowed me to take time to process everything that had just happened. I’m normally very politically active on campus: I’m the president of the Progressive Student Association (PSA), a student organization formerly known as UC Berkeley Students for Bernie. But after that circle, I stepped out of the political sphere for a while, in no small part because I recognized that I didn't yet know how to move forward. I didn't know how to be an activist in this moment.

I only broke my silence to publish a letter on PSA’s Facebook page. I've always found writing to be therapeutic, a way for me to sort out my thoughts and feelings, and this letter was no different. I wrote about the immense losses we had weathered and reaffirmed our stance against Trump, as well as our solidarity with minority communities. I wrote about the importance of taking advantage of all the resources available to us for dealing with the election. And I wrote about the duality of the election in the face of the hope I witnessed in Berkeley's local politics.

Yes, hope. The local ballot measures in Berkeley aligned with every single one of PSA’s endorsements. In particular, Berkeley voters soundly defeated a deceptively designed affordable housing measure that big landlords spent over $800,000 trying to pass while they attacked the affordable housing measure unanimously backed by the city council and several tenants’ groups, which had a comparably laughable campaign budget. Thanks to the approximately 71 percent of voters who voted against the landlords’ measure and 75 percent who voted for the tenants’ measure, Berkeley will now be able to raise millions of dollars to fund affordable housing.

These local results give me hope that money doesn’t have to be the biggest influence on politics, and that people can and will take the time to educate themselves about the issues and understand the implications of their votes. It gives me hope that politics don’t have to be only doom and gloom but can be positive and even inspirational. It is this hope in the face of everything else that lets me believe that we can fight and work hard to make sure the coming years aren't completely disastrous for our country, and that we can even rebuild our national politics.

So on December 1, I went to Old City Hall with my roommate, met up with a few other students and PSA members, and watched the inauguration of Berkeley’s new mayor and city councilmembers. We stood out as the youngest people in that room: We were surrounded by local dignitaries, members of the police force, and older citizens invested in politics. But we were there, representing the students in our community.

Watching these four people get sworn in filled me with so much pride. It was that moment, cramped side-by-side with the people who had willingly dedicated their entire lives to protecting others, that I remembered how to be an activist again. I knew that the work we had done — the constant campaigning across campus and the city — to elect these people and others had paid off. We played a key role in flipping the majority of the city council and the mayorship for progressive politics, and this moment reminded me that this is what we do. This is who we are.

To paraphrase Hamilton lyrics, we’re young, scrappy, and hungry, and we’re not throwing away our shot.

In the end, I think one of the key things I learned last year is that I don’t always have to be racing forward. Constantly striving for the Next Big Thing — whether it's ensuring we elect progressive candidates as our next mayor or city councilmember, planning canvassing trips, or building a progressive movement — can be pretty draining. So maybe pausing and letting myself feel and rest is the key to moving forward.

Especially with today's 24-hour news cycle, taking time — to grieve a loss, to heal — seems undervalued, but I think that it truly makes us stronger. We can acknowledge current despair even as we look hopefully toward the future: Hope and despair are not mutually exclusive. Understanding the hurt makes us more resilient and more prepared to face what's to come.

Moving forward means forgiving ourselves, too. It means forgiving ourselves for November's big loss, for the perception that the results reflect poor activism, and then moving on and fighting to protect each other as much as we can. It means rallying, organizing, talking, calling, voting, and so much more.

And finally, we need to remind each other to hold on to hope. It’s hard: Hope can be slippery and elusive. But I do it by surrounding myself with things and people that inspire me. I hold on to them tight, with both hands. And I have to hope that will be enough to see me through.

Our January theme for MTV Founders is Moving Forward. As a new year begins, we’ll be exploring how to find motivation and resolve within our self-improvement goals, mental health, activism, and relationships. Join the conversation with #mtvmovingforward and let us know how you’re moving forward in 2017 at mtvfounders@gmail.com.

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