Student Guest Post: A Canadian Liberal in Washington D.C. on Election Night

U of A student interning at the Washington Center tries to make sense of Trump's victory

Alaura Hulewicz - 10 November 2016

So I made the bold, life-altering choice that some students do: to spend a semester abroad to learn more about the world. I decided to go to Washington, D.C. in the Washington Center Academic Internship program, based on my interest in American politics. What a time to be in America, eh?

Anyone with enough political literacy and writing ability could provide you an analysis of the election leading up to Trump's victory, but I'm not going to do that. I want to share my experience as a Canadian student immersed in the fray of the election.

I would be lying if I said I didn't experience culture shock in my first month here. Even among other educated, liberal millennials, I quickly found that my understanding of identity varies significantly from my peers. And apparently, I shouldn't have found this out at all, given that you're not really supposed to give any hint of ideologies you subscribe to - even in an academic classroom setting. I say this because I have been called out by classmates for exposing my "bias" like it was some sort of slip up, and to not do it again. To which teachers confirmed and decided to tell us how to do that better. Whoops, I guess?

Being liberal and left-leaning in Canada does not mean the same thing in America. In fact, Canada's centre is where America's left seems to fall. I'm not just referring to the Democratic Party, but to the majority of self-identifying liberals I've met and talked to about politics and social issues.

Beyond not having substantive conversations on issues and policy, there seems to be no place for certain salient and relevant issues of today. As an environmental studies student, major issues that I focus on - the North Dakota Access Pipeline's violation on Aboriginal and treaty rights, the need for electoral reform in a system that doesn't reflect the popular vote and ways to tackle climate change through cap and trade or any other policy - had no place in the conversation in American politics this year.

Debates on issues have been incredibly regressive and I have had a hard time identifying within the framework of a binary choice between centrist and far right.

Outside of the relatively left bubble of fellow educated millennials in my program, I had the opportunity to interact with a sample of American voters right before the election. Last Friday, I volunteered with Hillary for America at the DNC Headquarters, using texts to remind Americans to vote. Text is an interesting medium for political discourse. It's easy and convenient on my end: I just send the same message to as many people as physically possible, and reply using a list of sample messages. Most didn't respond. The bulk of individuals replied in annoyance, asking to be removed from the list. A handful of voters responded, confirming that they had voted or thanking me for the reminder with some hopeful words for the future.

But a relatively large percentage of the group decided they needed to vent their anger and frustration about the election at me. I obviously couldn't reply and offer any personal thoughts, but I definitely read every thread of text I received. I was captivated. They made me step down from my cozy place of assuming Hillary's win was inevitable.

Although, most of my Canadian and American friends weren't ready to consider that possibility.

Election night was last night. My American friends prepared for the night with celebration and hope for the monumental milestone of the first female president. I was excited. By the time most polls were closing, I was attending a spoken word performance and had not following the polls coming in. I tuned in after the performance in disbelief.

I then turned on CNN:

The DOW futures dropped nearly 800 points.

Florida declares for Trump.

Hillary calls Trump to concede.

I sat in front of the TV on my couch until 3 a.m., sipping hot cocoa, wrapped in a blanket, in anticipation of something more, something I was missing until the end of Trump's victory speech. Nobody had expected this, especially not me. I wondered what this would mean for the next four years to the people of this amazing country I have come to learn and love.

All along, I couldn't help but wonder what this would mean for Canada and our relationship with the States. While my Canadian friends all checked up on me to make sure I was safe, my nervous American friends asked me about life in Canada, suddenly interested in immigrating. I mean, the Canadian government's immigration site crashed from high traffic last night

Trump is interested in fiscal isolationist policies, and America is our largest trading partner - how will this affect our market? And above all else, what will this mean for the minorities - women, LGTBQ, Mexican, Muslim and Black Americans - that have to live with the consequences?

I'm not alone. Workplaces today are solemn and quiet; people walking down the street in D.C. are awestruck and aloof, as opposed to contributing to the lively, busy, bustling city I've become accustomed to. It's the day after what most Americans consider a major national tragedy; we're all still trying to process it.

See Alaura's election night blog on Voice of America.

About Alaura:

"Alaura is an Arts Work Experience student doing a BA in Environmental Studies, with a focus on food and agriculture. A member of the University of Alberta Debate Society, debating has shaped most of her university experience along with the Vegans and Vegetarians of the University of Alberta, in her role as VP internal. When she decides to step away from university life, she's an avid gamer, seamstress, professional bingewatcher and all-around wholesome nerd.