A presidential race that nearly split America in two ended today with both candidates urging unity. To quote John Kerry in his concession speech, “[There is] the danger of division in our country and the need—the desperate need—for unity, for finding common ground and coming together.” However, characteristic of much of their campaigns, neither the president nor the senator offered up a plan as to how we begin to fuse together the fractures caused by a dichotomous nation.
No matter where you stand on issues after the presidential election, half of your fellow Americans disagree. Today, the country is divided across cultural, moral, and economic lines—the same lines that were drawn in the 2000 election. According to exit polls, Bush supporters tend to be culturally and religiously conservative married rural voters, a large majority with an annual salary of over $150,000. Those who favored Kerry appear to be polar opposites of the Bush backers: single, urban voters earning a more modest salary. Moral issues appear to be most important among those who voted for the president, while Kerry voters are most concerned about the economy.
So, after the speeches are made and the confetti is swept up, the key question remains how do we heal a divided nation? If you do not agree with the current agenda, it is imperative that you remain vocal and active. Real change does not happen overnight. It requires patience and the insistence that if an issue matters to you, you will not stand by and let injustice happen. Continue to fight for what you believe in, even after the ballots are cast.
Younger voters need to be taught that their voices will eventually be heard, if they speak up loud and long enough. The efforts to send this new generation to the polls, found in the energetic display of P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign and the “in-yo-face” politics spewing from the lyrics of Eminem’s “Mosh” should not be overlooked in their power to educate, empower, and motivate the young, disillusioned populous, who most of the time exude apathy about any issue not involving Paris Hilton or the latest celebrity du jour.
Even though they find themselves on the losing side, it is dangerous for Democrats to concede to four more years of the same. Instead, they should harness the energy that brought a record number of voters to the polls this year and made possible smaller, but significant, victories, such as the historic election of Barack Obama in Illinois.
Most importantly, there arises the need to recognize and embrace each other’s differences, realizing that we have a lot to learn from each other. Refuse to succumb to the gray waters of the melting pot of yesterday. If Bush is truly seeking “the broad support of all Americans” make him earn it. Only then, in the words of Senator John Kerry, “we can begin the healing.”
Rebecca Paris is graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare.