In my first year in the U.S., my parents participated in an election that didn’t go their way. It wasn’t an American election, but a presidential race in Iran that they voted in from continents away. I watched them cycle through the emotions of all their political engagements with their homeland: First, a bounce in their steps in the days leading to the election, dinnertime banter about how “this could really be it, change could really be coming,” and sudden heartache as they watch familiar streets go up in flames and grieve what could have been — again. Iranians that year incited the Green Movement to demand removal of an authoritarian in what they deemed a fraudulent election. Every family member’s Facebook profile photo became a green square that read, “Where is my vote?” My mother took my hand, tied a green ribbon around my wrist and we marched to New York City to join other Iranians in demonstrations outside the United Nations.
On Saturday, I heard city sounds again in the wake of an election. This time, it was classmates honking past my window, flying Biden-Harris flags, as one car darty followed another into the night. I voted in my first election, and it went my way. The first election I voted in is the first election my parents participated in that went their way, too. I am 21, and they are in their fifties. That, to me, is cause for celebration.
To cast a ballot with “just pick the least fascist candidates” and “how can my tiny, filled-in bubbles minimize death?” as our mantras is the lowest of low bars when choosing our nation’s decision makers. I didn’t toss my vote into a mailbox and skip home, humming Schoolhouse Rock. A vote for Joe Biden doesn’t tell me much about what fundamental human rights you believe in. Any sign of excitement for the name “Biden” on our campus only comes after four trying years and one hazy, torturous week of refresh frenzy, our eyeballs seared to an election map.
I remember all notable days in Ithaca based on what the sky looked like that day. For seniors, the start of the Trump presidency one grim January foreshadowed the rallying cries that would follow our entrance to the Hill. Our political selves came to fruition, and not just because it’s the thing to do when you attend college. Each stage of our growth on campus has been shaped by reactions to his administration’s harm. In the sunkissed, innocent first weeks of a former fall semester, we demanded protection for Dreamers faced with deportation. We condemned anti-Semitic acts like swastikas drawn across campus during a bitter November of unabating snowfall. We organized across time zones and from our respective living rooms to ensure that our international student peers threatened by ICE restrictions could take shelter in Ithaca’s safety and remain students as a virus raged. We march for Black lives, rain or shine.
But this time, clear, blue skies were not just the backdrop of a campus that a few months ago packed up and retreated when the weather was also in high spirits. Blue skies warmed us up to better news in the days to come. So, when the phone alert hit that we elected our first woman, Black and Southeast Asian Vice President, we were a campus ripe for celebration. Saturday, besides being a historically relevant day, brought something we have not experienced in 2020: A news notification that made us feel lighter. For a day there, we were at Cornell again, seeing jubilant faces of people we’ve never met celebrate our collectivity.
While I know it’s not just me who noticed that a solid nine out of 10 of all honking cars zooming past my house were people of the, shall we say, demographic that fits the third part of “liberte, egalite, fraternite,” I hope you give yourself permission to celebrate. As we tread national exhaustion, we are allowed to celebrate, because celebrating Joe Biden winning the presidency has little to do with Joe Biden. We celebrate community organizers and our very own classmates who phone banked and volunteered at polling places in Ithaca and their hometowns to ensure high turnout. An anti-racism book club certainly didn’t make it possible for us to pack College Ave. with life in November during a pandemic year — Black women and Indigenous people who ensured their communities vote in states with razor thin margins did. We celebrate them because we singlehandedly owe them our golden day in a gray semester.
At 21, I joined my classmates in celebrations on social media and streetside sing-alongs of “Party in the U.S.A.” At 21, my mother snuck to the roof of her dorm to whisper songs and strum a guitar with her friends under the stars because she missed music, but to listen to it, let alone sing it, was a crime. My parents have never had evidence that the system that raised them deserves their faith, yet they still believe a good day will come. But faith doesn’t have to be what I feel for the nation I vote in. Because in my very first election, I have proof that organizing and showing up works. We don’t need faith, we need participation.
You are not a morally better liberal for abstaining to celebrate, just as much as you are not any less devoted to causes that mobilize you in your communities if you want to scream and dance your heart out. Remember that non-white Cornellians don’t get to celebrate a win as a direct result of their political participation, like, ever, really. Maybe you had the privilege in your short life to opt out of political engagement till this year. If so, know that signs of victory and affirmation that your effort to protect your loved ones, community and planet is working, just months after you joined a movement, is uncommon. So go ahead, be loud — please, my ear drums miss noise. But keep showing up.
Paris Ghazi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. La Vie en Prose runs alternate Mondays this semester.