Thoughts From the Days After

November 14, 2016 | Peter Pennekamp, Senior Fellow & Operations Manager |

Peter headshot edited v2

A week has passed since the election that surpassed my worst fears and expectations, along with anyone else’s who shares the beliefs and values we hold dear at Community Democracy Workshop and other social justice movements. America has elected a president whose campaign encouraged and promoted bigotry and misogyny, supported by the extremes of white supremacy and cheered by predominantly white male crowds reminiscent of darker times in other countries, and handed him both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, too.

Like many, I have spent the aftermath of Election Day on social media, email and the phone with my loving family, confused colleagues and frightened friends, each of us struggling to process our thoughts and feelings.

In North Carolina, my grandson Micah, upon hearing from his mother that Trump won the election, responded with, “We all need to be white now, Mama.” He’s six years old, a American-born Muslim of half African and half European ancestry.

In Freshwater, California, my mother, a sprightly 93, woke to memories that raise the emotional horror of her flight from France in 1941, as a Jewish refugee. My mother’s aunt and first cousin who remained behind in Marseille, unable to get visas to leave, both died in Auschwitz.

Aging friends who have spent their entire adult lives working for justice tell me of experiencing the deepest depression of their lives, of feeling hopeless and helpless. I pass along wisdom shared by Bernice Johnson Reagon to a crowd of activists similarly despondent many years ago, that ended with: “The only mistake we ever made was believing that we go into struggle for justice every day in order to win, when we go into struggle every day because it is the right way to lead a life.”

The most difficult discussions today have been with close friends and colleagues that are Native American or African American. For many the sense of betrayal by white America is both hard and molten. It comes to something like this:
We have been playing by the rules of building equality in America and when we have made progress despite the odds, you have, once again, changed the rules. It will be different from now on. We don’t know how, but this is a turning point.

As an American of European descent, all I can say is that I am by the side of all who join in both resistance and non-violent action to change the proximate trajectory of our country. I always have been and always will be, even though unlike friends of color, I can always choose to walk away. It is a commitment and a trust built by action, shared values and beliefs, not words.

Right now, we have our raw reaction. Americans have the right to protest, and in a case where our president is endorsed by the KKK and has been elected despite voter suppression and losing the popular vote, a responsibility to do so. Over the next few weeks and months, we as Americans will build our new movement, to make sure our community voices are heard. Join us.


Peter Pennekamp is senior fellow & operations manager at Community Democracy Workshop. Peter can be reached